Scholarship Award Alumni - Zoe de Beurs

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Zoe de Beurs

University of Texas at Austin
Physics and Astronomy
Bachelor of Science - 2021
2020 USRA Distinguished Undergraduate

Zoe’s stereotypes about women in astrophysics were shattered when she attended a conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, where she met women who challenged her ideas about what an astrophysicist looks like.  In addition, she learned that “being a leader in science does not require that you are a certain gender or from a specific background.”  This conference kick-started her journey to overcome her early academic struggles and her own self-doubts.

Another lesson she realized at that conference is that although research is a “constant process of turning the lemons of scientific setback into lemonade … With enough resilience and persistence through those struggles, I could excel as an astrophysicist.”  This has sustained her through a variety of research internships.

Zoe thinks that “studying subjects like mathematics and astrophysics force you to question the truths you hold as self-evident … [including] whether life on earth as we know it could possibly exist on distant worlds beyond our solar system.”  She has pursued this challenging question by applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve detection of earth-mass planets around Sun-like stars. In doing so, she provided an important development in the field.  She also conducted a comparative study of AI methods to classify stellar binaries while an intern at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  She aspires to lead her own research group which will fuse developments in computational and experimental astrophysics to accelerate exoplanet discoveries.

She enjoys sharing her excitement with aspiring astronomers and scientists and making the field of astronomy more accessible and inclusive.  As the elected president of the UT Austin Natural Sciences Council during her senior year, Zoe led an organization of 80+ people who each had unique ideas and perspectives.  This group established a new collaborative study space for historically underrepresented student groups and hosted a salary negotiation workshop focused on women in STEM.  With their outreach efforts, she has also led interactive science lessons with students at local underserved schools and is excited to see them grow into young, “fiercely excited” scientists.