|Job:||Solar Physicist, Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, California, USA.|
So what sparked your interest in solar physics,
I think it was a project we did on the Solar System at primary school! After that, I always liked physics at secondary school, and my teacher gave me a book about astronomy, which just got me hooked. Solar physics is a way to study and learn about physics and astronomy at the same time.
What subjects did you study?
At school I did maths, physics, chemistry, English and German - the Scottish system allows this combination! At University in Glasgow I did physics and astronomy, and as much maths as I needed to do the problems - no more!
you ever think that you would end up so far from home?
No, certainly not. I never wanted to leave Glasgow! But I did it a bit at a time - five years in the Netherlands, after my PhD, and then the big move to the USA. Now I really enjoy it - the chance to live and work abroad is one of the great things about a career in science. But I will try and come home one day.
do you do on a typical day?
I work a lot with my computer, analysing solar data which is coming down from instruments, onboard satellites, and making and testing mathematical models to try and understand what I see. But solar physics is a group effort, so a lot of my day is taken up discussing questions and problems with colleagues, who are also friends. And sometimes I am involved in writing proposals for future solar missions, which is very exciting.
But what about life outside solar physics?
I like the outdoors - I go hillwalking when I get the chance, and run to keep fit. Northern California has a nice climate for outdoors activities. I also like to go to San Francisco with friends, for concerts and museums and shopping. But my favourite hobby is singing - both in the shower and in choirs.
What solar physics question would you most
like to help answer?
I would love to be involved in understanding how solar flares happen. These are the most energetic of explosions on the sun. The energy released in 10 minutes during one small solar flare is enough to power the whole of the UK for 50,000 years. Flares are triggered in a very small volume and yet energise a huge number of particles! We have known about flares for decades, but the way they work is still a bit of a mystery.
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