Hi Naomi Rowe-Gurney! What is your job and what is the most exciting part about the work that you do?
I’m a PhD student at the University of Leicester Physics and Astronomy department. I study the atmosphere of Uranus and Neptune using a space telescope called Spitzer. It’s my job to look at data from the telescope and figure out what the planet atmospheres are made of and how they are changing over time. I then write what I have found and go all over the world to tell other scientists about it. The most exciting part of my job is definitely all the travelling I get to do and all of the different people I get to meet on my travels.
What motivated and inspired you to pursue a career in the STEM industry?
I went to a planetarium when I was very young and I remember being so excited that outer space was so big and I immediately had so many questions to ask. I was never very good at maths at school but I loved science (especially physics and space) so I kept it up and got good enough grades to be able to pursue it at A-level and then at University.
What is the biggest misconception about your job?
That you have to be a genius to do a PhD. You really don’t! You just have to love the subject you study and eventually you realise you actually know quite a lot about it.
What were you like as a child and what interests and hobbies did you have?
I loved gaming and had multiple consoles throughout my childhood. I used to love games that involved solving problems or riddles and I think that definitely has made me a better scientist. I have always loved watching sci-fi movies and TV. Once a nerd, always a nerd I think.
What advice would you give your eight-year-old self about building a career in space?
There are people just like you that have space careers, and even if you don’t see them very often, there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same. People will say you can’t do it or it’s not for you but don’t listen to them. You can do anything you want to!
Why do you think JWST is an important part of our space exploration?
We still know so little about the ice giants and their atmospheres. Webb is going to be able to see what is happening beneath some of the clouds so we answer some very important science questions and also find new questions to ask.
Where do you think we’ll be in 50 years in terms of space exploration?
I hope that the missions to Uranus and Neptune that are being talked about now will just about be reaching their destinations after a long trip through the solar system. These missions will orbit their planets and hopefully also drop some probes into their atmospheres. The Webb Telescope will help us to properly plan and build these spacecraft so we can do the best science possible with them when they arrive.
Naomi Rowe-Gurney appears in Activity 5.3 Visualising the Universe in Chapter Five of the Deep Space Diary. Download the activity and teaching notes here.