Profile of Dr Emil Lenc, Postdoctoral Researcher

Emil Lenc

Emil Lenc has been a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Sydney node of CAASTRO since February this year. Emil had had a varied career path to get to where he is now.  He previously worked as a Software Engineer.  He also spent a year teaching English in China, where he met his wife Wendy.  They now have a six year old son called Arin.  Outside of work Emil has an interest in science, science fiction, photography and short films.

Emil was introduced to astronomy at an early age by his two older brothers and quickly developed a passion for the topic. He vividly recalls viewing a total solar eclipse from his front porch in Melbourne and was constantly immersed in all space-related things.  He was particularly inspired by the TV series ‘Cosmos’.

“Carl Sagan talked about the Universe but it was not just about facts and numbers, it was about how we evolved our understanding of it throughout history – it was about how science worked.  I was in awe!”

Emil took the math-physics stream at Secondary School but did not really consider astronomy as a career option at the time. Instead, he took his first degree in Electrical Engineering at Victoria University, Melbourne.  He followed on with a Masters of Engineering by research.  Emil describes this,

“I worked on using tricks of the brain to improve the compression of motion-picture quality images without compromising perceived image quality. This was the forerunner to compression techniques that are commonly used today for digital media. “

After completing his Masters, Emil worked for Ericsson as a Master Software Designer and Architect where he developed software to route international calls via the Internet and to make phone calls via a PC – a product similar to Skype but developed six years earlier. This technology is quite commonplace today but back then it was leading edge and quite exciting to work on.

After nearly a decade in the industry, Emil began to lose interest in commercial software development and enrolled part-time in an online Masters course (Swinburne Astronomy Online). Even though it was online he enjoyed the interaction with professional astronomers, who were active researchers.  Emil explains the reasons he decided to move into Astronomy as a career,

“I came to the sudden realisation that it was actually possible to have a career in Astronomy. In my first visit to Swinburne proper, I met with Steven Tingay (then an instructor there) - he showed me an image of two blobs on an otherwise blank page.  He explained at length, with great enthusiasm, how these were probably supernova remnants and how they could be used to gain a better understanding of the inner workings of the host galaxy. I was sold by his enthusiasm. I decided to quit my job and pursue a PhD under his guidance working on Wide Field Very Long Baseline Interferometry to study starburst galaxies, radio-jet hot spots and perform the first low-frequency VLBI survey.”

Following completion of his PhD, Emil did a Post-doctorate degree with Ray Norris at CSIRO where he worked on the ATLAS project.   This involved exploring high dynamic imaging techniques to achieve both wide and deep radio images.  Following on from this he worked with Tim Cornwell on ASKAP/EMU simulations, ASKAP software testing and investigating opportunities for a Virtual Observatory archive.  Emil was able to utilise the combination of his engineering and astronomy skills on this project.

Emil's current role with CAASTRO is to oversee the commissioning of the polarisation capabilities of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in collaboration with groups worldwide. One of the main drivers of the MWA is to detect the weak signature of the first stars in the Universe, the so-called ‘Epoch of Reionisation’.   Emil is working to reduce the effect of instrumental and calibration errors and to remove confusing sources from the images so as to improve the chance of detecting this weak EoR signal. Furthermore, while these removed sources are an annoyance for EoR science they are still interesting sources in their own right and Emil will be studying their polarisation properties using rotation measure synthesis.  Emi is also the Theme Scientist for CAASTRO's Evolving Universe, with responsibility for assisting Evolving Theme Leader Stuart Wyithe.