The first lucky turn in Christopher Kyba’s career path happened at the dinner buffet at a particle physics conference. A University of Alberta undergrad, he had presented his research at the conference and spent the week trying—and failing—to arrange a meeting with the head of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) at Queen’s University in Ontario. He wanted to ask about a summer internship.
At the end of the conference, he started chatting enthusiastically about his research with a professor standing behind him in the buffet line. Kyba was lamenting that he had never crossed paths with the head of SNO when the professor introduced himself as the exact person Kyba had been trying to meet!
That conversation led Kyba to a summer internship at SNO and to completing his Ph.D. in experimental particle physics at the University of Pennsylvania.
Kyba stayed in Pennsylvania for a few more years as a postdoctoral fellow in radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania—he had thought he might pursue more medical-focused work with his particle physics skills. But after his postdoc, he and his family decided to relocate to his wife’s home country: Germany.
The move coincided with the 2008 global financial crisis, complicating his job search. He took several years of parental leave to raise their daughter while applying for engineering-focused jobs and was eventually asked to interview for a postdoc at Freie Universität Berlin.
When he arrived for the meeting, he and the interviewer realized there had been a mistake: Kyba had been invited to the wrong job interview. The interviewer was embarrassed about the mix-up but asked Kyba anyway, “Well, what do you know about light pollution?” Kyba explained the basic physics of atmospheric light scattering, and the two of them chatted about his background and experience.
“I hadn’t come across the job application before because it was written to search for a geographer,” Kyba said. “If I had seen the job ad, I wouldn’t have applied for it, but it turned out that I had exactly the skills that they needed.”
He started working on remote sensing data measuring light pollution in 2009, and it has been his focus ever since. He currently researches light pollution and sustainable lighting solutions at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the GFZ Helmholtz Centre in Potsdam. He has helped develop several global crowdsourced science projects to study the spread of light pollution from the ground.
Kyba currently is applying for a professorship in Germany and is submitting a new grant proposal to continue his research. He also is looking forward to an internship with a German company that does commercial and municipal light planning.
Kyba’s goal is to become an environmental consultant specializing in sustainable light planning. He said the internship is a good way to see whether it is something he enjoys and to gain experience as a consultant.
—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer