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Annie Handmer

PhD student (History and Philosophy of Science)
Annie is researching how science is carried out in extreme environments under international law. She is currently investigating the interface between science, society, and military activities in space.
Annie Handmer on campus

What is your research topic?

My research traces the social history of Australian space science projects in order to better understand international and interdisciplinary cooperation, the social construction of achievement, and the nature of military-industrial-academic entanglement in Australian space science.

What happens when military, security, environmental, scientific, and legal interests intersect with giant lasers and finicky adaptive optics systems? How do the organisational, financial, and social structures within which space scientists operate enable groups of individuals with differing goals, interests, and codes of ethics to work together?

Just what does 'dual use' mean for those working in astronomy and astrophysics in an Australian context? And what can we learn about the current state of space science and industry by better understanding the successes and failures of big scientific programs?

How will your research help the community in the future?

Of course, no one can say precisely how their research will be used in future, but what I would hope is that my research is useful to law and policy makers in future as they consider how Australia’s funding and policy settings impact academic research and industry.

Throughout my PhD I have worked in government and been actively involved in space law and policy issues at a national and international level. The core descriptive questions that sit underneath my research (how do we work together? How do we manage ethics at an organisational level? What makes something a success or a failure?) are the preliminary steps needed to then start to discuss normative issues: what things should we be doing and how can we do those things better?

In essence, we must understand where we are and how we got there in order to identify where we want to be and how that can be achieved.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Sydney?

The University of Sydney has one of the world’s leading departments of History and Philosophy of Science, and is internationally respected in this field for the quality of research and teaching.

I was lucky enough to do my undergraduate degree at the University of Sydney and my Honours year with Dr Daniela Helbig in the History and Philosophy of Science. For me, coming back to do my PhD felt like coming home.

The department is like a second family, and I love working with other students and faculty members to teach courses and workshop our research. The University of Sydney also has a fantastic clubs and societies program, which means that campus life is never dull.

It is exciting to study in a place that is full of smart, energetic, and driven people who constantly challenge the way things are and put into practice the way they think things could be.

Space junk: a mess of astronomic proportions

Watch Annie's talk on space junk, recorded at Astrofest Sydney 2018.