Tag Archives: MSSL

Why is a PhD like a ‘rubber duck’?

A 3-D reconstruction of the Rosetta comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) in a 2003 model from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA and Philippe Lamy (Laboratoire d’Astronomie Spatiale)

A 3-D reconstruction of the Rosetta comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) in a 2003 model from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA and Philippe Lamy (Laboratoire d’Astronomie Spatiale)

On the left is an image reconstruction of our ‘best guess’ at what comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko looked like in 2003. This was created using images from the Hubble Space Telescope in preparation for ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft mission to travel there and take a closer look.

This closer look happened more than 10 years later, and just last week the Philae Lander was released and performed the very first soft landing ever on a comet. But even before this landing, we knew a lot more about comet 67P than we had in 2003. Images from Rosetta as it approached and began orbiting the comet showed us a completely unexpected shape, shown on the right, leading it to be nicknamed the ‘rubber duck’ comet.

The soft landing (or more strictly, bouncing) of Philae has been all over the news for the last week or so, but it was this article in Universe Today that drew my attention to the huge increase in knowledge about 67P over the last decade. We can easily get caught up in particular events and achievements but it isn’t often that we really sit back and appreciate how far we’ve come over a longer period of time. Continue reading

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Up(grade)s and Downs

While usually I try to focus these blogs on positive aspects of PhD life, today I want to focus on how I felt driving home after a mediocre day.

Yesterday was not a good day. Nothing particularly bad happened, but work didn’t go very well and by the time I left the office I was frustrated.

I ranted about it whilst driving home; about 45 minutes of “Why doesn’t it work?”, “Why can’t I write faster?”, “Why don’t I understand it all yet?”, “Why is science so *frustrating*?” etc etc

The frustration I’m feeling is down to the stress of meeting deadlines, not the work itself.

The main cause of my current work-related stress is the fast approaching upgrade process. Continue reading

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The Experience of ‘Work Experience’ at MSSL

Some of the work experience students doing project work in the MSSL gardens. Photo credit: MSSL/Martin de la Nougerede

Some of the work experience students doing project work in the MSSL gardens. Photo credit: MSSL/Martin de la Nougerede

Last month MSSL (where I work) hosted 19 students (mostly 17-18 year olds) for a week of work experience. They had all contacted us themselves to see if they could find out what working in astronomy and space science is really like, so a group of PhD students (including me, and led by Will Dunn) decided to run one week of workshops, talks and project work for them.

MSSL has 100-150 people on site every day, all working in a huge number of areas connected to space. We have the ‘science’ groups, including astrophysics, solar, space plasma, and planetary science as well as the ‘engineering’ groups, including cryogenics, imaging, electronic and mechanical engineering, plus people in various groups who are well experienced in developing and managing space missions. To allow the students to experience as much of this as possible in only one week we developed a workshop for each of Mon-Thurs mornings based on one of the science groups, and those afternoons were given over to group project work. Interspersed throughout the days were talks and Q&A sessions with many of the scientists and engineers who work here.

Group photo of the work experience students. Photo credit: MSSL/Martin de la Nougerede

Group photo of the work experience students. Photo credit: MSSL/Martin de la Nougerede

Continue reading

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ISSI – Discussions, Presenting and Editing

The view from a bridge in Bern (May 2014)

The view from a bridge in Bern (May 2014)

In December, only two and a half months after I started my PhD, I wrote about a trip I was about to take to the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern, Switzerland.

When I got back I wanted to write about my experiences there, but it was on that trip that as a consortium we tried to work out a consistent picture for the strange data we collected of NGC 5548 over the summer. It was clear that we had an unexpected result and we wanted to minimise the risk of anyone else realising this before we had chance to publish, plus we decided as a group to submit to Science and therefore it was important to keep in mind their embargo rules.

As the first paper from this campaign was published last week, I want to go back and describe the experiences I had at ISSI. I have now spent two weeks there, one in December 2013 and one in May 2014, with almost the same people each time. I learnt a lot during both of these weeks at ISSI, but also found them very different; I will try to explain this in the rest of this post. Continue reading

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The Importance Of Your PhD Supervisor

I am really enjoying my PhD at MSSL and the life I have around it, but not every day starts particularly well. Continue reading

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Astro Group Seminar: Satellite Galaxy Evolution and Student Advice

New Hubble image of galaxy cluster Abell 1689. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble

New Hubble image of galaxy cluster Abell 1689. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble

Every Thursday afternoon (apart from the first one in a month) the Astrophysics Group at MSSL has a seminar. These seem to mostly be by speakers from different institutions and about a wide range of topics. After the main seminar the speaker also sits down with the PhD students to answer any questions and give career advice. I enjoyed both sections and have summarized both in this post.

Although I have been at MSSL for three weeks now, due to a welcome event at UCL’s main campus and the beginning of a month, last week was my first seminar.  The speaker was Dr Anna Pasquali from the University of Heidelberg who talked about satellite galaxy evolution. Continue reading

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New Beginnings

Aerial view of MSSL

Aerial view of MSSL

Last week I accepted a place at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) to begin an Astrophysics PhD there in September (2013).

I plan for this blog to be an integral part of my PhD experience; somewhere I can collect my thoughts, including summaries of journal clubs, seminars, papers, conferences, problems I come up against and interesting conversations that spark new thoughts.

MSSL is part of University College London (UCL) and is based at what used to be Holmbury House in the ‘Guildford-Dorking-Horsham Triangle’. Continue reading

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