Now in the final 3... I need YOUR vote! :D
Liverpool College (1997-2004), Keele University (2004-2005), Liverpool University (2005-2008), Manchester University (2009 – present)
10 GCSE’s, 4 A-levels (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature), MPhys Astrophysics, and now two-thirds of a PhD in Astrophysics.
I worked for 2 years at Spaceport on the Wirral (http://www.spaceport.org.uk/), and think everyone should visit at least once! In 2008, I worked for a year in the 6th form at Broadgreen International School in Liverpool
I am currently studying for my PhD in Astrophysics (where I will hopefully become Dr Tyndall) in Santiago, Chile – but I will be back in the UK to write my thesis over the summer.
The European Southern Observatory, ESO (http://www.eso.org) – home of the VLT (Very Large Telescope!)
Favourite thing to do in my job: Travel the world to stay at an observatory and play with all the big telescopes! There is no better feeling for me.
I look at what happens when two stars orbiting each other in a ‘binary system’ start to evolve and die, to create a beautiful space-cloud called a ‘planetary nebula’.
My love for all things space started at an early age…
Just like on Earth, everything in Space has a beginning and an end, so I look at what happens when a star reaches the end of its life after about 11 billion years (our Sun is currently about 4 billion years old). More specifically, I look at what happens when TWO stars orbit each other (in the same way that the Earth orbits the Sun), and they start to die.
All stars are made up of lots of gas and dust, and eventually gravity can no longer hold all of this material to the stellar surface. At this point, it starts to be blown off into space and heated up to very high temperatures to form a very pretty cloud called a ‘planetary nebula’ (or PN, for short). This nebula then hangs around for about 15,000 years before fading away to leave behind a very small, very cold star – a White Dwarf.
Here is an extremely high-tech representation of the basics of how a PN forms from a binary star (that I may or may not have drawn in MS Paint… I’ll never tell…)
1) A large ‘Main Sequence’ star, and a more compact, slightly younger companion, orbit each other.
2) The larger star evolves and gets bigger and older, to become a ‘Red Giant’. It can no longer hold onto all of its gas and dust, and so it starts to lose these layers into outer space. The companion star ‘sweeps’ up all of this material, and adds it to its own. The companion then also becomes bigger and older as time goes on, and the same thing happens – it too starts to lose its hold on the gas and dust, and starts to spit it out into the surroundings.
3) All of this ‘lost’ gas and dust is heated up to extremely high temperatures, causing it to ‘light-up’ – this is what we see as a planetary nebula, with a giant star and a white dwarf star binary system at its core.
Here’s a real image of a PN, called the ‘Butterfly Nebula’ – I’m sure you can see why!
My Typical Day
I mostly work at my computer, looking at data (digital information about the stars I am studying) from various telescopes all over the world, to try and figure out how it all works.
What me working usually looks like!
Being a PhD student time is pretty flexible – just as well, seeing as though I am an astronomer, and so much prefer nights to mornings! So I tend to arrive into the office at around 10am, and leave again at around 6pm.
The basic structure of my day is:
Make a cup of coffee
Check and reply to emails
Work for a few hours
Work some more
Sneaky trip to Starbucks over the road to get some better-tasting coffee
Last bit of work
Home time / socialising with work friends
Several times a week, we will have special talks from either people within the institute, or visiting speakers. They are generally fairly informal and relaxed, and sometimes even come with the added benefit of cake! 😀 These talks are a great opportunity to learn about other branches of astronomy and meet other people.
My work involves using various computer programs under the Linux operating system to look at and analyse data I have received from one of the many telescopes found all over the world. I have been looking at data from both the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, where I am now, and the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Australia (I like that one because we have the same initials… AAT!), and now I am in the process of writing a paper about what I have discovered, which will eventually be published in a journal for other astronomers to read . Writing a paper is a bit like writing up the results of a science experiment in school, just with more technical language. So currently I am doing a lot of typing, and this work will eventually form a part of my PhD thesis.
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d use the money to help kick-start a major, long-term astronomy outreach project currently in the planning phase in the small Chilean town of San Carlos
In memory of a local student who was studying astronomy at University here in Chile before he sadly passed away, his family wish to continue to share his love of the subject with his hometown of San Carlos. The main part of a new astronomy-outreach project they wish to start is to create a scale model of the Solar System – the Sun would be placed in the main square in San Carlos, and each of the planets subsequently put in relevant areas outside of the town to represent their distance from the Sun in real life.
On top of this, it is the plan to start regular astronomy events with the local people of San Carlos – nights observing with small telescopes, craft events (e.g. building model water rockets), talks by real scientists, etc., all with the aim of sharing our love of Space with local people who otherwise would not get to experience how cool astronomy really is.
As with most things, initial funding is required to kick things into action, buy materials, enlist help… And that’s how I would like to spend the money should I win – use it as a contribution towards a project I think would be brilliant for the people of San Carlos.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Traveled the world to visit different observatories and play with telescopes, in places I would otherwise not be able to visit.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I got shouted at by my art teacher for throwing a rubber at my friend, once… Does that count?!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
At the minute, I’m obsessed with Sigur Ros… I have tickets to watch them perform at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire in August, and I am SO excited!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Watching the last launch of the space shuttle Atlantis live, before getting to swim with six dolphins in Florida… A dream trip!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) Get through this PhD with my sanity still intact, 2) Be able to buy crumpets and baked beans in Chile, 3) Become an astronaut
Tell us a joke.
I was up all night wondering where the Sun had gone… then it dawned on me.