Gemma at the SMART telescope at the Hida Observatory, Japan
What did you study at school?
I was born in Chichester, near Portsmouth on the south coast of England. I went to our local comprehensive school, Bishop Luffa and studied A-levels in Physics, Maths and History.
I wanted to be a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force and spent my school work-experiences at various RAF squadrons. I was also in Air Cadets, 461 (Chichester) squadron, where I learnt to fly both light aircraft and gliders, solo. My eyesight wasn’t up to the selection criteria for being an RAF pilot, so I decided to go to university instead.
I decided to study for a degree in Space Phyics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth because it had a good reputation, was close to the sea, and most uniquely, offered the chance to spend 6 months living in the arctic circle on the islands of Svalbard, studying the northern lights.
Here I am in a glacial moraine ice cave in Svalbard,
How did you get interested in solar physics?
During the summers, I worked in the solar group at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), University College London. I starting a research project on coronal waves and filament eruptions. At the end of the second summer, my supervisor asked me to present the results at a scientific meeting… in Tokyo, Japan! This was a very exciting opportunity and I very much enjoyed it.
I decided to do more research in solar physics and started a graduate degree at MSSL. The first 7 months of were very tough, with a steep learning curve!
During that first year I spent 3 months working at Kwasan and Hida Observatories, part of Kyoto University in Japan. This was a great experience. I met some wonderful people who are now my colleagues as well as friends. Seeing state-of-the-art solar observing telescopes and developing skills in a totally new environment was a very rewarding experience.
Where do you work now?
In 2007 I was offered the opportunity to work on CMEs at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It’s very cold here in winter with lots of snow. I previously hadn’t considered the possibility of working in America, but the chance to work on data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO; a new solar satellite observatory, to be launched in 2009) as well as being involved in the preparations for this mission and the vast amounts of data that it will generate sparked my curiosity, so here I am!