Where do you work?
I was born in Glasgow, Scotland and I used to work at the Open University in Milton Keynes. I know have my own educational consultancy company. I love Scotland, especially walking in the hills. Below is a photo of the comet Hale-Bopp over my wee house (which used to be a school) near Loch Lomond in Scotland.
What do you study?
I study sunspots. They come in cycles, sometimes there are a lot of sunspots on the Sun, sometimes none at all. I'm trying to understand how and why they form.
Here is a sunspot, up close and personal, taken with the Swedish telescope on La Palma. Amazing, isn't it?
Why did you study astronomy?
When I was 7, I remember playing in the snow in my back garden on a very cold night. Some snow was on the washing line and by jumping up and pinging the washing line, I could make the snow fly off and drift down the ground. After doing this for a bit, I looked up and noticed that the whole sky was filled with stars. It was magic. I thought about how each one of those stars was like the Sun, but much, much further away. I was hooked. When I was about 11, I saved up enough money to buy a telescope, which I still use. Later, I went to Glasgow University to study astronomy.
What else do you do?
When I'm not working, I like playing my guitar and singing. I like all kinds of music, from classical (like Prokofiev) to modern like the Beatles, Blur and Jerry Goldsmith (he wrote the music for Star Trek). Sometimes I just like to play. I invite lots of folk round to my house and we hook up a playstation to a projector, project it onto an entire wall and have tournaments playing various games - Quake II being the favourite.
What do you enjoy about science?
I love finding out new things, even small things, and using my imagination to think up new ways of explaining things that happen, whether it is here on Earth, on the Sun or at the other end of the universe. I've also been writing a book with Rosie Coleman called 'The Beginner's Guide to the Universe' (CUP).
Astronomers have found plenty of other stars with planets now, so perhaps we'll find one that's like the Earth soon, and may be it might have some kind of life on it. That would be really exciting!