Dr Vinesh Maguire Rajpaul
BSc Hons, MSc (Cape Town), DPhil (Oxon), FRAS
Some of my earliest memories are of being perched as a toddler on my grandparents' porch in South Africa, and staring, utterly transfixed, at darkening twilight skies. I marvelled as glittering pinpricks of light started to appear in the firmament. I wasn’t sure what I was staring at, though I sensed I was witnessing something sublime. As night fell, my parents or grandparents usually had to drag me inside.
Years later, I encountered the Voyager probe’s photograph of Earth from a distance of 6 billion km. I was awed to think that every human being that ever existed had inhabited this ‘pale blue dot…a mere ‘mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam…a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark’ (as Carl Sagan put it)! I was even more excited to learn of the discovery of the first planets around stars other than the Sun, i.e., exoplanets.
By and by I found myself studying astronomy, physics, and applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town. A Rhodes Scholarship then brought me to Oxford, where I read for a DPhil in Astrophysics at Merton College. My doctoral research focused on developing ways to discover smaller, more Earth-like exoplanets around a wider variety of stars than has until recently been possible. I helped discover and characterise various exoplanets, though my highest-profile result was proving that Alpha Centauri Bb – until 2016, thought to be the closest exoplanet to Earth – actually does not exist.
I can still scarcely believe how fortunate I am to be conducting research in one of the most awe-inspiring and rapidly-advancing fields in science: a field which fills me with the same child-like wonder I experienced on my grandparents' porch all those years ago. If there are other ‘pale blue dots’ out there in the vastness of the cosmos (perhaps teeming with life!), I very much hope to learn about them in my lifetime, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue this research at Emmanuel College.
Astrophysics aside, I am committed to improving scientific literacy among the general public, and leveraging science education to transform broader worldviews.
Outside of academia, my interests include music, from twee indie pop to Ostgut Ton; politics; travel; and contemporary literature. My biggest non-academic passion, however, is photography. My photographs have been published and exhibited internationally, and accolades include a UK Photographer of the Year award. I’ve enjoyed creating a photographic account of life ‘inside’ the University of Oxford over the past few years, and hope to do something similar in Cambridge.