This Is How An Astrophysicist Starts His Day

Would an astrophysicist start their day with an army of tiny robots they’ve engineered specifically to take care of their morning routine, or is it your standard shower-then-eggs affair? Well, wonder no longer. As part of an ongoing series, we speak to successful types – like dark matter guru Dr Alan Duffy – to find out.

When you’re equipped to deal with invisible particles, galaxies and alien worlds, what does that mean for something as ordinary as waking up every day?

Dr Duffy isn’t your run-of-the-mill scientist – he’s an astrophysicist, science communicator and co-investigator in the world’s first dark matter detector in the Southern Hemisphere (currently being built a kilometre under the ground in a gold mine in Victoria).

“There is an invisible new particle out there: millions of them are flying through you right now without you ever feeling it,” Dr Duffy explains, “a ghost that flies through solid matter – and there’s five times more of it out there than everything you can see.” This is dark matter, FYI.

His other areas of interest include – but are not limited to – dark energy, galaxy formation, indigenous astronomy and alien worlds. You know, the usual.

When he’s not busy uncovering the secrets of the hidden universe, Dr Duffy creates baby universes on supercomputers to test how galaxies are formed, is a regular on ABC’s Breakfast TV and Ten’s The Project, and gives talks on his discoveries at the Sydney Opera House and schools around Australia.


Image Credit: alanrduffy.com

Dr Duffy’s morning routine “is based on three key factors. A hot shower, a jug of black coffee and podcasts from favourite scientists/thinkers.”

#1 Wake up early, catch up overnight

Like most overachievers, Dr Duffy is an early riser. “If I’m on TV that morning then it’s 5:30am instead of 6:30am,” he says, “and you can add a shave into the routine as I read my Twitter feed to catch up with what my American and European colleagues have said or discovered, that I might want to talk about in the morning.”

#2 Podcasts are preferable

Dr Duffy loves to listen to podcasts while he’s getting ready and showering, because “listening to great ideas as I try and wake up is just as stimulating as the coffee.”

His favourites? “As a complete geek I never miss:
–The Nerdist
–WILOSOPHY/TOFOP by Will Anderson (does this man ever stop creating podcasts?)
–The Bugle (sadly now stopped as John Oliver got too busy being a superstar in America)
–StarTalk Radio by the legend astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson
–The Naked Scientists, which has a ridiculous range of topics of interest.”

#3 First in, best chance of forming a galaxy

It’s easy to put off doing the projects or work that really excites you when your day is in full swing. So planning your morning in a way that allows you to get a bunch of work done before your colleagues show up is a method Dr Duffy subscribes to.

“In terms of later routines, I’m in work a few hours before everyone, as that’s when I like to do my computer programming and try and form a galaxy on the supercomputers by the end of the day.”

Sonia is the editor of The Cusp.

Lead image: Daniel Boud