I am an astrophysicist, who is searching for the most peculiar objects in the Universe. When I was a little girl, I admired the stars at the night sky. Now, as an astrophysicist, I have the tools to reach those stars. Academic research institutions have been at the forefront of discovery for hundreds of years. Scientists at these institutions extract the fundamental knowledge about nature and make it serve humankind. This is the reason why I decided to study astrophysics: to learn, to discover and to serve.
My research focuses on the structure and dynamics of galaxies to help us understand more about the Universe and how it came to be the way it is. I am particularly interested in the structure, morphology, and dynamics of nearby galaxies and peculiar ringed galaxies. Using data gathered in a large range of wavelengths, combined with theory and modeling, my research aims at developing a comprehensive picture of the formation, evolution, and present-day characteristics of galaxies. My recent research has led to a discovery of an extremely rare galaxy with a unique circular structure that has never been identified before. This galaxy is now commonly referred to as Burçin’s Galaxy. This work has provided the first description of a double ringed elliptical galaxy, that stretches the boundaries of our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve. There is currently no known mechanism that explains the presence of an inner ring in such peculiar systems, so this discovery adds to the wealth of information that is needed to be explained with the theories. This exciting finding has received extensive media coverage both in the US and abroad, and been recognized by several prestigious awards, including TED Fellowship and Scientific Leadership Award-Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) of Turkey. I am also involved in a large collaboration for the search of the missing population of intermediate-mass black holes. The discovery of elusive black hole population is the key to understand the origin of supermassive black holes and early galaxy formation. I have recently been focusing on the faintest and smallest galaxies in the Universe, in order to understand their dark matter properties and their role in galaxy formation. While these galaxies are among the most dark-matter dominated objects, they are also the basic building blocks for larger galaxies, e.g. galaxies like our own Milky Way gobble smaller galaxies to become what they are today.
While contributing to my field through research, I also want to give back to the community through teaching, outreach and educational media. As a female immigrant astronomer and first generation in my family to attend college, I have long been committed to diversity and equal opportunity in higher education. I grew up listening to my father’s stories about how he was successful in elementary school. Unfortunately, he dropped out of school after the fifth grade to take care of his parents. These childhood stories are the motivating force for my commitment to support and improve higher educational opportunities. Recently, I started to serve as an American Astronomical Society Astronomy Ambassador, whose goal is to the increase scientific literacy through public programs. I am also the co-chair of Tucson Women in Astronomy, a group at the University of Arizona, whose goal is to address gender equity issues at the university level through scientific networking within local and international research communities, peer mentoring, and involvement in scientific discourse. At the moment, I am collaborating with other TED Fellows to create a new short film that highlights diversity in STEM fields with an intention of inspiring interest in STEM, particularly among groups not well represented in STEM fields. I just want to contribute more to the diversity of the workforce in STEM and promote public education through professional publications, public programs, and educational media.