“Women of CTA” Returns for Fifth Edition on 8 February

“Women of CTA,” one of the CTAO’s longest-running and most popular outreach and education events, returns for its fifth edition. The event, carried out on the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls, will take place on Wednesday, 8 February at 18:30 CET via livestream on the CTAO’s Facebook and YouTube platforms.

This year, Lucy Fortson (University of Minnesota), Elisabetta Bissaldi (Politecnico di Bari and Italian National Instituto of Nuclear Physics, INFN) and Heike Prokoph (DESY and CTAO) will share their professional experiences in their respective fields and as researchers for the CTA project. To further instigate the exchange of ideas, we have changed the structure of the event to a round table focused on themed discussions around topics that include the future of astrophysics, the situation of women in science and science education. During the event, we will invite attendees to join the discussion and ask speakers questions through Facebook and YouTube.

Meet the speakers:

Lucy Fortson

Dr. Lucy Fortson is a Professor of Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota (UMN). As an observational astrophysicist, she uses very high-energy gamma-ray telescopes to probe Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs) and the jets of matter and radiation that emanate from the region surrounding supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies. She is a member of both the VERITAS collaboration and the Cherenkov Telescope Array Consortium (CTAC). She is also a founding member of the Zooniverse project where over 2.5 million volunteers contribute to discovery research by performing simple data analysis tasks. Fortson focuses on developing human-computation algorithms to tackle Big Data challenges with next generation observatories such as LSST and the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO). Moreover, she serves as USA’s Country Representative for the CTA Outreach Committee, an international group of 60 CTAC members that collaborates with the CTAO on communications and outreach activities to promote the Observatory to a worldwide audience.


Prior to joining the faculty at UMN, Fortson was Vice President for Research at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and a research scientist at the University of Chicago. She received her BA in 1984 from Smith College in Physics and Astronomy, and her PhD in 1991 from UCLA in High Energy Physics on CERN’s UA1 experiment. She has served on numerous committees including the National Academy of Sciences Astronomy 2010 Decadal Survey, NASA’s Astrophysics Science Subcommittee and the Human Capital Committee of the NASA Advisory Council, the NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee, and the Education and Public Outreach Review Committee for NOAO. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society, and member of the American Astronomical Society and the Citizen Science Association. Her awards include the APS Nicholson Award, NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Award, the University of Geneva’s Innovation Award and UMN’s Community-Engaged Scholar Award.

Elisabetta Bissaldi

Dr. Elisabetta Bissaldi is Associate Professor at the Physics Department of the Politecnico di Bari and the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) in Bari. Her work focuses on high-energy gamma-ray astrophysics and, in particular, on the study of Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs). She is also active in the development of new sensors and detectors for next generation gamma astrophysics instruments.


Prof. Bissaldi got her Master in Astrophysics and Space Physics at the University of Trieste in Italy and her PhD at the Technische Universität München in Germany. In the past, she worked at the Max Planck Institut for Extraterrestrial Physics in Munich, at the Institute for Astro and Particle Physics in Innsbruck and spent research periods in various international institutes such as the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and the University of Tokyo in Japan.


She is a member of several international scientific collaborations, including the NASA Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope Collaboration, the Cherenkov Telescope Array Consortium (CTAC) and the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) Collaboration. Lately, she has been very active in the scientific outreach field. She has been a guest on several occasions on the Newton program of Rai Cultura in Italy and is member of the CTA Outreach Committee, where she supports the outreach and education projects of the CTAO.

Heike Prokoph

Dr. Heike Prokoph is a researcher with more than 10 years of experience in astroparticle physics. She is currently a Research Associate at DESY (Germany) and works as a secondee for the CTAO as Array Clock Coordinator within the CTAO Computing Department.  She obtained her PhD at the Humboldt-University of Berlin, after which she joined the Linnaeus University (Sweden) as a Postdoc researcher. Later, she worked as Research Associate at the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands) before coming back to Germany.


While her scientific interests drove her to study Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs) and transient phenomena, Prokoph is very focused on the software and technical development for ground-based gamma-ray instruments. As a former member of the VERITAS and H.E.S.S. collaborations and current member of the CTAC, she worked on complex and maintainable systems for application in science and industry, on the development of selection and observation strategies for transient sources in the multi-messenger era, and on embedded systems for applications in high-precision astronomical camera systems for ground- and space-based telescopes. As Array Clock Coordinator for the CTAO, Heike is focused on the technical planning and documentation of the product definition, interfaces and requirement specification of the time and clock distribution system for the Observatory.


Beyond her technical work in the field, Heike is strongly interested in science education. For more than 10 years, she has been actively involved in training programmes for teachers and as a tutor in “Measuring Cosmic Particles” at the DESY School Lab. In addition, she is a member of the organizing team for International Cosmic Day and a member of the CTA Outreach Committee. In her free time, she also develops her skills as a science illustrator, making science and technology accessible through visual storytelling.

“Women of CTA” is an annual event carried out under the Astrodiversity program, which gathers all those activities and initiatives organized or supported by CTAO within the inclusion and diversity framework. Find more information regarding Astrodiversity, including about the worldwide situation of women and girls in science, on the Astrodiversity page of our website.


Contact: Alba Fernández-Barral, CTAO Outreach, Education and Communication Officer

Under the patronage of the IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach:

The Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO) brings together a community of diverse cultural backgrounds and personal and professional abilities and experiences. This diversity makes us strong, and the CTAO is committed to supporting and protecting it. To do so, the following CTAO Code of Conduct for Events and Meetings shall be applied. It provides guidelines for the basic standards and rules of behaviour expected in any online or in-person meeting/event organized by the CTAO. They apply to any participant, regardless of whether they are CTAO members or external participants.


CTAO Code of Conduct for Events and Meetings focuses on different core values:


1. Diversity

– Refrain from unpleasant or disparaging remarks or actions, in particular, on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, beliefs, nationality, culture, ethnicity, race, job status/title, disability or family situation.

– Treat others with tact, courtesy and respect.

– Abstain from and actively discourage discrimination in all forms.

– Respect and value differences.


2. Integrity

– Ensure to credit others for their contribution.

– Respect the privacy of others and protect personal information given to you in confidence.


3. Professionalism

– Respect the contribution of each participant to the meeting/event.

– Maintain a professional environment characterized by good working relations and an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect.

– Provide advice and guidance to colleagues, where appropriate.

– Abstain from and actively discourage all forms of harassment as well as verbal, non-verbal, written or physical abuse.


4. Creativity

– Use your professional experience in a constructive manner.

– Be open to new ideas and approaches. Be thoughtful with all participants’ work and provide only constructive critiques.


Mutual respect is paramount, and your right to be treated equally, with dignity and respect, also is protected. The CTAO will not tolerate discrimination or harassment of participants attending our events and meetings, and the organizer, person responsible and/or chairperson of the event/meeting reserves the right to ask any participant who does not follow these guidelines to leave the event/meeting (without refunding the fee, if any).


To privately report a violation of the CTAO Code of Conduct for Events and Meetings during or after the “Women of CTA” event, please contact the organizer, Alba Fernández-Barral (CTAO Outreach, Education and Communication Officer).


The “CTAO Code of Conduct for Events and Meetings” is based on the “CTAO Code of Conduct” (May 2018).