Alex Drlica-Wagner is the Ellie Arroway of dwarf galaxies. A postdoctoral fellow on the Dark Energy Survey, he stands in front of a sticky-covered map of the Milky Way. Photo: Reidar Hahn
How long have you been at Fermilab?
I’ve been here since September 2013. Before this I was a Stanford graduate student working at SLAC.
What brought you to Fermilab?
I had been working on searches for dark matter through gamma rays. During this time, the Dark Energy Survey was preparing to start, and I saw an opportunity to use DES to search for new dwarf galaxies, which are one of the best targets for dark matter. Coming to Fermilab seemed like an amazing opportunity. It was a natural next step.
What does your typical workday look like?
I work in several different areas of DES. I spend part of my time working on the DES data management, processing and quality. I also work a bit on DES operations, which keeps the survey up and running. Recently, most of my time has been spent analyzing the DES data and searching for new dwarf galaxies.
What would you consider the most exciting part of your job?
The most exciting day was definitely earlier this year when we found the new dwarf galaxy candidates. Discovering things is the most exciting part of the job, but it happens only once in a blue moon.
Going down to the DES site in Chile is really amazing. Being there is a unique experience. You’re on the top of a mountain, you’re pretty isolated, and depending on what you’re doing, sometimes you’re working all night and sleeping all day. It’s very different from your usual day.
The person who nominated you mentioned that you keep a poster of the Milky Way where you tag dwarf galaxies that have been found with colored stickies. What inspired that?
It’s a map of the sky in gamma rays. It was given to me in Rome at a symposium for the gamma ray telescope that I worked on at SLAC. I brought it back and pinned it above my desk while I was a graduate student working on dwarf galaxies.
The objects tagged in red are previously known dwarf galaxies. The green stickies point to interesting gamma-ray sources. I tracked down a new color of sticky — yellow — for the new dwarf galaxies that we found in DES.
What is something people might not know about you?
I play semiprofessional ultimate Frisbee for the Chicago Wildfire.
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