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Astrophysicist Federica Bianco, who joined UD through the Data Science Institutes recent cluster
hire, has been named a TED Fellow - one of only 20 fellows named
for 2019 from around the world.
Given the powerful
intellect inside her skull, its a bit unnerving to watch a film of
University of Delaware astrophysicist Federica Bianco at work in the
No, thats not a typo. When shes not trying to figure out how the
universe works, Bianco, who was among the research scientists who joined
UDs faculty last year in the cluster hire for the new Data Science Institute, moonlights as a professional boxer bantamweight division.
Now her outside-the-box approach to life and learning and interdisciplinary adventure has caught the imagination of the TED Fellows
program, which she has been selected to join one of only 20 fellows
worldwide in the 2019 class, which was announced Wednesday, Jan. 23 in
New York. She is the first UD faculty member to be named a TED Fellow.
My idea to pitch to them is that we dont need to be just one
thing, she said. We dont need to choose one role and stick to it. We
can be many things. Strictly speaking, science and criminal justice and
boxing you might not put those things together. But I learn a lot of
things in the ring that help in the sciences and vice versa.
TED is a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas,
usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a
conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and
today covers almost all topics in 110 languages. The TED Fellows program
was founded in 2009, and now has 472 Fellows scientists, doctors,
activists, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, inventors and more
from 96 countries. Their talks have been seen online more than 250
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
In addition to her work in astrophysics, Bianco is a professional boxer.
We are thrilled to announce the newest class of TED Fellows, who
give voice to some of the most exciting ideas weve seen in the
programs 10-year history, TED Fellows Director Shoham Arad said in a
statement. This years class includes a police captain designing
systems to support women in policing, a space environmentalist building
technology to monitor space debris, and an artist exploring the ethical
implications of emerging technology. The Fellows program is committed to
using its resources and platform to help scale Fellows ideas and
impact and we are so excited to have these Fellows become an integral
part of our global community.
Bianco, who was born in Italy, is an assistant professor in the
Department of Physics and Astronomy and in the Joseph R. Biden Jr.
School of Public Policy and Administration.
She will deliver her four-minute talk at TED2019 in Vancouver in
April. Before that she will participate in workshops, ongoing
professional coaching and mentoring, public-relations coaching and
activities in the global TED Fellows network. She will have support as
she creates her talk and learn important principles of effective
Her work extends in many directions. She is involved in the
development of the largest astrophysical survey ever attempted the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
(LSST), an 8-meter instrument she said should be operational by 2022.
From its base in Chile, the telescope will image the entire southern
hemisphere sky every three days or so, producing 20 terabytes of data
each night and discovering all sorts of things that change in the sky
exploding stars, merging black holes, planets in transit.
Biancos husband, astrophysicist/urban scientist Gregory Dobler, also
was part of the Data Science Institutes cluster hire. She works with
him, too, collaborating in the unique Urban Observatory
system he developed to survey city skylines and urban environments.
They study urban dynamics, including energy use and pollution, by
applying astronomical techniques to city images.
She also has applied her data analysis expertise to issues of
prosecutorial justice, especially delays, and urban health in New York
Nobody knows about errors in data as well as astrophysicists, she
said with a laugh. By working collaboratively in a team, we can
contribute from different angles.
And that is precisely her interest in the TED Fellows program.
The idea that interdisciplinary work can help us achieve
surprisingly good results and can lead to extremely important
discoveries that is a difficult idea to pitch to any conventional
fellowship or foundation or funding agency," Bianco said. "But TED has
Inside the ring, Bianco nicknamed the Mad Scientist has been a
formidable presence and has an impressive record with 4 wins, 1 loss and
2 knockouts. One boxing announcer, providing play-by-play during a match in Rhode Island, described her as a high-pressure fighter who allowed no pauses, no catching of breath, no lulls in the action.
I dont think Ill see another fighting astrophysicist, he said.
She is most eager to see what will come of the enormous LSST project,
which will expand our knowledge of dark energy and dark matter, the
Solar System, structure of the galaxy and the transient sky all of the
things that are changing in the night, she said.
Every second 10 supernovae explode somewhere in the universe, she
said. The LSST will see thousands and not just exploding stars, but
planets transiting, microlensing, gravity affecting the light of
Thats some of what will happen, anyway.
All of those things are very exciting, but the most exciting thing
is that this is a different survey than any survey that has been done
before, she said.
Who knows what youre going to find out?
The TED website has a complete list of TED Fellows and many of their talks through the years.
Article by Beth Miller; UD photo by Kathy F. Atkinson; boxing photo by Terrence Hamilton