Skip to main content

Our stories

AstroDoings Oct 2019 – Featured New Graduate Student: Aaron Tohuvavohu

01 Oct 2019


by Alena Wasney

A couple of weeks ago, before our new cohort of students were set to arrive in Toronto, I had a chance to speak over the telephone with one of our new students, Aaron Tohuvavohu. Aaron is a remarkable young scientist whose track record speaks for itself. Thank you, Aaron, for finding time to speak to me!

Aaron grew up in New York and went to school in Portland, Oregon where he received his degree in Physics. As an undergrad, Aaron focused on theoretical physics and his thesis, entitled “Issues with First Quantization Quantum Mechanics on Curved Space-times”, reflected his interest in this field. After undergrad, Aaron started working for NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, where he spent the next three years working on the mission and rising rapidly to become the first individual without a Ph.D. to take the post of Observatory Duty Scientist.

At Swift, Aaron was exposed to various scientific projects while working with numerous people all over the world. He spearheaded and led the way to optimize the Swift Observatory’s chances of catching new events, in particular high-energy electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational waves. Even though Aaron’s position at Swift was very fulfilling and full of never-ending challenges, he realized that in order to move forward he needed to obtain a higher degree and acquire more broad knowledge. Therefore, he decided to pursue his PhD degree in Astronomy.

Aaron chose the U of T because Toronto is a great city which has a lot to offer in terms of culture and science. It is multicultural, open and friendly. Aaron’s impression after vising our department is that we have great scholars and happy students. It also helps that its three units (DAA, The Dunlap Institute and CITA) work closely together, thereby increasing the opportunities for collaboration. Outside of academics, Aaron hopes that he will find friends to speak other languages (including Yiddish and Spanish). At this point in his career, his research interests are broad and include high energy transients and astrophysical tests of fundamental physics.

I asked Aaron why he decided to become an Astronomer and he told me that Astronomy is a perfect discipline because it is very versatile. Being an astronomer, one gets to work on large issues making connections across disciplines and utilizing many aspects of basic physics including relativity, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, nuclear and particle physics, quantum mechanics, and atomic and molecular physics. He likes the fact that modern astronomical research often involves both theoretical and observational components. Observational Astronomy is also a great way to travel and meet new people as astronomers are the most fun people you can find in physics departments!

Aaron’s main hobby is learning – whether it is physics, languages, or other interests. He also mentioned regular naps and Ultimate Frisbee among his hobbies.

When I asked Aaron how he is hoping to make the world a better place, he gave me the most perfect answer. He said he is going to make the world better by following his passion for knowledge. He believes knowledge is fundamentally important for our development and progress and if there is anything he can contribute, it is to add to that knowledge.

We are very excited to welcome Aaron and all of our new graduate students to our department. We hope we will live up to the high standards and expectations!