Sofía Rojas Ruiz − Colombian Astronomer

Sofía Rojas holding her Tasco Newtonian Telescope, ready to observe at the Tatacoa Desert in Colombia I was born in Bogota, Colombia and the first movie my parents bought me on Betamax was actually the series 'Cosmos' by Carl Sagan. Growing up I saw my mother working as a journalist and professor at a University and my father as an amateur astronomer with a telescope. My grandfather showed me many books and we both saw my first partial solar eclipse and my grandma taught me math up to multiplication and division. Seems pretty obvious now why I chose to do astronomy, but there is more. As many children, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and working for NASA making series like 'Cosmos' because that is what I thought astronomers did. It wasn't until I turned 14 years old that the picture began to become more clear to me. I was studying at the Corazonista School in Bogota and was just starting to take physics and chemistry classes. Both teachers were very supportive and showed me a path to study natural sciences. At the same time, I began to attend public talks on astronomy subjects offered by different astronomy societies in Bogota. Many of the speakers were Colombian professionals in chemistry, physics, or engineering who shared a passion for astronomy, but only one or two had actually studied astronomy abroad. In my last year of high school, I participated in the National Astronomy Olympiads (IV OCA) and later moved on to the Latin American Olympiads (V OLAA). Sofía Rojas on her graduation day at the University of Texas at Austin

I knew for sure that I wanted to study astronomy, so my mother and I sat down to look for universities and the more I looked the more it became clear that I had to leave my home country. At the moment, only one university in Colombia had began to offer an astronomy undergraduate degree and only one student was part of it and had yet to graduate. Thus, Going to the U.S. became my best option and I set my mind to it. At the age of 16 and only one month after high school graduation, I left to the U.S. and took part in an English program that guided me in all university requirements from TOEFL and SAT to essay applications for American universities. (I have more tips on it here.) A year later and back in Colombia on a sunny April day, I got accepted at The University of Texas at Austin and it became the happiest, most unbelievable day of my life. Up to this moment, a lot of friends, family and people I knew had told me many times "NO. She cannot possibly get a spot in an American university, no one else does that, how are you going to afford it, can you even get a job, why don't you just stay in Colombia like everyone else?" For years, I had been used to hearing NO so this YES was in a few words 'just it.' The university tuition was very expensive indeed; my family and I could not afford much more than the first semester of my studies and living expenses. However, I could apply to a few scholarships available for international students at my university. Summing up the scholarships I was awarded and my job as an Undergraduate Research Assistant (URA), I was able to pay the full tuition every year and never got in debt. I worked as an URA with Dr. Steven Finkelstein since my second semester. This is where I developed my passion for studying the early Universe, specifically some of the first-born galaxies wihtin the first 500 million years of the Universe (or at redhisft z ~ 9).

Latinas in Astronomy hanging out at the First Light School in São Paulo, Brazil. I grew a lot and many times the hard way being so far away from home in a different culture, but many people at UT supported me the whole way. I will be forever grateful to my supervisor, professors, friends, colleagues, scholarship donors, admin staff and family for helping and teaching me to get up and keep moving forward. At UT I indeed had many opportunities to showcase my research and also took over summer internships to explore more of the astronomy community both in the U.S. and in Europe. It wasn't until after graduating with a B.S. in astronomy and a B.S. in physics at the age of 22, that I began to meet more Colombians studying astronomy and space sciences abroad. I attended the First Light School at the University of São Paulo, Brazil where I met for the first time so many more Latin American astronomers, and I was fascinated! I made new friends and became part of the Colmbian Women Doing Research in Astronomy (CHIA) and the Network of Colombian Astronomy Students (RECA), where I am now very active helping to grow astronomy awarenes and the scientific community in Colombia. You can read more here.

Sofía Rojas playing 3D mini golf in Heidelberg and pointing at the background art of a quasar with a jet I have now moved on to study my Ph.D. at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy with the Fellowship from the International Max Planck Research School - Heidelberg. I have been doing research on the first quasars, which are supermassive blach holes living in the centers of some galaxies. I have focused on the quasars born within the first billion years of the Universe, (or at redhisft z ≳ 6) and some of them are bright in radio wanvelengths, like this one. I have been able to work with optical, near-infrared and radio data from ground-based and space telescopes. I enjoy living in Germany and although traveling has been restricted, I have been able to grow my astronomy network and continue to do what I love. I have learned to PI proposals, be more independent on my research, and take on the every day challenges of Ph.D. live. Let's hope for more adventures in the future!

Colombia, Mi Tierra Querida!

The Tatacoa Desert, Huila
Tatacoa Desert, Huila.
Streets of Ráquira, Boyacá
Ráquira, Boyacá.
Parque Jaime Duque, Tocancipá, Cundinamarca
Parque Jaime Duque, Tocancipá, Cundinamarca.
Clay figure of a Colombian Farmer, Ráquira, Boyacá
Farmer in Clay, Ráquira, Boyacá.
Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
Villa de Leyva, Boyacá.
Laguna de Guatavita in Cundinamarca
Laguna de Guatavita (The Legend of El Dorado)
Páramo Ecosystem (>3,000 mamsl), Guatavita
Páramo Ecosystem (>3,000 mamsl), Guatavita
Salt Mines, Nemocón, Cundinamarca
Salt Mines, Nemocón, Cundinamarca.
Indigenous Gold Figurines, Gold Museum, Bogotá
Indigenous Gold Figurines, Gold Museum, Bogotá
Colombian Coffee from Cundinamarcan Region
Colombian Coffee, The Best in the World.
Fonce River, San Gil, Santander
Fonce River, San Gil, Santander.
Arhuacos Indigenous Housing, via the Lost City, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena
Arhuacos Indigenous Housing, via the Lost City, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena.
Town of Mesitas de El Colegio, Cundinamarca
Mesitas de El Colegio, Cundinamarca.