Name: Saniya Heeba
Current position: Postdoc
Affiliation: Recently graduated from RWTH Aachen University
Field of research: Dark Matter Phenomenology
What is your career trajectory to date?
I started off as an undergraduate physics student at Miranda House, University of Delhi in 2013. I moved to RWTH Aachen University in Germany in 2016 for my Master’s and stayed on for my PhD (2018-2021). I’m currently an MSI fellow at McGill University in Canada.
What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?
You can't work in dark matter and not answer this question with anything but the true nature of dark matter! At this point, pinning down what dark matter is, appears to be a test of human creativity as well as tenacity, which is extremely exciting.
What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?
I like that we have the freedom to ask the very fundamental of questions about nature, pursue ideas and work with a diverse community of people on an equally diverse set of problems. I don’t like the inherent precarity of an early-career academic life and the isolation and anxieties that come with it.
Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?
I’ve been turning my projects into comics (and most recently an animation!) for the last couple of years and picking up some digital art skills has been very fun.
What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?
I would like to explore the astrophysical side of dark matter phenomenology, such as how we can use stars as dark matter laboratories. Somewhat relatedly, I want to learn more about the behaviour of dark matter within a plasma. I’d like to improve my coding skills in pursuit of these ideas.
What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?
I’m very excited to see where the DM theory frontier takes us in the next couple of years. We already have several brilliant ideas to probe dark matter at different scales but there is still room for a lot more! On the observational side, I’m eager to see new results from various direct detection, accelerator and axion experiments. Maybe dark matter is *really* just around the corner this time :p
What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?
~*Gestures vaguely at the world*~
But to be specific, I would say that apart from the pandemic—which has drained all of us to varying extents— the steady rise of hate groups across the world and the normalisation of violence against a lot of communities (including mine) has slowed down my research quite a bit.
What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?
EuCAPT, as a community network, is an ideal place to foster collaborations, create mentorship networks, as well as provide support to scholars from marginalised backgrounds.
What’s your favorite food?
One can never go wrong with a steaming cup of chai and a plate of biryani.
Have you lived in a different European country than you do now? If so, would you like to tell us something about it, e.g. a fond memory or something you found surprising?
Before moving to Canada, I lived in Aachen, Germany, for about five years.
The day after I moved to Aachen, I was supposed to meet my landlady at a cafe which was turning out to be impossible to find. In the end, I gave up and asked a stranger for help. He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any German but he figured out what I was saying and graciously walked me to the right cafe. The day before I left Aachen, I was aimlessly wandering the streets when a stranger approached me asking for directions to a restaurant. My german having only marginally improved in the intervening 5 years, I ended up walking him to it. As someone who is obsessed with finding narrative structure in the most ridiculous of things, these incidents were the perfect bookends to my stay in Germany.
How do you like to relax after a hard day of work?
I read (a little of everything but I have a soft spot for fantasy), write (stories, pop-sci articles, thinly disguised rants) or make “art” (aka doodles of dubious quality).
Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share?
Basically the things I answered for the previous question.
If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?
I'd probably be a teacher.
What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?
The dream would, of course, be to see a clear DM signal in one of the many experiments we currently have running. Apart from that, I would love to see our community embody the principles of equity and inclusion and foster an environment where researchers from all backgrounds can truly thrive.
What question would you have liked us to ask you, and what would you have responded?
(For shameless self-promotion reasons) I’d have liked to be asked whether I had a website or a social media handle, and I would have answered with a link to my website: https://saniyaheeba.com.