When Dr Jacinta Delhaize was five years old, she decided she wanted to be an astronaut.
With a love for space and a desire to float, she had all the prerequisites a child would need to set her sights on the stars.
But when a teacher told her she couldn't become an astronaut because there were no pathways in Australia and she was female, it was no longer just a dream for five-year-old Jacinta - it was a challenge.
Now, with an undergrad, honours and PhD in hand - after discovering two galaxies and conducting years of groundbreaking research in radio astronomy - Jacinta is returning to her hometown in Mandurah as an astronomer to deliver a talk at the TEDxMandurah event on May 28.
Aim for the stars
"When the teacher said that, I didn't internalise it - my parents were furious and were like "that's rubbish" and I agreed and thought 'I'll show you'," Jacinta said.
Jacinta said as she progressed through primary and high school, her love for space was nurtured by the people around her.
When she was 14, Jacinta's friend bought her a book called Magnificent Universe featuring photos from the Hubble Telescope, which she said fuelled her fascination.
"Those books with the beautiful pictures of the galaxies and stars - I thought they were absolutely magnificent. The awe I got from looking at that..."
As she reached high school, she said she started to learn the science behind her favourite images.
"I started to learn maths, physics and chemistry - and started to understand more about what was actually going on in these pictures.
"As I was learning this, I understood this was the language you needed in order to speak the language of these beautiful images and understand what they were."
Right place, right time
Once she finished high school, Jacinta said she struggled to choose what to study at university - not knowing at the time that astronomy was a career she could go into, she decided to start out in physics.
"I started my undergrad in physics at UWA, and I was enjoying it - but felt it wasn't quite the direction I wanted to go in.
"That's when I was very lucky and in my second year of uni, two astronomers arrived in the state."
Peter Quinn and Lister Saveley-Smith joined UWA's physics department with the aim to boost WA's bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, which would be the largest radio telescope in the world.
"My head of school knew I was interested in astronomy and told me to go and speak with them. Peter Quinn told me that WA was bidding to house one of the world's biggest science projects. It just blew my mind. It was an incredible feeling of being in the right place at the right time."
Jacinta said once she realised astrophysics was an area she could move into, it dawned on her she was "finally on the right path", and went on to do her honours under the supervision of Mr Savely-Smith.
During her honours, she learnt more about radio astronomy and how space transmitted radio signals which could be picked up by radio telescopes.
Those books with the beautiful pictures of the galaxies and stars - I thought they were absolutely magnificent. The awe I got from looking at that...
"Things in space don't just emit light like the stars we see - but all the wavelengths of light. Radio is a type of light, not a type of sound. We've decided because we have a radio and it makes a sound that it's a sound.
"Radio stations transmit as light which is picked up by an antenna, which turns it into the sound that we hear."
Jacinta then applied for an internship at the Gemini South Telescope in Chile, and in 2007 she flew there to work for three months with a supervisor.
"That was the most incredible experience I've ever had. I got to go up at night to the telescope in the Andes mountains. The skies from up there were next level.
"It was the first time I had ever seen the coal sac. When you look at the Southern Cross, if it's a very dark night, you can see a patch in the sky which is darker than others. It's actually a cloud of dust."
Jacinta said that watching the sunset over the Andes mountains with an enormous telescope was the moment she decided this was her dream career - and after completing her PhD through both UWA and Oxford University, she officially became Dr Delhaize.
Discovery of self, and of galaxies
After she completed her PhD, Jacinta moved to Croatia for her first post-doctoral position, where she worked alongside Vernesa Smolcic from the University of Zagreb.
"Vernesa was, at the time, the only radio astronomer in the country studying extragalactic stuff. We rapidly grew to a group of about seven and did some work with the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope in New Mexico - which was at the time the world's most powerful radio telescope."
Jacinta then made the move from Croatia to South Africa for a fellowship at the SARAO Observatory.
It was agreed that both South Africa and Australia would share the SKA telescope - and in the interim Jacinta worked with precursor telescopes including MeerKAT which, at one-to-three percent the size of the SKA, provided a window into what it would one day provide.
In 2021, Jacinta discovered two large radio galaxies, a huge feat she added to her long list of accolades since beginning her education.
Now, Jacinta is a permanent academic staff member at the University of Cape Town, where she works as an astrophysics lecturer and researcher.
"I definitely had a lot of imposter syndrome which I'm doing my best to ignore and get rid of," Jacinta laughed.
"I think it affects a lot of people, particularly women, and prevents us from contributing in the way we can contribute. I'm definitely humbled and love helping students and teaching them. I love seeing them have the same enthusiasm that I had."
On May 28, Jacinta will take to the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre stage to deliver a TED Talk at TEDxMandurah - a stage she said was all too familiar.
"I grew up on the MANPAC stage. I'm really excited to go back there - it almost feels like a full circle. I had ballet competitions and concerts - I spent half my life there. Being able to return as an astrophysicist is amazing - my dancing always taught me not to fear crowds."
Jacinta said she was looking forward to being able to share her work with the community in her hometown, and wanted to inspire potential young astronomers with her words.
"My advice to younger people going through the process would be to prioritise your mental health. The process can be intense, but if it's what you really want - go for it and don't be scared.
"Look after your mind because it's the one tool you need to do your job as an academic - as an academic you are paid to think - if your mind isn't in good condition you can't do your job very well."
Jacinta said some of her favourite ways to look after herself and spend downtime were bouldering, dancing, doing yoga and working on her podcast The Cosmic Savannah where she shares discoveries in the astronomy sphere in a way everyone can enjoy and understand.
To follow Jacinta's journey, find her on social media:
For tickets to TEDxMandurah, visit: www.manpac.com.au/events/tedx-mandurah-2022