Science is curious. The same year that the astronomer and astrophysicist María Teresa Ruíz became the first woman to receive the National Prize for Exact Physical Sciences (1997), she made her debut on planet Earth, Teresa Paneque, the astronomer, science communicator and writer that already has more than 850 thousand followers in its different social networks.
From Germany, where he is pursuing a doctorate, he acknowledges: “It is a privilege to have grown up in a family where science was the way to make a living.”
He immediately states that, although his father is a Cuban biochemist who today is concerned with the water crisis in the north, and his mother, a Chilean pharmaceutical chemist with a doctorate in immunology, science was never talked about at home and they always let her choose her path, just like her brothers who are dry hockey-skates and, therefore, the theme of the home is sports.
He was born in Spain while his parents were doing their doctorates, and from 5 to 9 years old he was in Scotland, where he learned English. Shortly before he was 10 he landed in Chile and had a very bad time. He did not understand the change of leaving a wonderful public school for a room with 40 unknown people.
-How does a Physics enthusiast get to astronomy?
-The truth, I had few clear things. I knew that I really liked learning, that I loved Physics, and that astronomy was one of its branches. Today the boys and girls who follow me on networks know things that I had no idea at 16 years old. I wanted to understand the universe, ask myself questions and be able to answer them. If something touches you, dare.
-Did this astronomical boom in the country have something to do with it?
-No, in 2013 when I made the decision there was not much talk. I had made a trip to La Serena and taken an astronomical tour, but more than the beauty of the universe -I don’t have any astronomical images in my house, even though it is wonderful- the exact sciences, programming, analysis of data. The planets…
– Why the planets?
When I entered Astronomy I did not have a favorite subject. I met Professor James Jenkins who is an expert in detecting planets and I said wow, I started thinking about him and wanted to know more. A planet is one of the few things in the universe that we can feel, touch, experience and we don’t understand how it was formed. It is a simple and close question, it is linked to teaching. They are much cooler than black holes and I like them because they are small and I work on smaller scales.
She entered the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences of the U. de Chile, just when the gender equity program was launched that allowed the admission of 40 women after the cut of the PSU, with the idea of promoting their admission in those races traditionally marked as masculine. “We were like 23%,” she recalls.
“I did not have female professors in any of my undergraduate training courses. I realized that this was a problem when I took a test and it showed that I had an unconscious male bias towards the areas of exact sciences. I found it brutal! Later, when I had to choose a professor for my Master’s thesis, I found the wonderful doctor Laura Pérez -who was my guide- but initially I thought ‘ah, she is very new and young and I hesitated’. I told myself ‘I’m wrong, I’m young and I’m a woman. If she had been a man, she would have thought, bacán, she has a lot of energy.’ I captured that thought, got into Google and found out that it’s awesome. Working with her made me realize how much I missed working with a professor during my undergraduate degree.”
“A female dean makes you believe that you can be a dean, a woman who leads projects makes you believe that you can too, the same as a female president”, she reflects on the importance of female role models.
-Do you feel that we need to meet the new Marie Curie?
-We are campaigning very actively for girls and young women to enter science, but once they do, we forget about them and we need to give a voice to the women who are doing tremendous work in this area. It is those voices and leaderships that will inspire the generations to come. We need to make them visible. Marie Curie is an unattainable icon, I can’t talk to her. I can speak to Laura Pérez, Myriam Benisty, Anna Miotello and Ewinw van Dishoeck.
Her work as a science communicator points to that: “I want to believe that I can be an inspiration for other girls and young women and act as an echo chamber to be able to show the research of other women, promote a more democratic view of science education. I like to think that through my networks I can solve some questions, kindle a flame of curiosity. If what you are passionate about is welcome science, we need you, we want you here and you are going to be valuable”.
That is why her books “The universe according to Carlota 1 and 2” -to which she will soon add a third-, are focused on a girl who initially believes that you have to be a certain way to be a scientist, but throughout history her perception it’s changing.
Tere has two years left of her doctorate and then she intends to do a post doctorate to continue expanding her networks. But he is clear that in this decade he wants to return to Chile, because it is his country and he wants to contribute from his knowledge.
“I dream of a future where education in Chile is not linked to socioeconomic status, where the State is capable of offering everyone a decent life and fulfilling the dreams of children. Where I can go to a school to tell the new generations to dream big and to know that if they study and make an effort they will be able to reach their goals. I want to contribute from wherever they need me”, says the astronomer.