Hewett School (2002-2009), University College London (2009-2013), University of Warwick(2013-)
A-levels in Maths, Biology, Chemisty & Physics. MSci in Earth Sciences
PhD student in Astronomy
University of Warwick
Favourite thing to do in my job: Discovering something that nobody in history has ever seen before.
I use telescopes from around the world to search for planets around distant stars
Every night, 16 telescopes in the Canary Islands and South Africa take hundreds of pictures of the sky, with the images being sent back to us here in the UK. For each of the millions of stars in these pictures, we track how their brightness changes over time. Some of these stars have planets of their own and, very occasionally, that alien world will pass between us and it’s star, just like the Moon during an eclipse. However, these planets are tiny next to their star, and only block out a minuscule amount of light (usually less than 1%)! Luckily, our telescopes are sensitive enough, and record for hundreds of nights in a row, so we are able to see these planetary ‘transits’ and spot new planets!
We call these telescopes WASP (the Wide Angle Search for Planets), and they have found more than 120 planets so far! None of these planets are like Earth, though. Because bigger planets closer to their stars are easier to spot, these 120 worlds are all hot, Jupiter-sized giants. What I am doing is to find new ways of hunting for planets that are smaller and cooler than those we have found before.
Eventually, projects like WASP (or Kepler, a planet-hunting telescope in space) could find Earth-like worlds with just the right temperatures for life. One day we might even be able to find out if life exists there and answer the question ‘Are we alone in the universe?’.
My Typical Day
I spend most of my day either chatting to other scientist over coffee or using computers to analyse the starlight from millions of stars.
I cycle into the office in the morning then, after a coffee, read up on what has been happening in astronomy and science. And I probably follow that with another coffee, just to make sure I’m awake! There are 9 other PhD students in my office so we chat, mess around and have lots of fun most days.
Despite that, most of my day is usually spent using computers. I use these either to create programmes able to analyse the hundreds of thousands of stars looking for planets, or to study the data these programmes produce. Creating these programmes is actually a really creative process, and can be really rewarding when they finally work! I take a break for an hour over lunch (which is spent chatting to other PhD students about anything but science), and then do more work in the afternoon.
I leave the office by around 6 usually to hang out with friends for a few hours. Studying for a PhD really is half-way between being a student and having a proper job!
What I'd do with the prize money
Buy audio equipment to make videos and podcasts about astronomy
I’ve always wanted to make podcasts, videos and the like about the work our department does in astronomy. With £500 I would be able to buy equipment like lighting, microphones, etc, and create great short interview-based videos with everyone from undergraduates to professors talking about astronomy.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Relaxed, friendly, competitive
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Visited amazing observatorys
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I wish: That there were more hours in the day; that I could travel to space; and that Norwich City were back in the premiership!
Tell us a joke.
I was up all night wondering where the sun had gone … then it dawned on me.