Out of This World! This Malaysian Astrophysicist Broke Barriers and Carved History

Out of This World! This Malaysian Astrophysicist Broke Barriers and Carved History

BY: Michelle Liew

Her parents once stopped her studies in the field of astronomy for fear of not having a job in the future, but her excitement about the uniqueness of the planet and nature made her even more determined to continue studying the field.

As time went out, her parents’ worries dissipated in the air as she, now Associate Prof Dr Nur Adlyka Ainul Annuar, 33, had made Malaysia proud globally in 2017 as a renowned astrophysicist.

Currently working as a senior lecturer in the Department of Applied Physics, Faculty of Science and Technology, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Nur Adlyka continues to make a name for herself at the international arena.

While the sitcom The Big Bang Theory shed some light into the field of physics and astronomy, it was not as common in real life to see people venture into the field as a career.

As an astrophysicist, Nur Adlyka became the talk of the town after discovering the Supermassive Black Holes (supermassive black holes or giants) in the galaxy NGC 1448 during her research while she was pursuing a doctoral degree (PhD) in the field of astrophysics at the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, Department of Physics, Durham University, United Kingdom.

In fact, she is the only female astronomer studying black holes.

Previously, it was rare to hear about this career due to the lack of publicity related to it, especially at university level. Following that, many wonder whether the career path was worthwhile for the future or otherwise.

"Lack of expertise as reference and facilities are among the reasons why this field is not popularly chosen as a career.

"Actually, the career opportunities are wide, especially abroad, where many experts are born," she stated.

Nur Adlyka expressed that the field of astronomy is not popular and lacks support because the results cannot be seen directly, especially the study of black holes.

"In Malaysia, there are only 21 astronomers and only three focus on the study of black holes compared to overseas countries such as the United States (US), where one university has hundreds of experts.

"We don't have many experts who can discuss and ask for opinions on the results found, thus it is difficult to get funds for further research.

"The lack of astronomical facilities is one of the reasons why black hole studies are difficult to continue. If there are only a few for the study of planets, asteroids and the sun.

"I get data from space telescopes abroad because the data is publicly shared.

"I can also request the latest data from the Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) or the European Space Agency (ESA) that use telescopes known as Chandra and NuSTAR if I want to get new information," she said, having found almost 20 black holes throughout her research.

Now, she continues to study other black holes, which is the same idea of finding hidden black holes. Her expertise is in the field of X-ray astronomy, which is studying objects in the universe that emit high levels of radiation and often emit high levels of radiation, i.e. black holes.

"But the sun and stars also emit X-ray radiation. In 2020, I discovered another black hole, but not as powerful as the supermassive black hole that was successfully discovered in 2017 emitting extraordinary high-energy X-ray radiation.

"For all the black holes found, I will study their characteristics, what happens in the black hole, the nature, and the impact on the occupied galaxy.

"It is quite complex when we study the universe, but believe me it is very interesting," she said also receiving the 2023 Merdeka Award Grant to continue her research at Durham University, United Kingdom for two months and the California Institute of Technology, US (one month).

The results of her latest research will be published in an international scientific journal.

“For me this career is very interesting and supports women, especially the field of astronomy which is full of excitement and mystery," she added.