Sarafina Nance

I study supernovae & cosmology | Astrophysics PhD student @UCBerkeley | @NSF fellow | BRCA2 previvor making cancer my bitch | IG: @starstrickensf | she/her ??

Sarafina Nance [2 BSc (Hons), MSc, Ph.D (candidate)] is an NSF graduate research fellow and astrophysics Ph.D candidate specializing in supernovae and cosmology. She spent time researching at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard through an NSF-funded summer program, holds dual bachelor degrees in physics and in astronomy as a Dean’s Honored Graduate from The University of Texas at Austin, completed a masters in astronomy at UC Berkeley, and is currently there working towards her Ph.D. She is also a passionate women’s health advocate and science communicator.

Nance has devoted her career to researching supernovae. Her research is divided most cleanly between modeling supernova astrophysics and using supernovae to study the composition and fate of the Universe. In the former, she works to constrain the mass and evolutionary state of the massive red supergiant Betelgeuse to determine when it will explode as a supernova. In the latter, she works at the Center for Computational Cosmology at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) to run massive computer simulations on a supercomputer to study the explosion physics of stars in the final throes of their lives. Her goal is to measure the rate of the expansion of the Universe propelled by dark energy. Her work has been recognized in the field in academic journals and in talks given around the country, and has been featured in popular science publications like, BBC, Sky & Telescope, and National Geographic.

In addition to astronomy, Nance is an outspoken figure in women’s health advocacy efforts. She was diagnosed with the cancer-causing BRCA gene mutation in her early 20’s, and this year chose to have a preventative double mastectomy to lower her extremely high risk of breast cancer. She is vocal about her journey, as well as the importance of genetic testing, self-checks, and preventative medicine. She’s spoken publicly about her journey to the media, and has been featured in publications like the SF Chronicle, Refinery29, and the Bay Area Fox News affiliate.

Nance has launched a comprehensive effort to communicate science—both space and breast cancer— to the public in efforts to increase the baseline level of scientific literacy. She worked at the McDonald Observatory teaching public programs and leading public viewing nights for groups up to 500 people. Enamored with science communication, she expanded to the digital world, where her Twitter threads on space, equity in stem, BRCA, and the life of a scientist have earned her nearly 100,000 Twitter followers and 10,000 Instagramfollowers. She uses these opportunities to mentor young women and underrepresented minorities through the challenges of imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and lack of confidence that she faced as a young scientist. She has appeared on Adam Savage’s YouTube channel Tested and BBC Radio 4 discussing supernovae, space science, and being a woman in STEM.

Her goal is to make STEM more accessible for everyone, while helping change the narrative of who can be a scientist and what being a scientist looks like.