Having a great time!
Favourite Thing: I love to create clear graphics and visualizations that show you something amazing in a really easy way to understand. I find this is the best way to share and explain my research to other people.
Thornden School (1992-1997), Barton Peveril College (1997-1999), Bristol University (1999-2003), University College London (2004-2009)
MSci Physics (2003), PhD Astrophysics (2009)
Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (2009-2012), University of Hertfordshire (2012-Present)
Royal Astronomical Society Research Fellow
University of Hertfordshire
Me and my work
I want to understand how stars are born and how they die
I study the stars in the sky, and in particular I’m interested in how and where these stars formed, what caused them to form, and how long they’ll live for. All stars are different to each other in some way, but over time we’ve learnt that there are similarities that allow us to group them together by their size, mass or colour. These things tell us about how the stars live and how they’ll die, and I also want to find out what this can tell us about how the stars were born.
One of the ways that I do this is by searching for the youngest stars in the sky, which are often found in groups known as ‘star clusters’. I study how the stars in these groups are arranged, and how they’re moving, to see what this can tell us about how these groups formed. If we can understand how the groups of stars form I think we can understand how the stars themselves formed.
My Typical Day
A mixture of programming, reading scientific papers, and having discussions with other scientists.
I like to start the day by reading some of the most recent papers published in my field. I find this is a good way to stay in touch with what other scientists around the world are doing. Communication between scientists is very important, so if I’ve read something interesting I will often email the author of the paper to ask a question or share a comment.
Then I might try and find some time to work on one of my papers, getting some fresh thoughts and ideas down on paper, or perhaps making a graph or figure to go in the paper. The graphics are often the most important part of a paper as they share the results with the reader, hopefully in a clear and interesting way.
I often spend most of the afternoon working on my data, either programming or inspecting images of regions in space that I’ms studying. I might intersperse this with chatting to some colleagues about different methods I might try, or what the implications of my results are. This can be a really useful way to get feedback on my work and be continually improving myself.
What I'd do with the money
Create a series of science posters for schools that use astronomy images and graphics to share ideas about astronomy.
I want to share my science with everyone, and I think the easiest way to do this is through attractive and interesting posters that share a simple scientific idea using informative graphics and attractive astronomical images. I would use the money to design and print a large number of these posters and distribute them to schools across the country.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
enthusiastic, passionate, thoughtful
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The John Butler Trio (an Australian roots band)
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
A midnight treasure hunt in central London a few years ago
What did you want to be after you left school?
I didn’t know (mainly because I didn’t know what careers in science were like)
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
What was your favourite subject at school?
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I discovered a dying star tearing itself apart (and we did a press release about it!)
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
Images of the planet Jupiter sent back by the Galileo spacecraft in the mid-90s
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A teacher or an educator of some sort
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be a scientist for the rest of my life, to stay healthy, and have a happy family
Tell us a joke.
Why won’t hedgehogs just share the hedge?
I have an office at the University of Hertfordshire, but you can often find me at a remote observatory staring at the stars and using some of the world’s best telescopes.
This is me at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in southern Arizona, USA, where I have used many different telescopes to study young stars across our Galaxy. We build our most powerful telescopes in the darkest sights we can find, away from the street lamps that might obscure our view of the stars. We often build telescopes on top of high mountains so that we can be above as much of the atmosphere as possible. The atmosphere can absorb and blur the light from the stars, so it is better to have a telescope above the atmosphere.
This image shows me at the summit of Mt Hopkins in Arizona on a very dark night, so dark that you can clearly see the Milky Way – the faint band of light that makes up our own Galaxy.
When I’m not at a remote telescope somewhere you can often find me at the University of Hertfordshire’s own observatory in Bayfordbury, England. We have open nights during the year when members of the public can visit andlook through the telescopes themselves.
I love to share my passion and enthusiasm for astronomy with people and this is a picture of me giving a talk to a group of visitors at Bayfordbury Observatory.