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Gurtina with laptop, under a large telescope in an observatory.
Gurtina Besla
Hometown: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Current City: Cambridge, MA
Education: BSc, Astronomy & Physics, University of Toronto; PhD student, Astronomy, Harvard University
Hobbies: Gurtina played a lot of soccer in high school and college. "It was important to me to do something physical to get rid of stress."
Fun Fact: "My name is made up. My parents wanted to call me Tina, but they also wanted my name to reflect my heritage (my parents are from Punjab, India). They combined the 'Gur' with Tina to 'punjabify' my name."

I develop computer simulations that increase our knowledge of nearby galaxies.

—Gurtina Besla

Life, the universe, and everything
Gurtina's research focuses on two galaxies called the Magellanic Clouds. Named after Magellan, "they can be seen by the naked eye and look like two clouds in the sky. I run computer simulations to model how these galaxies interact with one another and with our own Milky Way galaxy."

What's her passion?
Discovery. Gurtina's computer simulations have dramatically changed how astronomers view these galaxies and their relationship to the Milky Way. For the past 40 years, it was thought that the Magellanic Clouds had been our long-term neighbors, but Gurtina's simulations showed that they're much more recent arrivals in this part of the universe. "I've been able to add an important piece of information to the field—it was a thrilling discovery."

Technology—making it all possible
"With the advent of better telescopes, new things are being revealed that we couldn't see or measure before. To do this kind of research you need an interest in computing and technology—the work I do could not be done without computers."

Advice: Let your voice be heard
"Learn to speak with confidence—let your voice be heard and respected," Gurtina advises. "People forget that even though you spend time coding in front of a computer, you also spend lots of time sharing your ideas, opinions, and research."