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Assigned Reading: Elena D’Onghia

Associate Professor of Astronomy Elena D’Onghia let’s you know what should be next on your TBR pile.

Marlen Gongora x’22
September 10, 2021

We can all think of a time when we looked up at the beaming moon and sparkling stars and wondered: what’s really out there? For Elena D’Onghia, these big questions came into play when her father brought home an encyclopedia with a section dedicated to the galaxy. Ready to answer these questions, D’Onghia read this section and soon decided to dedicate her life to become an astronomer when she was seven years old.

Originating from Italy, D’Onghia eared her PhD in astronomy at her home country, and she soon earned a Marie Curie Fellowship. This opportunity took her to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to work as a Keck Fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Theory and Computation, where she focused on modeling the Milky Way and its stars. D’Onghia joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin–Madison in September 2012.

At the UW, D’Onghia has taught a variety of classes, from introductory astronomy courses for freshman and sophomores to graduate courses on cosmology, the study of the origin and development of the universe. D’Onghia has also continued her research on the motion of stars, and alongside her colleague Paolo Desiati, she has been developing magnetic shield technology to protect humans from harmful radiation. “This century is going to be the century for the discovery of life elsewhere,” D’Onghia says, “and it’s going to be the century of space travel.” 

My Assigned Reading Includes:

  • The Cosmic Perspective, by Jeffrey Bennett, et al.
  • The Dynamic Bible, by Peter Han

“It’s pretty tough,” she says, “but it contains everything you need to know for dynamics, for knowing the motion of stars, and understanding the math on a high level. It’s really the Bible for the Milky Way.

I Like to Read:

“For my own pleasure I really like biographies,” D’Oghia says. “We have this idea that people who are successful are kind of lucky and had a good life, but most of the time there was probably decades that they had to struggle, and they were maybe not believed. Many biographies are teaching me their perseverance.”

The Book I Read Most Recently Was:

  • Enrico Fermi, Physicist, by Emilio Segrè

“Emilio Segrè … was actually a friend of Fermi, and he wrote this book decades ago, and I never got a chance to read it,” says D’Onghia.

I Always Wanted to read (But Never Got Around to):

A book I never had a chance to read, and I really want to do it is On the Shortness of Life and it’s actually by Seneca.

Everyone Should Read:

  • Autobiography of a Yogi, by ­­­Paramahansa Yogananda

“I felt like that book is kind of inspiring,” she says. “It’s really about searching for yourself.”  

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