Head of Space Physics Division and Chief Scientist at RAL Space.
What does your job involve?
Spearheading the space physics activities of RAL Space, Science Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) space science department, overseeing a range of space projects in astrophysics, solar physics and space environment physics. Managing the Space Physics Division at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) but also retaining my solar physics roots by leading solar space instrumentation and performing research in solar activity and impacts on Earth.
What interested you in working in the space sector?
My interest in astronomy started at the age of 8 and developed, through the inspirational Apollo era, to a natural desire to do a physics degree and embark on a space science career. I was lucky!
What do you do in a typical day?
Each day is a mad mix of project management, people management and science. Being a Division Head responsible for monitoring and overseeing projects, a practicing solar scientist with both project leadership and research, and with my more strategic roles in future project development and research, I have to be good at juggling!
Are there any other interesting aspects to your work?
By definition this is an international subject and I feel honoured to be able to play a role in such a global programme; this does lead to a lot of foreign travel to fascinating destinations. Again, I have been very lucky and feel that everyone ought to be able to witness a spacecraft launch, a total eclipse of the Sun and an aurora.
What is it about your job that fascinates or inspires you?
Nothing compares to the excitement of seeing unique images come back from your own space instrumentation! Exploiting our projects to make new discoveries and develop new scientific understanding is extremely rewarding.
Why is what you do important?
As a solar physicist, and in these times of needing to understand our environment, I really feel it is critical that we understand our star and its impacts on us. With regard to my role as Division Head, I take pride in the fact that we (the UK) are active in running a range of projects which not only explore the universe we live in but allow us to make strides in basic physics, as well as understanding the region of space in which we live.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in space?
Get a good degree in physics (or a similar space-related subject) – which allows you to keep your options open but provides access to the space opportunities. The opportunities are out there for space-related PhDs, after that, at a number of UK universities which are at the cutting edge of space research. However, the main thing is to have an ambition and go for it!