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Shirin Haque

The article below about the career of Dr. Shirin Haque appeared in the Daily Express on May 17, 2013. It was the fifth segment in a series entitled, Women In Science, originally published by Trinidad & Tobago's National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology.

"Shirin, The Astronomer

Dr. Shirin Haque is the first woman to have been a head of the Department of Physics at The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine. She is at present a deputy dean in the Faculty of Science and Technology (UWI). She is well known for advancing the study of astronomy at the university. Her research interests include quasars, cosmology, and astrobiology. Her earlier work focused on theoretical astronomy, the distribution of galaxies and possible blue shifts in quasars.

She is the co-founder of the Caribbean Institute of Astronomy (CARINA) and the Society for Physics Advancement Research and Collaboration (SPARC). She started an observational astronomy programme at St Augustine, in collaboration with the University of Turku in Finland, and its success brought international attention to UWI.

A strong believer in the importance of education, Dr Haque has distinguished herself as a dynamic student-centred instructor and an outstanding role model, especially to young women. She has received several teaching awards including the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from UWI and the international award, Association of Atlantic Universities Distinguished Teacher Award. She also conducts astronomy workshops for teachers, provides career guidance to secondary pupils, gives public lectures in astronomy, and has designed and run several popular courses in physics and astronomy for the public. She was the co-chair of the International School for Young Astronomers (ISYA) held in Trinidad in 2009, with participants from 17 countries.

Dr Haque is also working with universities in the USA, Canada and Finland on an astrobiological study of the Pitch Lake and mud volcanoes in Trinidad. Astrobiology is the interdisciplinary study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. It encompasses the search for habitable environments. The local sites by Dr Haque’s team have an extreme environment for harbouring life since, at the subsurface, there is no light or nutrition as we know it. The findings can provide insights into how life began and whether it can exist on planets with similar conditions. The study has generated much interest and has been featured by the BBC and Discovery Channel.

An avid popular science communicator, Dr Haque speaks and writes in the media on topics in astronomy, and has produced three science documentaries for television, 'Adventures in Discovery', 'All is Number', and 'Losing Paradise'. She is also pursuing an MPhil in psychology, using wave physics and mathematical concepts to model psychological phenomena, e.g. how the impact of life events decays with time.

Shirin Tabassum Haque was born in Patna, India. She came to Trinidad with her parents at age seven with no prior formal schooling, when her father, a plant virologist, was offered a position at UWI. She fondly remembers as a young child looking at the moon with a pair of binoculars and being blown away by its beauty.

Her advice to students is that, 'There is so much in the natural world just waiting to be discovered. Never lose your childlike curiosity and fascination with things.' "

Dr. Shirin Haque


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