Martyn Wells: Optical Engineer

Read our Q&A with Martyn Wells. Martyn is an optical engineer who oversaw the optical design of the MIRI instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope.

Martyn Wells: Optical Engineer

Photo: Martyn Wells (on the right in with a blue hood) in the NASA clean room at the Goddard Space Flight Centre with MIRI wrapped in its insulating blanket in the foreground.

Hi Martyn Wells! What is your job and what is the most exciting part about the work that you do?

My job is to design the optics – the lenses and mirrors – in camera and spectrometers that go on the back of telescopes. The most exciting parts of the work are reading reports of astronomical discoveries and knowing I designed the optics that was used for the observations and working in the enormous clean room at NASA where the JWST was assembled and getting a close up view of the instrument and telescope.

What motivated and inspired you to pursue a career in the STEM industry?

I have always enjoyed the practical side of science and engineering, making and exploring how things work. So reading about the big new telescopes at the time I graduated from university inspired me to start my career in astronomy

What is the biggest misconception about your job?

The biggest misconception about my job is that it is super hard to do – but if you can understand how a lens works and how a mirror reflects light you are most of the way there.

What were you like as a child and what interests and hobbies did you have?

I liked taking things apart to try and understand how they worked like taking apart radios that I bought at a jumble sale. At school I quickly saw that physics was the most interesting subject for me, maybe I didn’t take to biology because I got bad hay-fever from green things!

What advice would you give your eight-year-old self about building a career in space?

Just play with all the things you can find around your house to see how they work. If a CD player is being thrown out get a screwdriver and take it apart to see what’s inside. Why do spectacle lenses help people to see? And think about what you see around you – why is the sky blue and the setting sun red?

Why do you think JWST is an important part of our space exploration?

JWST allows us to observe objects in the universe that are cooler than the sun, like planets around other stars and stars being formed from clouds of gas.


Martyn Wells appears in Activity 2.4 Infrared Selfie in Chapter Two of the Deep Space Diary. Download the activity and teaching notes here.

Deep Space Diary, Discovery Diaries, Infrared Selfie


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