Astrophysicist Tonima Tasnim Ananna ’13 Makes List of 10 Scientists to Watch

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October 12, 2020

For the sixth consecutive year, Science News featured 10 early- and mid-career scientists who are pushing the boundaries of scientific inquiry.

This year’s group includes 29-year-old astrophysicist Tonima Tasnim Ananna ’13, who majored in physics at Bryn Mawr and astronomy at Haverford, and “has drawn the most complete picture yet of black holes across the universe—where they are, how they grow, and how they affect their environments.”

In addition to talking to Science News about her research, she also talked about the impact Bryn Mawr has had on her life.

When Ananna was a 5-year-old in Dhaka, Bangladesh, her mother told her about the Pathfinder spacecraft landing on Mars. Her mother was a homemaker, she says, but was curious about science and encouraged Ananna’s curiosity, too.

“That’s when I realized there were other worlds,” she says. “That’s when I wanted to study astronomy.” There were not a lot of opportunities to study space in Bangladesh, so she came to the United States for undergrad, attending Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She chose an all-women’s school not known for a lot of drinking to reassure her parents that she was not “going abroad to party.” Although Ananna intended to keep her head down and study, she was surprised by the social opportunities she found.

“The women at Bryn Mawr were fiercely feminist, articulate, opinionated and independent,” she says. “It really helped me grow a lot.” Traveling for internships at NASA and CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, and a year at the University of Cambridge, boosted her confidence. (She did end up going to some parties—“no alcohol for me, though.”)

Tonima Tasnim Ananna ’13 (photo by Eli Burakian, Dartmouth College)

Tonima is currently a postdoctoral research associate at Dartmouth. After Bryn Mawr, she earned her Ph.D. at the Department of Physics, Yale University. In addition to her research, she cofounded Wi-STEM (pronounced “wisdom”), a mentorship network for girls and young women who are interested in science. She and four other Bangladeshi scientists who studied in the U.S. mentor a group of 20 female high school and college students in Bangladesh, helping them find paths to pursue science.

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