This Turkish-born Muslimah scientist discovered a whole new galaxy, and now has a galaxy named after her. The galaxy, known as Burçin’s Galaxy, is named after the scientist who discovered it, Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil. Born and raised in Turkey, she moved from Istanbul to Ankara to study physics at university where she was one of the very few female students in her department.
As a relatively young scientist to have discovered a whole new galaxy, and a woman and a Muslim to boot are just simply amazing. She joined Bilkent University, Turkey in 2003 and graduated in 2009 in Physics. In 2012 she moved to the US to further her studies, first at Texas Tech University for her master’s degree before completing a doctorate at the University of Minnesota.
The Humble Beginnings of Burçin
Burcin’s grandparents came from a small rural town and did not learn how to read or write. Burçin’s parents also did not finish school, having dropped out fifth grade to take care of their parents, Burçin’s grandparents. However, her father was smart enough to skip a grade in school, but ultimately had to drop out of school in order to support his family.
Her love for physics came about when she was in middle school, where she had to prepare a paper about an interesting person. She chose Einstein after her sister told her that he was the smartest person in the world.
The unfulfilled dreams of her parents to study led her to achieve academic freedom. Her parents allowed her to move to Ankara, from the family residence in Instanbul, in order to pursue her studies in physics. Coming from traditional family background, letting their daughter moved away from home was frowned upon by her relatives.
Even in university, her physics professors would often belittle her determination to study physics. “Are you crazy? You are a woman, and you left your hometown to study physics?”, Burçin would recall her professor mocking her studying physics.
However, this led Burçin to be more determined to study and worked hard to stand out. As a Muslimah scientist in Turkey, she always dreamt of representing Muslimah scientists but had no such role models to refer to.
Rings of Success
While studying for her postdoctorate in astrophysics, she discovered a whole new galaxy. This galaxy is not just newly discovered in 2017 but is also unique in its features.
In 2018, she was made a TED fellow. She now uses the platform to promote science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) studies to girls and women around the world. She also advocates for Muslim girls to study the STEM field.
What is the Burçin’s Galaxy
At first, it was thought that this galaxy is part of Hoag’s Object, where it was first discovered in the 1950’s by a scientist named Arthur Hoag. Hoag’s Object is a galaxy where a bright ring of young blue stars surrounding a symmetrical central body made up of older stars, without any visible connection between them. However, after further studying this galaxy, it was found to be different.
The galaxy is unique in that it has two symmetric rings surrounding the central body, and is not attached to the central body. It even has a red-colored inner ring surrounding the central body. A normal galaxy, on the other hand, has asymmetric rings with visible attachments to the central body.
Burçin’s Words of Wisdom
Burçin’s work also involves advocating and encouraging students from underrepresented communities, including girls who might be interested in science, but who are pressured to pursue other interests instead.
“You should not block your scientific curiosity because of external pressures.”
“That’s the rule of life too, isn’t it,” she adds. “You might not get the result you want on the first try. Every time you fail, you get up and try again, and then eventually, you get there. The journey may not be an easy one, but you should follow your passion.”
— You can also read about other Muslimahs who are breaking stereotypes here