Bitten Gullberg is a postdoc and Carlsberg Fellow at DAWN/DTU Space

Congratulations on being awarded a Villum Young Investigator Grant from Villum Fonden!

Please tell us about your research and why it is important.

I study the most actively star-forming galaxies in the history of the Universe: starburst galaxies. Starburst galaxies form stars 10-100 times faster than the Milky Way and are very dust-rich. Although, they have been the subject of many studies since their discovery in the end of the 1990’s, there is still a lot about them we do not know and, simulations still have a hard time re-producing them. This means we do not yet understand what they role is in galaxy evolution models. One of the drivers of my research is to understand what mechanism triggers and drives this intense star-formation events, as this is key to understanding how they fit into the scheme of galaxy evolution.

What are your plans and what are the possibilities that this grant opens for you?

I relocated to Dawn/DTU Space in 2021, after almost a decade abroad. I had the aim to build my own group here in Denmark, to study starburst galaxies in order to better understand what their role is in galaxy evolution models. The Villum Young Investigator grant will allow me to fulfil both my personal goal to start my own group, but also to pursue my research goal.

Where have you studied and which positions have you held before your current one?

I did my bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of Copenhagen (Niels Bohr Institute), but moved to Munich to do my Ph.D. in 2012 as an IMPRS student at the European Southern Observatory. After a bit more than three years in Munich I moved to Durham University in the North-East of England as a postdoc, where I spend four years. I moved to Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg in 2019 to take-up a two-year Hasselblad Fellowship. After about nine years abroad I relocated to DTU in 2021 on a Carlsberg Re-integration Fellowship. 

What was your motivation to pursue a career in physics and how did you choose the field you are now specializing in?

I have always had an interest in science and STEM subjects, and they were the subjects I was best at in school. My dad is a former physics teacher, and there has never been such a thing as a ‘stupid question’ at home. My interest for astronomy in particular, was ignited by my physics- and astronomy teacher in high-school. She had a passion and fire for the subject which I could not help being motivated by. So, from the last year of high-school it was pretty clear to me what I wanted to do: astrophysics. My current interest for starburst galaxies originates from my master thesis at Dark with Prof Thomas Greve as supervisor. This project focused on constraining the physical parameters (i.e. the density and temperature) of the gas in the interstellar medium in starburst and AGN dominated galaxies. Although, my research focus has expanded and has occasionally been focused on other types of galaxies, galaxy evolution has always been my main focus and I have always returned to the study of starburst galaxies, it is like visiting an old friend, and there is still so much we do not know.

Have you had role models or mentors? If so, what inspiration did you get from them?

I have had quite a few role models throughout my scientific career, both men and women. I have found role models in people who I can reflect in (never 100% but at least partly) and who has some of my values as well. I cannot pinpoint specific things that have inspired me from each of them. But I take inspiration in that these are all good scientists, with different background and different strengths (scientifically and personally), and they have all had different paths to where they are now. It shows that there is not one right path through life and your career, and a path which is right for one person is not (necessarily) right for another. So, you can take inspiration, but you need to find your own path: the one that fits you.

What advice would you give to young people (in particular women and minorities) who would like to pursue a career in science?

Know your limits, and do not let people push you beyond it. Ask for help if you do not feel like pushing back yourself, and ask for it before it becomes urgent and you are already passed the limit.

Know your goals and focus on them, but do not be afraid to re-evaluate your goals on a regular basis. Your priorities will change throughout life and your goals will too. To not fulfil an old life goal does not mean that you failed, it just means your priorities have changed and you have set new and different goals.