BY DR EMILY BALDWIN
Posted:20 March, 2009
Astronomy Now’s website editor Emily Baldwin joined solar physicist Lucie Green and rocket scientist Mini Saaj at Surrey University to share their experiences as women in astronomy related careers to aspiring students.
She is an Astronomer is a Cornerstone Project of the International Year of Astronomy, with a goal to demonstrate that women are just as capable as men in achieving their dream careers in astronomy. Events are being held on a national and local level to showcase female astronomers through lecture series and workshops.
From left to right: Mini Saaj (Surrey Space Centre), Lucie Green (Mullard Space Science Laboratory) and Emily Baldwin (Astronomy Now). Image: John Axtell/GAS.
Once such local event “She is an Astronomer, She is a Rocket Scientist” was held by the Guildford Astronomical Society (GAS) earlier this week. The three speakers, all women with backgrounds in science, discussed their journeys into astronomy with a group of young adults, many of which were already taking physics A-levels and seeking advice on physics and astronomy related university degree courses.
First up was Astronomy Now’s Website Editor Dr Emily Baldwin, who opened the programme with a brief history of women in astronomy, where the audience learnt how women have played a significant role in astronomical discoveries from as early as the 1500s. Emily then took the audience on an impact cratering tour of the Solar System, and shared her experiences of doing a planetary science degree at University College London (UCL). On completion of a PhD in impact cratering at UCL last year, Emily side-stepped into a career in science journalism with Astronomy Now, quashing myths that astronomy related careers all had to be maths based!
Next up was Dr Lucie Green from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, an expert in solar research and funded by the Royal Society. The audience were treated to movies of solar flares and prominences leaping off the surface of the Sun, and shown just how influential our Sun is on our everyday lives. Lucie’s journey into astronomy was, in her own words “by accident”. She had always been very passionate about physics, and by pursuing that as a career thought what better way to use her knowledge than by studying the physics of our own Sun and the Universe that we live in. After Lucie’s talk, the audience had the chance to look through a solar telescope to see the Sun’s disc, which unfortunately was rather quiet.
Lucie Green took the audience on a journey through the Sun. Image: John Axtell/GAS.
Dr Mini Saaj then described her path into rocket science, an interesting and inspiring journey that saw her leave her home town in India to pursue her dream job in the space industry, which took her across Europe to Germany, and on to Surrey Space Centre (SSC), which is based on the Surrey University campus. Mini told the audience about many of the exciting missions that SSC and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) is involved in, including missions to the Moon and Mars, and described the space centre and company as the future of small, low cost space missions, which has successfully launched 32 satellites to date. She also spoke about exciting career opportunities, both in the UK Space industry and academia.
A question and answer session concluded the day where the students had the opportunity to quiz the speakers on everything from what first inspired them to become astronomers, to space tourism, life on Mars and what a university education is all about. “I personally thought it quite inspirational,” said John Axtell, Secretary of GAS. “The speakers showed the youngsters just what educational and career opportunities there are to be found within this fascinating area.”
“Several people have commented to me that they couldn't see how the students could fail to be inspired,” added John Evans, GAS President. “I think that says it perfectly and I know that all of us from GAS thought that the speakers communicated the 'She is an Astronomer' theme very powerfully.”
Later in the year, the She is an Astronomer website will be launching, which will profile women in astronomy from all eras and offer advice to today's budding female scientists. In the meantime, and for more information about the She is an Astronomer project, as well as all other IYA events, visit www.astronomy2009.org.