STARFINDERS: The Campaign for U of T Astronomy

The universe is vast, and still almost completely unknown.

Campaign for Astronomy at the University of Toronto

We have extraordinary new tools to explore it with. And anytime we look somewhere new, we find amazing things.

At U of T Astronomy, our scientists rank with the best in the world. They are designing innovative instruments. Performing ground-breaking analysis. Asking startling questions—and answering them.

Our graduate and undergraduate students are getting unique opportunities to do the same.

And we are bringing astronomy to people and communities across Canada.

With your support, we could do so much more of this.

Astronomy can be incredibly expensive. Some new telescopes cost literally billions of dollars. But it’s also a science where a little bit of funding can go a long way.

Here, we tell you four stories of unique U of T Astronomy projects where your support can make a significant impact. Four opportunities for you to get involved in the work of our astronomers and educators, to join our effort to explore the universe. To become a U of T Starfinder.

Please have a read below, and consider supporting these projects with your donation.

The Campaign for U of T Astronomy: The Projects

Ariel and Emily

How often do university students get to do original scientific research just two years out of high school? At U of T Astronomy, this happens more often than you’d think.

Learn more ›

Roberto Abraham
What if you could do ground-breaking astronomy with equipment you could buy at a good camera store? U of T cosmologist Roberto Abraham first asked that question six years ago, and his life hasn’t been the same since.

Learn more ›

Matt Young

Astronomers often go literally to the ends of the earth to peer into space. At U of T Astronomy, we make sure our graduate students get a chance to be right there with us.

Learn more ›

Margaret Ikape
What’s a surefire way to get young people interested in science? At U of T’s Dunlap Institute, we think we have the key, and it involves the “gateway science,” astronomy.

Learn more ›

Make a Gift

Every donation will directly benefit the project you choose to support, and will help our Starfinders continue to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

Online ›
Payroll ›

For U of T employees, select “payroll deduction” from the top menu

By Mail ›
By Phone

Lauren Diez d’Aux 
Senior Development Officer
Faculty of Arts and Science
t:  416-978-2720

Giving FAQs ›

About U of T Astronomy


The Dunlap Institute focuses on the design, fabrication and implementation of astronomical instrumentation, on observational research, on training the next generation of astronomers, and on public education. It was founded in 2008 thanks to a generous gift from the Dunlap Family. Learn more › 


Hosted by U of T, CITA is a nationally supported research centre for studies in theoretical astrophysics, including the origin and evolution of the universe, and the many other phenomena revealed by modern astronomy. Learn more ›


The department is Canada’s preeminent home for teaching and research on solar system dynamics, stars, stellar systems, the interstellar medium, the galaxy, quasars, galaxy clusters and cosmology. Learn more ›


Lauren Diez d’Aux 
Senior Development Officer
Faculty of Arts and Science

t:  416-978-2720

“How did you fall in love with the stars?”

We asked U of T faculty, students and alumni for their astronomy origin story

Bryan Gaensler

Director, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics; Canada Research Chair in Radio Astronomy; Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, U of T

When I was five, my parents gave me a book called Album of Astronomy. I was immediately transfixed. I had books on volcanos and dinosaurs, which provided lots of answers to my questions. But this book was different—it had far more questions than answers. I realized then that there were things nobody knew the answer to, but that scientists are the people who find these answers. I suddenly knew what I wanted to do with my life. Forty years later, I still have this book. All the big questions it set out have now largely been solved, and the big questions of today are things we couldn’t have even imagined back then. And this captures why I love astronomy. There will always be new questions to ask, and I get to play my own small role in helping to answer them.

Renée Hložek

Professor, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

When I was young, a family friend gave my brother a microscope. I borrowed it and looked at a sliver of my skin. I was amazed by how things seemed to have structure on the smallest scale. Later, I’d be amazed to see a similar level of structure on the largest scales in the universe! Whenever I look at the stars or look at the maps that we make of the light from just after the Big Bang, I can’t help but feel that same joy—that I’ve got a secret window onto the universe and I’m spending my days trying to understand how she works. My mom used to tell me that I could be anything I wanted, even an astrophysicist. I think she chose this in part because I didn’t know any women who were astrophysicists at the time. Luckily, now I know lots of them! I consider it such a privilege that I get to spend my day thinking about how the universe fits together, what it is made of, and how it is changing with time.

Ariel Amaral

Graduate Student, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

Watching Star Trek with my dad—the original series in all its cheesy glory—got me wondering about what existed past our Solar System. The universe became a mystery I wanted to know more about. I never really considered myself “smart” enough to become an astronomer until the 6th grade, when we had a space-themed assignment in science class. It was the first time I actually had fun doing an assignment for school. I remember staying up all night reading about cool space facts and trying to learn as much as I could—and it didn’t feel like a chore, I loved learning!

After that I remember googling “How to become an astronomer,” and the results showing up said that you have to take subjects like math and physics, so I started working towards this as my goal. Looking back now, I feel so lucky and privileged to be here at U of T, working with amazing people and doing what I have loved since I was a child!

Bob McDonald

Host of Quirks & Quarks on CBC Radio; Honorary Doctorate, U of T

When I was eight, my mother handed me a book from the Golden Library of Knowledge series, called simply The Planets. It was an art book featuring illustrations of what the planets would look like—it showed a diagram of the solar system, the names of the planets, etc. At that time, the Space Age had just begun, so no robot had been to the planets yet. But these drawings were very realistic and up to the knowledge of the time. At first I didn’t find it very interesting. But then I came across a drawing of Jupiter as seen from on of its moons. The caption read, “Seen from its closest moon, Amalthea, Jupiter would fill one quarter of your sky.” 

I suddenly realized that there was a real place out there where I would see that giant planet filling my sky. As I read through the rest of the book, I discovered amazing facts about the other planets in the solar system. I came away with the realization that the Earth is just one member of a whole family of planets, and that each one of them is very different. That triggered my interest in space and the wonders of the universe.

Ue-Li Pen

Director, Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics; Professor, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

I grew up in Germany, and when I was in grade three, my parents bought me a book on the Voyager spacecraft, which had just launched. That started my interest in astronomy. Voyager has kept recurring in the news over my lifetime, visiting the planets, and reaching Neptune after I finished university. The two spacecraft left the solar system (as defined by the solar wind termination shock) in 2007, and are still providing data on the cosmic plasma, which is relevant to my research today.

Margaret Ikape

Graduate Student, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

When I was six years old, I saw a shooting star, and the night sky became my favourite view. I stared at it countless times, wondering what was out there and how cool it would be to take a trip to space. In high school geography class, the first lesson was on the solar system. I was immediately enchanted, and I wanted to learn more about all the cool planets, so I started to read astronomy books from the library. I later discovered that people spent their entire life studying these objects, and that those people were called astronomers. That’s when I knew what I was going to do with my life.

Roberto Abraham

Professor, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

My dad bought a telescope to spy on the neighbours. At age 12, I turned it to the moon, and bam, that was it.

Dana Simard

Graduate Student, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

I sort of stumbled into astronomy.  I was always interested in science and the way it helps us interpret and understand the world around us, but it wasn’t until I started university that I realized that science could be a career, that I could spend my days pursuing questions that I found interesting and exciting. In second year, I took my first astronomy course, and absolutely loved it.  I managed to get a summer position doing astronomy research, and I never looked back!

Matt Young

Graduate Student, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

Matt Young at the South Pole

I’ve loved anything space-related for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Western Australia, I could see the Milky Way and thousands of stars from my own back yard. I remember countless nights just lying on our trampoline and staring at all the stars.

Jason Leung

Graduate Student, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

Growing up in Hong Kong, a city renowned for its skyscrapers and bright lights, looking up wasn’t exactly an instinct. Even the moon was a rare sight. But when I was five years old, my parents took me to see an important astronomical event: the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slamming into Jupiter. We watched from just outside the Hong Kong Space Museum, where local astronomers had set up telescopes for the general public. For the first time, I realized that there was something up there, and it was putting on a remarkable show for us! “What else is up there?!” I wanted to know. So we went inside the museum, bought tickets to a planetarium show, and it all went from there.

Fast forward 23 years, and I’m in the third year of my PhD in astronomy and astrophysics at U of T. My current research is on the origins of our universe—specifically the Big Bang and how its echoes seeded the formation of stars, galaxies… everything. But I haven’t forgotten my own origin story. On the first Thursday of every month, you can find me and a few others setting up telescopes for our department’s signature AstroTours, a graduate-student-run, all-ages outreach event where we showcase the latest research in astronomy. The most popular target? Jupiter, of course.

Julie Bolduc Duval

Coordinator, Discover the Universe

Julie Bolduc Duval

I became interested in astronomy as a teenager. I was curious about the big questions, like the Big Bang, and how the universe evolved, especially after reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. So I studied physics and astronomy at university. At the same time I noticed the huge gap between what scientists know and what the general public knows. I felt like we needed to make that gap smaller. I’m still interested in the big questions, but I’m now very happy helping the general public get a better understanding of the basics of astronomy and our place in the universe.

Janie Simard

Science Teacher, participant in Discover the Universe


My dad was a high school science teacher, and I loved to ask him questions about the mysteries of life. Usually, his lessons involved a drawing or a model of whatever he was explaining. And that’s how I learned how the stars move in the sky.

One day, during breakfast, I asked my dad why I could see the moon in the sky that morning. He got really excited, and set to work transforming the pitcher of orange juice into the sun, my glass into the moon, and his bowl of porridge into the Earth. I found his explanation really clear and easy to understand. After that, there were many other mornings with questions about the solar system. I was six or seven years old.

In 2009, my dad and I joined an astronomy club together. And the same year, I started teaching science in Obedjiwan, a community of the Atikamekw nation, about 10 hours north of Montreal. I love teaching my students about astronomy, and I always want to know more, so that I can answer their questions.

Emily Deibert

Graduate Student, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

I came to U of T to study English, but I was surprised to find myself most interested in a first-year astronomy course I took to cover my science requirement.

One day our professor showed us a video of astronauts on board the International Space Station, looking through the cupola windows as the Earth was passing by outside. I remember being amazed by the vast scale of the universe and the countless unanswered questions in astronomy. I soon developed a love for science that I’d never felt in high school.

By the time the course finished, I was even more curious about the cosmos. I enrolled in an astronomy major, and four years later, I’m working on my PhD in astrophysics, studying the atmospheres and orbital dynamics of planets around other stars.

Sara Seager

Professor of Planetary Science and Astrophysics, MIT; Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential in Space (2012); BSc, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

Sarah Seeger

As a child on my first camping trip in Bon Echo Provincial Park, I stepped outside the tent in the middle of the night, looked up, and, my heart stopped for a second. Endless number of stars filled the dark night sky. All I could think of was, “How could there be so many stars? How did I not know about this before? What could possibly be out there?”

And you? What sparked your interest?

Tell us your story via email at or social media #StarfindersUofT