How did you get interested in astronomy?
When I was a teenager my family moved out of Edinburgh to the countryside - the sky was so clear at night you could even see the Milky Way! I wondered about all the stars I could see and was frustrated that I couldn’t even tell a bright star from a planet so I printed out a star map and started learning as much as I could. A few years later I was doing a BSc in Astrophysics at The University of Edinburgh, which I followed up with an MSc in Space Science at University College London. I especially enjoyed my course on Solar Physics so I decided to continue my studies by doing a PhD.
What are you working on?
I’m currently finishing up my PhD at the University of Central Lancashire where I’m studying Solar Coronal Loops. These loops structures make up all the coronal features we observe, but there are still many unanswered questions about how they form and evolve. Using new data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) gives us the best chance to get to grips with what’s happening on the Sun in amazing detail. This image from SDO is of coronal loops at around 1 million degrees on the edge of the Sun (credit NASA).
Any magic moments?
My first big conference was in northern Finland and was on space weather. It was in a great location and, although the lectures were great, the highlight was definitely seeing the aurora. Luckily, although the Sun was at the minimum in its cycle at the time, the sky was clear enough for us to see it.
Aurora seen at the conference dinner in held at the Sami Chalet, north of Saariselka in Finland.
Photo credit Professor Nir Shaviv.
Any advice for students wanting to go into Astrophysics?
Definitely take physics and mathematics classes as far as you can – they’ll be an invaluable foundation when you start your university course. Visiting an observatory or planetarium is also useful as you’ll learn a lot, but it’s also great fun and can inspire you to keep up your studies.