The Long Eaton School (1996 – 2003), Nottingham Trent University (2003 – 2006), Loughborough University (2010 – 2015)
GSCE’s, A Levels, BSc (Physics with Astrophysics), PhD (Physics)
Showcase Cinema (Usher), JNC Racing (Mechanic)
Technical Tutor (Physics): Teaching Practical Astronomy, Astrophysics & Practical physics laboratories and researching into gravitational waves and planetary rings.
Favourite thing to do in my job Finding out how things work
An astrophysicist that has an unhealthy urge to take things apart and put back together with varying degrees of success
I live in Loughborough with my wife and 2 year old son. I have a degree in Physics with Astrophysics and a PhD in physics where I was using Saturn’s rings as a real world laboratory to study planet formation theories. I have always been interested in how things work which usually results in me taking things apart. Sometimes I have been able to put things back together. As soon as I passed my driving test at 17 I began taking my car apart and putting it back together. I also found ways to improve it. When I started studying for my physics degree I also got a part-time job working as a mechanic at the weekends and holidays. Over the years I was doing my degree and working as a mechanic I built an extremely quick car. Essentially it was a Vauxhall Corsa with a huge turbo charged engine and nitrous oxide. I took it to many tracks and events and managed to beat many super cars around the track.
Something else I do outside of being a scientist is training for a sport. I was training to enter some power lifting competitions but after an injury call it off for a bit. I still train but i do not plan on competing in the near future. At Loughborough University we have many world class athletes and training alongside them can be quite inspirational. I always find that I solve some of the problems I am working on and having trouble with whilst I am training.
Technical tutor for physics at Loughborough University. Involves teaching both practical and theoretical astrophysics. I am also researching planetary rings by creating computer models.
In my current role I cover a wide range of work. The core of my work is the teaching of physics and astrophysics. I teach a practical astronomy module at our observatory. Students that come to Loughborough get to learn how to make astronomical observations like a professional astronomer using our own equipment. I also teach astrophysics which is basically the physics of stars and practical experiments in the teaching laboratories.
My research at the moment uses computer models and simulations to try and understand the exciting features we see in Saturn’s rings thanks to the Cassini spacecraft. Being a good astrophysicist is about being a good computer programmer and I find myself writing new programs to understand the world we live in daily.
I am also the the radiation protection supervisor and health and safety officer for the physics department. This means that I oversee all the experiments and X-ray work being done, making sure it is done safely.
My Typical Day
Everyday is different but would typically involve some lectures or tutorials and writing some computer programs
Most days are different, there is no set standard day for a scientist which makes it quite exciting. A typical day might start (I arrive at work for 8:30am) with me checking my emails first thing and the results of any simulation I may have left running over night. Depending on the system I am modelling I leave the computer working away for a day or up to a month at a time. So the morning might be the first time I get a glimpse at something new and exciting that no one else has seen.
Around mid morning is when I would normally arrange some training on equipment for either students or researchers. At lunch I will go powerbase gym to train. There are many Olympic athletes that also train here along with the GB Olympic weightlifters that are also base at the same gym. I find it good to leave the work environment for a time as it can help when you are stuck on a problem. The best way to solve a problem you can’t solve is to actually not work on it. You may have heard of scientists discovering things in most unusual places and it is normally because you actively stop thinking about the problem.
During term time I most likely will have a fair bit of contact time with physics students. So I might give an hour lecture on astronomy or astrophysics which normally have been around mid afternoon. Then in the evening approximately 7:00pm – 9:00pm if the weather is clear I will run practical astronomy session for students doing the Practical Astronomy module. Most of the time if I have done the lectures and demonstrations well all I need to do is stand back and observe as the students carry out their work. Only stepping in to help if they get stuck. We try to let students at university have more control over the work they do. So it’s not so much about teaching but guiding them to figure things out themselves. After all we are training future scientists.
Out of term time I will spend most of my time preparing lectures and tutorials that I will deliver later on in the year. This is also the time when I would look at formally writing up any of the results I have obtained from my research.
What I'd do with the money
I would buy a solar telescope to lend out to schools with accompanying instructions
I have over the last year been setting up physics in a box which lends out telescopes (currently only one) to schools. The telescope is designed to make solar observations and comes with complete instructions for the teachers to guide the class into making observations. The idea is to get schools involved in making observations of our nearest star especially where schools are not able to purchase their own telescopes.
The feedback has been very good so far and there is high demand to be part of the project. Being able to add more telescopes to this project would allow more schools to participate. It is an area of physics that is rarely taught in a practical manner in schools and I would like to help with this.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious, determined, focused
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
No single person inspired me to become a scientist. I ended being a scientist due to my need to understand how the world works. Even from being very small I would always take toys apart to find out how they worked. It was this desire that drove me to become a scientist. My interest in the stars and planets then drove me to study astrophysics which led to my career in space science.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Either a pilot or some kind of an automotive engineer. My twin brothers actually design the engines in the new triumph motorbikes.
What's your favourite food?
Anything that focuses on using cheese as the main ingredient.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Building my own road/race car (Vauxhall Corsa) that was one of the fastest road cars in the country at the time. Taking this on the track next to super cars and going past was an incredibly satisfying experience for something I had built myself.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I would like to travel forward in time to a point where we are routinely living and traveling in space. I am fairly confident I would suit a life of exploring the universe in a spacecraft. I would like for all lights to be switched off at night so we can spend more time looking at the sky. I am much better suited for warm weather so living in the UK I would want considerably better weather than we currently get.
Tell us a joke.
I’m reading a book about anti-gravity, it’s impossible to put down.
I have many places where I work. One of the main ones is the observatory on the edge of the university campus. Here I will spend many evenings teaching our physics students how to make astronomical observations and prepare them for a career in astronomy. I also invite local schools and cubs / scouts / brownies for evenings.
If I am running our practical labs which all physics student have to do I will be in supervising a class of about 30 students who work in pairs on a range of physic experiments.
There are more specialist research equipment that I look after and train other researchers to use. On in particular is the Raman Spectrometer. Its a non-destructive way of monitoring chemical bonds in a material using a laser.
When I am not giving a lecture, labs or at the observatory I would find myself at my desk. You will notice i have two screens but i actually have two computers. I have one using windows which I do all my writing on and emails and second one that has Linux on. I use the second one for all of my computer programming. Here I write lots of programs to try and mimic what we with the Cassini spacecraft around Saturn. If we can write a model and simulation that mimics what we see in Saturn’s rings then we can understand whats happening. This is a common way we conduct science to try and understand the world around us.
Below is an image I created that shows an close up image of Prometheus (one of Saturn’s small moons) moving close to the F ring (very narrow ring on the edge of Saturn’s rings). Top image (a) shows the Cassini image, middle image (b) is the computer model I created to mimic the ring and moon and (c) show the density of the ring in our model. We looked at the density as it shows where new moons might be forming.
Saturn’s rings are the perfect laboratory to study how planets form. The spacecraft in orbit watches as new moons form acting as a scaled down version of the early solar system.