Farnborough Road Primary School (1996-2004), Formby High School (2004-2009), King George V College (2009-2011), Durham University (2011-2015), University of Oxford (2016-)
GCSEs, A Levels, Bachelors and Masters degree in Physical Geography
European Space Agency (Autumn 2015), UK Space Agency (Summer 2015), various part-time jobs like bartender, waitress, barista, cashier, papergirl, it goes on
University of Oxford
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love using everything I know about a planet or moon’s surface to imagine how it would feel standing there.
Hugger of rocks and cats, and would hug rocks and cats on Mars if they’d let me.
I’m native to the seaside town of Southport in the North West but presently based in Oxford, where I’ve just started my PhD. A PhD means after four years of staring at Mars, wearing lab coats, and falling asleep on keyboards I’ll transform from a Miss to a Doctor and feel special on the inside.
I love hiking, biking, both reading and writing science fiction, and talking about why colonising the Solar System is one of the most important things humans should ever do.
I don’t yet own twenty-seven cats and one llama, but it is my life’s ambition to do so.
I team up with robot geologists on Mars to see what the planet was up to three billion years ago
I’m kept up at night by ancient climate change on Mars: why did all the exciting things like rivers and lakes die off just around the time life was getting going on Earth?? Mars today is colder than the Antarctic, drier than the Sahara, and almost as airless as the Moon, but three billion years ago it was somewhat Earthlike; a microbe might have even done quite well in parts.
To understand what caused the switch to today’s bland desert, I want to know everything I can about what the air used to be like. The air pressure is now only a hundredth of Earth’s (meaning you would boil alive if you teleported there!), but must have been thicker if water once flowed in the dry riverbeds we see. What this air was made of, where those gases came from, and why they eventually stopped doing their job, are all questions I hope to answer soon!
Here’s one of my favourite videos on the ‘Curiosity’ rover I work with that is actually on Mars right now:
My Typical Day
A lot of reading and jotting down ideas (for now)
I’m still in the planning stage of my project right now, so my typical day involves a lot of reading and talking excitedly with professors about how cool Mars is. The first six months of a PhD can be like this: I need to come up with a question I want to answer over the next three years and figure out how I can realistically go about this.
In a couple of months time, however, I’ll be up to my eyes in complicated software that I don’t yet know how to use (eek), and setting up chemical experiments in the lab that re-enact what might have occurred on Mars. In particular, I’m hoping to make a mineral from some crushed lava that will give off hydrogen gas in the process. Maybe this gas, along with volcanic fumes like carbon dioxide, was responsible for thickening Mars’ atmosphere long ago.
Even cooler, by summer I might be doing fieldwork in places like Oman or Iceland, where the processes I’ve created in the lab actually occur on Earth. It’s not a trip to Mars, but it’s the next best thing.
What I'd do with the prize money
Run workshops in deprived local schools to promote the benefits of attending university
Oxford is considered to be a wealthy part of the country, with an overall high percentage of students attending university after A Levels. However, on closer inspection there is an unacceptable level of difference between individual schools, with the proportion of students entering higher education by the age of 19 varying from 100% to just 7.5% in schools within literally a mile of each other (source: Higher Education Funding Council for England).
I don’t for a moment believe the students of one school are inherently smarter than those of another; only given better opportunities. It seems incredibly unfair for someone to miss out on university based on their institution. Thus, what I propose to do is visit the most deprived schools in the Oxford borough and help their students better understand what attending university could mean for them.
This could be anything from a question & answer day to address misconceptions or common fears, to subject-themed workshops covering multiple aspects of a single science. For instance, few schools offer A Level Geology and so applying for degree-level Earth Science must be daunting for most students; a day of rock handling, touring a local quarry, or applying A Level science to common geological problems could help this.
Multiple PhD students on my course have expressed an interest in school-oriented outreach, and the Earth Science department itself often hosts such workshops themselves but for limited numbers. The £500 from I’m a Scientist would go a long way towards covering the cost of rock specimens for handling, minibuses for field trips, and supporting fellow Oxford scientists who would otherwise do this from their own expenses.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
What's the best thing you've ever done in your career?
I spoke to a roomful of terrifying scientists at a space agency meeting on where to next land on Mars
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
A BBC documentary on the planets when I was six
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes: for daydreaming or reading under the desk
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
A struggling novelist
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Llama trekking with my boyfriend for my last birthday (!!)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) To be part of the team that first discovers life beyond Earth, 2) To publish a science fiction novel, and 3) To move to Mars with my loved ones and start an independent socialist community
Tell us a joke.
A man sees a snail on his rose bushes one day, and thinking nothing of it he chucks it over the wall. Three months later there’s a knock on the door, and when he looks down the man sees a very angry snail on his step. “What did you do that for?!” the snail roars.