I’m a German data scientist with a background in astrophysics. In my past life as an academic scientist my work focussed on gravitational dynamics, as gravity is the force that keeps the Universe in motion. In 2016, I have moved on to the world of data science where I can apply my skills to problems in the business world. This website documents my time as an astrophysicist at Columbia University in the years 2013-2016.
I got my PhD in astronomy from the University of Bonn (Germany) at the end of 2011. My research topic was the dynamical evolution of massive star clusters. I studied the birth, life, and death of these stellar systems by means of numerical simulations. Most of this research was taken out on the special purpose computers at the University of Bonn, but I also spent several months at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and at the European Southern Observatory in Santiago (Chile). In Scotland, I developed the theoretical background for my PhD thesis, whereas in Chile I learned how to relate the outcomes of my simulations to observations of real objects on the sky.
My academic research could be classified as experimental astrophysics, that is, my goal was to understand the dynamics of stellar systems in the lab (a super computer). Guided by theory and observations, I created realistic models of existing objects on the sky or I set up idealized systems that evolved under laboratory conditions. The results from these simulations I either compared directly to the existing object under investigation via sophisticated statistical methods, or I inferred trends from the simulations that I then compared to observed trends for collections of objects on the sky.
In astronomy, numerical experiments are key for this kind of work, as there is only one Universe and processes take place on timescales of millions or billions of years. Confirmation of a theoretically predicted or observationally suggested phenomenon can therefore only be done in the numerical experiment. Vice versa, confirmation of phenomena discovered in numerical experiments has to be sought in the real Universe as well as with pen and paper. Therefore, to me experimental astronomy is a fascinating and essential discipline in between theory and observations (see also this essay by Kevin Heng).
After spending some time at ESO and at Yale, I moved to New York City in September 2013 to take up a Hubble Fellowship at Columbia University. This blog did a great job at documenting my numerous travel adventures and the progress I made in my research. At the end of the fellowship, in June 2016, I moved to Cambridge, MA, to pursue a career in data science. As a fellow at the Insight Data Science program in Boston I learned how I can use my skill set to help answer business questions and create data-driven insights for companies and their users.