This Newfoundland scientist is studying the big bang with balloons in Antarctica


Susan Redmond, a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering originally from Portugal Cove-St. Philips, was recently stationed in Antarctica, working to send a telescope airborne across the continent. (Steve Benton)

A Newfoundland-born scientist is part of an exciting research team working in Antarctica sending balloons into space to study cosmic radiation and the evolution of the universe.

Susan Redmond, a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton originally from Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, was recently stationed at McMurdo Station in Antarctica as part of an interdisciplinary team of 15 researchers.

Redmond is part of the team working on the Spider-II telescope, a unit housing six telescopes designed to study cosmic microwave background radiation.

“It studies kind of the afterglow of the big bang. And so we put that on a balloon to get above the majority of the atmosphere,” Redmond told CBC News from Antarctica in December.

“We basically just fly around the continent, so over land the entire time, because we have to physically recover the hard drives in order to get our data afterwards.”

Long duration research using balloons has been done in Antarctica for decades, said Redmond, who could be stationed on the continent for months at a time depending on weather and the team’s launch window.

“Ballooning is definitely a bit of a chaotic career type,” she said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of uncertainty with it, mainly because we’re dependent on the weather.”

After months of preparation across multiple continents, Redmond and the research team launched the Spider telescope 35 kilometres into space in late December. She has since relocated to New Zealand to begin work on another balloon-borne space telescope.

A large white balloon is inflated on a runway.
The balloon that will carry the Spider-II telescope is inflated. (Steve Benton)

Redmond, an alumnus of Memorial University in co-op engineering, also worked with the European Space Agency and NASA before making the transition to a master’s of applied science and beginning work in Antarctica.

Working in a male-dominated field, she said, it’s important that work continues to get more women like her into the sciences.

“We had a pretty good crew of women in my undergrad class, but it was like 15 per cent, 20 per cent max,” she said.

“It’s obviously better than it was, but there are instances where either you kind of get written off as a diversity hire. I’ve had that happen in internships, which is frustrating. But for the most part everyone’s supportive and, like, I think there’s been a new kind of culture around accountability.”

LISTEN | Susan Redmond speaks with CrossTalk host Adam Walsh about her work: 

54:53Space Balloon + Valentine’s Cooking

First up we talk balloons! Not the one’s being shot down, but the space balloon in Antarctica. We chat with Susan Redmond at the McMurdo station. Following this we talk about cooking for love, with culinarian Andrea Maunder

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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