Eclipse ambassador brings science into the community

Nicole Mulyk posing for a photo with two young girls who are holding decorated paper plates

Nicole Mulyk is a member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s eclipse ambassador team that has reached thousands of community members through outreach and educational events in the lead-up to the total solar eclipse. (All photos by Jay Robb/McMaster University).

Nicole Mulyk signed off as an eclipse ambassador with a double bill close to home. 

Mulyk, who lives in Burlington, was excited to help the people in her community prepare for the April 8 total solar eclipse. 

The graduate student delivered her first talk Thursday afternoon at LaSalle Park Retirement Community. Residents will be watching the eclipse from the centre’s courtyard. Knowing when to put on and take off their McMaster solar eclipse glasses was the hot topic of conversation.

eclipse ambassador Nicole Mulyk in conversation with an older woman using a walker
Mulyk in conversation with a resident of the LaSalle Park Retirement Community.

One of the residents asked where she could buy Mulyk’s eclipse t-shirt for her grandson.  

Mulyk then gave an early evening show at Burlington Library’s Tansley Woods Public Library.  

Families filled every seat. Tiny hands shot up with questions before Mulyk had even started her presentation.  

The grown-ups also had lots of questions about when to wear their eclipse glasses and how to know when to put them back on.  

Mulyk wrapped up her talk by inviting all the kids to make pinhole cameras out of paper plates, push pins and markers. Families also used styrofoam balls to see first-hand how something small like the Moon can block out something big like the Sun. 

Two photos side by side. One show eclipse ambassador Nicole Mulyk delivering a talk and the other shows Mulyk posing for a photo with a young boy holding a decorated paper plate.

Mulyk’s been talking about space since she was an undergrad at the University of Alberta. That’s where her love for math turned into a passion for astronomy. Her favourite class in high school had been calculus. She enjoyed solving math problems, the more challenging the better. 

It was in her university physics and astronomy courses where Mulyk learned how math is unlocking the mysteries of the universe.  

“I found it amazing that an equation could explain what was going on several light years away.” 

She also studied, and drew inspiration, from trailblazing astronomers like Jocelyn Bell Burnell who discovered pulsars while she was a radio astronomy grad student at Cambridge, and Vera Rubin, the first undergraduate in astronomy at Vassar College who went on to pioneer work on galaxy rotation rates. 

An avid stargazer, Mulyk volunteered at the U of A’s Department of Physics Astronomical Observatory. She graduated with an honours bachelor of science degree in astrophysics and then moved east to spend the past two years earning a master’s in physics and astronomy at McMaster under the supervisor of professor Doug Welch. Early on, she started working at the W.J. McCallion Planetarium and then signed up to be an eclipse ambassador.  

Two older women in conversation with Nicole Mulyk
The department’s eclipse ambassadors have reached thousands of community members through outreach events

Mulyk’s seen partial solar eclipses and lunar eclipses but has yet to be in the path of totality.  

She’ll be looking up at the April 8 total solar eclipse from a park near her home with an unobstructed view of the sky. She’s skipping what she warned in her shows will be a ton of traffic as people outside the path of totality head into Hamilton and down into the Niagara region. 

Mulyk’s time at Mac is also drawing to a close. She finished working as a teaching assistant this week and will defend her thesis this summer.  

In the fall, she’ll be off to McGill for the next four years to earn her PhD. She’s hoping to be a university professor so she can continue doing research, teaching astronomy and advocating for greater diversity and inclusion in science.  

The families and seniors who took in Mulyk’s final two eclipse shows are hoping she adds science communicator to that list. 

Learn more about how McMaster and the Department of Physics and Astronomy are marking the total solar eclipse here.

Related Stories