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C3 Student Researcher Honored by Forbes Magazine

March 17, 2021

Contact: [email protected]


Sarafina Nance

Sarafina Nance, a graduate student currently working in the Computational Research Division (CRD) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has been recognized by Forbes magazine as one of 30 Inspirational Women, part of a Forbes tribute to Women’s History Month.

Nance joined CRD’s Computational Cosmology Center after entering the University of California, Berkeley in 2017 to pursue graduate studies in theoretical astrophysics; she now has her master’s and is working toward a Ph.D. Prior to coming to Berkeley, she earned a dual degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin, with a focus on the evolutionary state of Betelgeuse and probing the structure of pre-supernova stars using asteroseismology.

“I fell in love with astronomy when I was 4 years old and would star gaze with my dad every night. I knew at a very early age that I wanted to devote my life to studying that,” said Nance, who grew up in Austin.

In her current research, she is working with supercomputing resources at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center to study models of core-collapse supernovae and how they can be used to constrain the rate of expansion of the universe. This work allows her to combine her passion for astrophysics with a growing interest in computational cosmology.

“When I got to UC Berkeley and had the opportunity to work with Peter Nugent [CRD department head for computational science], he introduced me to the world of supercomputing and the power behind large data sets,” Nance said. “Being able to harness this power enables you to tease out and explore some of the maybe not immediately obvious features of your data. In my current work, it allows us to constrain the rate of the expansion of the universe with very, very high precision, something that hasn’t really been done before, particularly with this type of supernova.”

Beyond her academic pursuits and achievements, Nance believes in sharing her love of the cosmos with as many people as she can. She is very active on social media and has about 100,000 Twitter followers, where she discusses astrophysics, STEM, and activism. She also hosts a Discovery Channel program, “Constellations,” and has written a children’s book, “Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Astronomy,” that is available for pre-release starting this week. Nance also carries the BRCA2 genetic mutation and had a preventive double mastectomy to lower her extremely high risk of breast cancer. In sharing her story, Nance has become an advocate for women’s health and breast cancer awareness.

“This recognition from Forbes means a lot,” she said. “It’s one thing to be recognized for your research, it’s one thing to be recognized for your advocacy, but to have this sort of comprehensive, honorary title as an inspirational woman is such a dream and something I aspire to when I share my story and journey. It means the world to be able to be recognized in such a meaningful way.”