Thank everyone for voting for me :-D I can't wait to meet you all!
St. Anne’s Catholic School, Southampton 1997 – 2002; Peter Symond’s College, Winchester 2002 – 2004
The University of Manchester, Physics with Astrophysics 2004 – 2008
I got to work at Jodrell Bank Observatory one summer during university and worked at the bar in a restaurant when I was in college but I’ve never had a real job!
I’m currently a PhD student. This means that I’ve already done a degree and now I’m spending 3-4 years doing research – once I finish I get to call myself a Doctor! It’s not a “proper” job although I do get paid by a funding council (STFC) to do my research.
Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, The University of Manchester
Favourite thing to do in my job I love trying to figure out how things work. When I was younger this meant understanding how electric toothbrushes can charge up even though they’re coated in plastic (the base and the toothbrush each have a coil inside that act as a transformer), or how computers actually work (I still haven’t quite got my head around that one!). These days I get to try to understand a small part of the universe which I think is the best job in the world!
I try to understand galaxies that are spewing out too much energy – more energy than the stars could produce – because of a super-massive black hole in the middle of the galaxy . I also help to make an astronomy podcast called The Jodcast.
I study objects in the universe called ‘active galactic nuclei’ or AGN. The name gives them away – ‘active’ means that they are emitting lots of energy, ‘galactic’ means that they are part of a galaxy and ‘nuclei’ is just a fancy word for centre. These galaxies look really bright in the middle and they give off way more energy than if you add up all the energy from the one hundred billion stars that are in the galaxy. This tells us that something else is going on in the centres of these galaxies that is emitting this energy.
What we think is happening is that there is a supermassive black hole (about a hundred million times the mass of our Sun) in the centre of the galaxy that is causing all kinds of crazy physics to happen! The cartoon below shows what we think these active galactic nuclei are made up of. I don’t want to get into the details of it on here because it would be too long but if you want to know more, I would love to tell you! When we use radio, X-ray and gamma-ray telescopes to look at the sky, we see loads of AGN so it’s important to learn more about them, especially because the physics going on in AGN is more extreme than anything we can create here on Earth. I’m really interested in the jets that shoot out from either end of the AGN so I use information from telescopes across the world to try to understand more about the physics that happens in them.
I am also responsible for an astronomy podcast called The Jodcast that we do in the astrophysics department at Manchester University. We have interviews with astronomers about their research, a guide to the night sky, the latest astronomy news and we answer listeners’ questions. The content is aimed at people with at least an A-level understanding of physics so it might be too complicated for you but if you’d like to listen, I would recommend the July 2010 Extra show because some work experience students helped us to make that episode.
My Typical Day
Most days I will be in the office that I share with some other students. However what I do in the office is really varied – I could be looking at pictures of galaxies, making computer programmes to make sense of the pictures, writing a report about my results or getting help from my supervisor (boss). On non-typical days I could be in another country at a conference or using a telescope!
Most days I get into my office at about 9.45 in the morning. Astronomers don’t usually like getting into work early so I am often the first person in my office! I will check my email and a website where people upload their reports about their research. This means that I can be totally up to date with other work that is being done on AGN. We have a coffee break at 10.30 when students and staff get together in the tea room – it’s nice because some days I will talk to my friends about TV, music and movies, and other days I will talk to professors about astronomy that has been in the news. I then do work for the rest of the day, stopping to have lunch at around 12.30. I usually stay in the office until 7 in the evening. Of course it’s not all hard work and sometimes we do silly things like build a Lego Space Shuttle!
People usually think of astronomers as people who spend all day looking through telescopes but actually I spend most of my time looking at a computer! A lot of observations from telescopes are available on the internet so I can search through an observatory’s archives and find data from the past when other people looked at the galaxies I want to look at. Other times I will have tables of information about galaxies such as where they are, how bright they are and how far away they are. I can then write computer programmes to make sense of this information. This can sometimes get a bit boring but then I remember that every line in my table of data is a separate galaxy which is amazing!
When I’m not in the office, I might be at a conference giving a talk to other astronomers about my work, at a summer school or at an observatory to use a telescope. So far during my PhD I’ve travelled to Italy, France, Finland, Poland, India and the USA!
What I'd do with the money
I would try to visit at least one of the schools in this zone, buy an audio recorder so that I could continue to do podcasts when I finish my PhD and donate the rest of the money to Astronomers without Borders.
I would love to keep in touch with the classes in this zone so even if I didn’t win the money I would try to visit the schools that are closest to Manchester. However, if I won, I would try to visit all of you! I hope you’ll have more questions that you didn’t get to ask in the 2 weeks and I would bring along some physics demonstrations to show you and maybe a telescope. One thing I would like to do is to make some podcasts that are aimed at school students to tie in with what you learn in school so it would be great to get some ideas from you and maybe you could help me make them.
The podcast I work on is all done in our spare time and we don’t have any money to spend on it so I would use some of the money to buy us things like rechargable batteries and other equipment. I would also buy myself an audio recorder because I will be finishing my PhD soon so won’t have access to the equipment that we already have. This would mean that I could continue to help making the podcast no matter where I got a job.
Any remaining money I would donate to Astronomers without Borders. They are a great organisation who try to bring people together through astronomy. The money I gave to them could help them buy a telescope or organise an astronomy eventt.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Kickass astronomy geek!
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I was allowed to use a radio telescope in India called the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) to look at some galaxies. Hopefully the pictures we got will help us to understand the physics of these galaxies better. Getting time on a telescope is very competitive – you have to write a report explaining why you should be allowed to use the telescope and not everyone is successful so I was really chuffed to get time.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I got told off for messing around with my friends during classes but never anything serious.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
My favourite bands change on a regular basis but at the moment my top 3 are Sonic Boom Six, The Get Up Kids and Streetlight Manifesto.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Last summer I drove to all of the telescopes in the e-Merlin array in a day with some friends! e-Merlin is a network of 7 radio telescopes spread across the country that can be connected together so that it’s like having one really big telescope. It was exhausting (we set off from Manchester at 6am and arrived at Jodrell Bank at 10pm) but so much fun. We filmed it for a video that should be released soon!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) That I successfully finish my PhD 2) That I get a job that would let me do research and science communication 3) That I could see my family in India more
Tell us a joke.
How many astronomers does it take to change a light bulb? None, they use standard candles. (In astronomy, standard candles are objects in space that have a fixed luminosity, so if we know how bright we see them, we can tell how far away they are. We could do the same thing on Earth with a lightbulb).