ANU Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics/UNSW Canberra
Ashley wants to know which types of double star systems create supernova explosions. Determining the origin of these "Type Ia" supernovae is important for understanding how our Universe evolves and what its fate will be. These supernovae are also the main producers of heavy elements, such as nickel, which radioactively decays to iron, and ends up in our blood! Ashley uses computer simulations to evolve millions of different double star systems to see which types will produce Type Ia supernovae. One of the leading scenarios is the merger of two 'white dwarfs': left-over embers of Sun-like stars.
Houl was inspired by one of Ashley's published papers depicting how two stars evolve through a series of interactions, ending with the two white dwarf stars merging. The figure's head is represented by the white dwarfs merging together, and the body depicts how we are all made of star stuff (aka elements).