Hope you enjoyed this event as much as I did! Thanks to everyone who voted for me and keep asking those questions and voting.
Cambridge University (2007-11), Ashcombe School (2000-07)
Physics Degree, 4 A-levels (Maths, Physics, Chemistry & Further Maths), 9 GCSEs
DESY in Germany, Mullard Space Science Lab in Surrey
PhD Student (aka the most junior research job but yes you do get paid :))
University of Bristol
Favourite thing to do in my job: When you get really stuck in and totally absorbed by a problem.
I am searching for groups of really distant galaxies.
The galaxies (collections of stars) I am looking for are over 10^22 m away, that’s a 1 with 22 zeroes after it or 15 million times the size of our galaxy and our galaxy is 150 million million times the size of a football pitch! So finding these galaxies is no easy task, but the advantage to looking this far away is that we are also looking back in time – in fact 12 billion years back. As the speed of light is fixed, it takes time for the light from these galaxies to travel to us and so when we finally see the light it’s the light from billions of years ago. Confused? Think about a man running with a message from London to Bristol. When he gets to Bristol the message will be old, it’ll tell us about what happened when he left London a day ago. It’s the same idea, the light is ‘old’ when it gets to us and carries important information about what happened all that time ago.
So to summarise, my work is searching for clusters (or groups) of these very distant galaxies to try and work out how galaxies formed in the first place.
My Typical Day
Come about 8.30am, faff on the internet for 5-10mins, write some code for a few hours, coffee, more work, lunch, more work including reading some papers and perhaps a chance to quiz my supervisor. Leave about 5pm.
Coffee time is an important time, not only do the group get together for some caffeine and a chat (and cake on Fridays) but you can ask everyone about the problems your having and see if anyone can help. I have a weekly meeting with my supervisor (basically my boss) on Mondays. We also have a weekly seminar where an external speaker will come and talk and his/her work for an hour.
What I'd do with the prize money
I would donate the money to HiSPARC – a project I am involved with to install cosmic ray detectors on the roofs of schools for use by students like you.
Cosmic rays are energetic particles (mainly protons and electrons) from space which bombard our atmosphere all the time. When they hit molecules in our atmosphere they create secondary showers of particles that rain down on us. They most likely come from far outside our solar system but even today their origin is not 100% certain.
HiSPARC was originally started in the Netherlands but has recently been introduced in the UK by one of the lecturers here in Bristol. It allows students to build cosmic ray detectors themselves and then look at the data, from their detector and the whole network of detectors, to try and find out about these mysterious cosmic rays. You can see some of the data being taken here: http://data.hisparc.nl/show/stations_by_country/
If you’d like to be involved get your teacher to email Jaap Velthuis at Bristol University, but you might need to vote for me too – the materials for the detectors don’t come cheap!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious about everything
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Gone to use telescopes in Chile and Hawaii (see pictures below).
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Teachers a little but mainly I do science because I enjoy it and always have.
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?
The Sodbury Slog – a very muddy 10mile running race in November. Google it.