Professor of Physics at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL)
What does your job involve?
One of the areas of my job is research - which concentrates on understanding what causes the Sun’s activity. The Sun has been unpredictable recently; going in a period of no activity at all (the longest time for over 100 years), and just recently has started to come out of its slumber. Understanding why the Sun became so quiet for so long, and then aiming towards reliable space weather forecasts that will predict when a storm hits the Earth are my goal.
Another part of my job is working with engineers to operate, design and build instruments for space missions that will explore the Sun and it’s environment. The final part of my job is teaching – I now teach part of a course in space data systems and processing for MSc students and have PhD students.
What interested you in working in the space sector?
Nothing can beat the excitement of discovery – and space science does that on a huge scale!
What do you do in a typical day?
It depends! My research involves analysing and interpreting data from spacecraft such as Hinode, STEREO and the Solar Dynamics Observatory along with some ground-based data. I then work with theorists to aim to understand the physical mechanisms of solat storms. For the instrument side, we aim to make sure that the science goals are optimised in operating the Hinode spacecraft and also in the design of a future instrument for Solar Orbiter. This requires a lot of iteration to make sure we get the most reliable design technically but with the maximum science return and within budget! The final part of my job is teaching at both Master and postgraduate level. Teaching is always the best way to fully understand any concepts, and we have many enthusiastic students.
Are there any other interesting aspects to your work?
I travel a lot with my job because all our projects and research are large international consortia that involve scientists and engineers from across Europe, Japan, US, China, Russia etc. I also had the opportunity to live in Japan when I finished my PhD to work on a solar mission.
What is it about your job that fascinates or inspires you?
Discovering new things, seeing how our star changes from day to day, working with people internationally, and having the critical link between top engineers and scientists to produce great space missions!
Why is what you do important? Space science missions by their very nature will push technology to the limit. These technologies will later be used in a wide range of other areas that are more ‘down-to-Earth’, If we don’t push technology, society will stand still.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in space?
Study maths and physics at school. Space covers many career paths but having a good grounding in these subjects will open the door.