Monday, December 14, 2015

Clear to Cloudy

As of this morning the NASA Exoplanet archive lists the discovery of 1916 exoplanets. These planets range in size and mass all the way from super Jupiters (over 10 times the mass of Jupiter), to Neptune’s, super-Earths (up to 10 times the mass of the Earth), and potentially Mars-sized or even Mercury-sized worlds. One of the most interesting discoveries in the search for exoplanets is that many of them are nothing like what we have in our solar system.

One such class of planet that was discovered is the hot Jupiter. Hot Jupiters are similar to Jupiter in mass , but can range in size from 0.8 - 2 times as large in their radius. Hot Jupiters also orbit much closer to their host stars than Jupiter in our own solar system, which sits at a cool 5 time the distance from the sun as the Earth, in fact hot Jupiters orbit 20 times closer to their star than we do to the Sun, which is even closer than even Mercury. This means that they are also tidally locked, with one face of their planet in constant daylight and the other in constant night.  

But now the new and exciting stuff...

To get an idea about what these strange new alien worlds are like, an international team of astronomers harnessed the observing power of the Hubble space telescope, and the Spitzer space telescope to conduct the most extensive study thus far to characterise the atmospheres of ten hot Jupiters. By looking at the stars light as the planet transits in front of the star, as Venus does in our solar system, from the perspective of the Earth we can detect the unique fingerprints of different molecules in the planets upper atmosphere as the light is filtered through before reaching our telescopes. This measurement of how the atmosphere absorbed light at different wavelengths is called transmission spectroscopy.

HST/Spitzer transmission spectral sequence
of hot Jupiter survey targets.
The solid lines are the model spectra fit to the measured transmission
spectra of each hot Jupiter in the survey, which are shown as data
points with their measured uncertainties. The spectra are offset and ordered
from top to bottom with low to high values of 
In the past only a small number of well-studied planets (HD 209458b, HD189733b, GJ 1214b) have been analyzed over a small wavelength range between 1.1-1.7 microns, just beyond the red part our eyes can see (Deming et al. 2013; Line et al. 2013; Sing et al. 2014; McCullough et al. 2014; Sing et al. 2015). This is an important wavelength range as it is where water vapor absorbs sunlight. Recent studies have shown that hot Jupiters have much smaller and muted water features than is predicted. The smaller signals could potentially be explained by lower amounts of water than was expected (Seager et al. 2005; Madhusudhan et al. 2014), which is a sign that water is removed somehow from the protoplanetary disk from which a solar system would form (Oberg, Murray-Clay, & Bergin 2011), but it is not clear if this high level of depletion is even possible. Alternatively, the weak signals of water vapor could be the result of clouds or hazes in the hot Jupiters atmosphere which obscure the water signals (Pont et al. 2013; Sing et al. 2014, 2015; Nikolov et al. 2015)

This new study published in Nature shows the measurements of ten hot Jupiter atmospheres from the optical (0.3 microns) all the way out into the mid-infrared (5 microns). This allows us to spectral resolve not only the water feature in the near-IR, but also the optical scattering and the IR molecular absorption features. The result of the study reveal a diverse group of planetary environments from clear atmospheres, which exhibit little to no evidence for high altitude clouds or hazes, revealing broad atomic signatures in the optical to large amplitude water features in the IR, to cloudy and hazy planets, which have strong Rayleigh scattering slopes in the optical and muted or even absent absorption features from water in the IR.

Pressure-Temperature profiles and condensation curves.P-T profiles were calculated from 1D radiative transfer
models (Fortney et al. 2008). Condensation curves are calculated for
chemical species expected in hot Jupiter atmospheres (Morley et al. 2012).
The presence of a cloud or haze can be predicted by the atmospheres temperature profile with altitude. Models show that as we move higher and higher in the planets atmosphere, decreasing log(pressure), the temperature decreases. Where the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere match the temperature and pressure where a material will change from a gas to a liquid is called the condensation point (Wakeford et al 2015). This will form the base of the cloud in that atmosphere. This is shown in the figure where the colored lines cross the grey dashed lines. Yet strangely the presence of obscuring clouds and hazes in the observations do not match up perfectly with the predictions from the models. So temperature and pressure alone cannot explain the clear to clouds atmospheres observed, suggesting circulation, vertical mixing need to be considered to transport heat and particles around the planet (Showman & Polvani 2011).

In the study we present a metric to distinguish between planetary atmosphere, comparing the difference between the measured planetary radius in the near-IR to that measured in the mid-IR (ΔZJ-LM), and correlate this with the strength (amplitude) of the water absorption feature. We additionally define the difference between the optical and mid-IR (ΔZUM-LM) that compares the strength of scattering in the optical, to the molecular absorption measured by Spitzer.

Transmission spectral index diagram: ΔZJ-LM vs H2O amplitude.The uncertainties represent the 1-sigma uncertainty. The purple and grey lines show model 
trends for cloudy and hazy atmospheres. We also show the clear-atom models with sub-solar
abundances in red. Note: WASP-39b and WASP-6b are missing as they currently have no
HST/WFC3 data. However, we have both scheduled for this coming year.
By plotting our measurements from this broad wavelength study we show that the results favor the obscuration of water by clouds or hazes rather than models where the water abundance is lower. The effect of clouds or hazes in the atmosphere reduces the water absorption amplitude, while raising the level of the near-IR to mid-IR continuum levels, leading to high ΔZJ-LM with low water amplitudes.

Theoretical model transmission spectra.
Model spectra assuming 1200K temperature with gravity of 25 m/s^2.
Models in each panel are compared to a clear, solar metallicity atmo (black).
This has revealed a continuum of hot Jupiter atmospheres from clear to cloudy. With the cloud formation in the atmospheres of these planets being highly sensitive to the temperature and pressure profile such steep gradients in the upper atmospheres, mean changes of just 100 degrees either way can totally change the cloud properties being observed. You can also see the different models that go with these metrics below.

This is the first time a large comparative study has been conducted on exoplantary atmospheres using consistent analysis techniques to combine datasets from different instruments and spacecraft. It is fantastic to finally see them all together in one place so that we can start to unravel the mysteries of these planets from afar.

The exciting part is now with this metric we can attempt to classify such strange alien planets, and the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s successor, will expand our range of planets to study even further. Importantly, with more and more observations we may be able to make our own solar system planets part of this interstellar comparison. 

You can find the full nature paper on the Nature site here 

Also check out all of the press releases on the survey below

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What I learnt from DPS15

DPS15 is a conference held by the Division of Planetary Science which is a group within the AAS (American Astronomical Society). This year was their 47th annual meeting, which was hosted at National Harbour, just outside of Washington DC.

This was my first DPS conference and while I intended to take many, many notes, I was swept up by the amazing community on twitter and decided to spend my week throughly tweeting the conference instead.

Here are just a few of the things that I learnt from DPS15 in the form of the tweets they sparked. As such it may be a slightly biased view, but I hope you enjoy. Each of the topics links to a Storify album of tweets so look for yours in there if you joined in with the twitter conversation.

Twitter embargo
The planetary community can get a little snarky when they are told they are not allowed to share their science.

The first session of DPS15 was a look at some of the mazing science discoveries the New Horizons team have made about the Pluto system. However, we were informed at the start of the session that all of the information we would hear for the next 2 hours was under embargo until the press conference at 12pm. Naturally the room got a little mad. This is how planetary scientists fight back.

Here are just a small selection of the tweets that were posted during the embargoed Pluto session.

NASA brought along a massive model of Saturn's 6th largest moon Enceladus to the DPS15 exhibit hall, which included live plumes of steam bursting forth from it's surface.

Naturally this got a lot of people excited and snap happy, including myself.

Dr. Paddack the P in YORP presented at #DPS15 to a packed room, and I learnt what YORP was.

There were a few excited scientists in the room tweeting, which helped spread the excitement, as I was actually in another session at the time.

Scroll through to learn what YORP is and why it matters.

Clouds are a big thing with planetary scientists. They appear everywhere a persistent atmosphere is observed. As an exoplaneteer it is time we start to use that to our advantage.

Here are a few tweets from across our solar system talking about the cloudy nature of planetary science.

I am biased toward the exoplanet community so I will start there, but never fear clouds were everywhere at this years DPS so just keep scrolling through.

and last but by no stretch of the imagination least.

Mesursky award talk on Harassment
The Mesursky award for service to the planetary science community was awarded to Dr. Christina Richey for her work in the community to combat harassment and discrimination. Normally the Mesursky winner does not get a talk, however, this year Christina asked to be able to address the whole community about an issue she is passionate about, and which needs to be spoken out loud.

Dr. Christina Richey addresses the whole conference in a magnificent show of strength about harassment in the community and how we can all become better allys. Here are just a selection of the tweets during and after her talk which show you the response from the community.

It was fantastic to meet and talk to so many people over the course of the week and make sure you look up #DPS15 for the full story.

See you next year!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I learnt from CCTP2

At the beginning of September I attended the Comparative Climates for Terrestrial Planets II conference at NASA AMES Research Center. 

The conference aimed to foster a series of interdisciplinary conversations on a wide range of planetary climates. this years theme was "Understanding How Climate Systems Work." As an exoplanet researcher I was the outsider attending  a rocky planet conference but I learnt a lot and was hopefully also able to put the current observation capabilities of exoplanets into context.

But as I have done with previous conferences I attend I thought I would share some of the "Things I learnt from CCTP2" with you now.

Old zeppelin hangers are really really big, even without the skin on them.
 - The habitable zone is the hunting zone for planets. It is just giving you the greatest possibility of finding a planet with surface liquid water.

Come to NASA they have cookies.

 - Terrestrial planet scientists don't like the idea of their rock being molten, and especially don't like to think of it floating in the atmosphere of a giant planet.

     - Sometimes you just need to present your crazy idea on what controls global dust storms on Mars. But test it out on other planets first.

     - Weather is not the climate, but sometimes the climate can be weather.

     - New horizons got to Pluto just in time. Any later and the atmosphere might have all been condensed out for the winter.
    You also get to give from a
    fancy lectern. 

     - A planet can be considered 'occasionally habitable' if the climate has strong feedback on the atmosphere where you move from a snowball to a warm planet in a cyclical process.

     - The only way to take N2 out of the atmosphere is with biology.

     - There is the same amount of CO2 locked in rocks on Earth as there is causing the runaway greenhouse in Venus' atmosphere.

     - A dune planet could is the zombie afterlife of a habitable world.

     - Volcanoes are cool.

     - While more planets may be in the habitable zone of M-dwarfs they will be receiving much more UV flux from their star which will affect the chemistry of the atmosphere.

     - There could be more tidally locked planets than earth like planets in our galaxy because there are more small stars where the habitable zone is closer to the star so could have dynamically locking.

     - We all need to be asking the question at conferences; "what can we investigate in our field to potentially inform yours?"

     - Give a group of early career researchers some frozen yogurt then leave them with  a coloring book and pens they will really geek out on you.

     - It is a really small world, and Stargate really is the greatest show.
    The result of the early career researchers evening out, featuring MAVEN, Dr Who, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,
    Godzilla/Alien, planetary weather systems, and most importantly a Stargate mid KAWOOSH!


    And my talk on Cloud condensates in hot Jupiter atmospheres can be found at this link - 

    Wednesday, August 26, 2015

    HMAvl: A year on film

    As everything that happens in the university of Exeter's astrophysics group; it all started with coffee time. 
    My very good friend and colleague, Moncho Rey Raposo, had asked if I wanted to try a video series, and being like minded with regards to public engagement and the role a scientist has in passing on our knowledge, I thought; why the hell not! Even though I was then in my final year of the PhD and should really have been focusing on something else, hmmmm. Well never mind that. This is my year on film with Moncho and the Hannah & Moncho Astro video log (HMAvl). 

    A year before I had briefly entertained the idea of creating my own science show with the universities tv channel, XTV, but the vast amount of time and technical support needed for production put me off due to the time I could put towards anything (we lasted 1 episode). I needed something quick, fun, and informative. So, who better to embark on this adventure with than Moncho, and he came up with the idea so that saved time too.

    The plan was to discuss fun and interesting science each week, while sharing with the audience what PhD life was like at the University of Exeter. Over the course of our year in film we covered so many different topics.

    We covered so many random things across physics
    but it was also important to cover what it was like to be
    doing a PhD and the life that we had at the University.

    Introduction - ET - Rubik's cube - Halloween special in the Astrophysics group - Turbulence - Getting an astrophysics paper published - Exponential growth - Exeter's supercomputer - Hannah & Moncho's elevator pitch - Behind the scenes of HMAvl - Astrophysics christmas party - The Star of Bethlehem - Winter solstice - Maria's elevator pitch - Waves and interference - Weather - Why do a PhD? - a personal account - Alex's elevator pitch - A career in academia: interview with Pete V - The butterfly effect & yoga? - Exoplanets - Women in Astrophysics - Pablo's elevator pitch - Solar Eclipse 2015 - Blackbody radiation and CMB - Hannah turns in her thesis - Cryogenic dieting - Boyle's law - Alice's elevator pitch - Hannah's thesis defense - The big bang - Quantum meerkat - Conferences and posters - Tiffany's elevator pitch - Hubble deep field - Hannah's graduation

    I think my favorite episode is still probably the Behind the scenes of HMAVL. Perhaps prematurely in episode 10 we made a behind the scenes episode, and I loved it and still do because I got to pretend like I was on a real TV show. If you know me you know I love TV and especially when you get a behind the scenes look at how it is all done. I even listen to all the audio commentaries if they make them, so I reveled in the chance to make one of my own.

    Another reason why this was great is it explains everything I have been trying to put down in this blog, but with the added joy of moving pictures.

    I am going to miss being able to write of a section in my diary for filming each week. I will miss the random topic to research each week. There is always room to learn more about science and relearn things long forgottten. There was a point where we were having issue with coming up with a topic to cover in 3 or 5 minutes, and i remembered that years ago for my scuba diving instructor exam i was tasked to teach boyles law to my divers. The examiners thought that i would find it difficult to convey what can be a complex topic to scuba divers who would range fro 14 up and from all manner of backgrounds. The topic itself was perfect for a HMAvl. So on the day that Moncho was able to film we met at my apartment and filmed it in the bathroom then and there with my dive kit as the backdrop.

    But most of all I am going to miss working with Moncho on all of these crazy ideas. Anything went and we tried to not be worried about how it would look. So thank you for all the fun. Enjoy the playlist of our year on film and let us know what you thought.

    Moncho and I during the filming of episode 2

    I personally would not recommend starting such a project in your last year, while writing up and defending your thesis. But if you love doing something then go for it. If you play it right there is always time for fun.

    Monday, June 8, 2015

    My Science Hour Adventure

    Hannah at the Xmedia Awards 2015
    with The Science Hour's
    2 awards of the evening
    My adventure with The science Hour on XpressionFM has sadly come to a close. But boy did we go out on a high. At this years Xmedia Awards The Science Hour won two awards. Our 1st from XpressionFM for the stations Best Show, which was a beautiful surprise on the night and I'm so proud of the recognition within a music and sport heavy radio station that a talk show about science captured people and entertained them. Our 2nd came from the Best Innovation category, something myself and Simon entered with our Top Female Scientists card game, which we launched on the show in February this year. You can listen to the Award entry below.

    The Science Hour has developed into a fantastic entertaining and diverse radio show over the seasons. I think this year we really hit our stride with the format and content to keep a loyal and far reaching audience. Who also appreciated some of the worst music segues in history, I am talking Alan Partridge levels and worse. Over the seasons I have been joined by some amazing and thoroughly intelligent co-hosts and none of the show would have been done without their amazing support and conversation. So, thank you Gareth Jones, Alex Pettitt, and Simon Clark for taking your time and putting yourself out there with me each week. Also to all of the guests throughout the first season who gave us their time to talk about their work.

    But I thought now was as good a time as any to share how The Science Hour on XpressionFM came to be and how it has positively influenced my PhD journey here at Exeter.

    Our Xmedia Award for
    Most Innovative
    Way back in late 2012 while I was on holiday in the US with my sister I received an email from a professor in the Astrophysics group at Exeter where I was in the 2nd year of my PhD urging me to apply for a workshop being run by the BBC Academy for expert women in their fields. At the time I was just finding my stride within academia, attempting to work out if I knew anything at all, let alone calling myself an expert at something. But as with most things that have worked out in my life I went with my philosophy of "what can I loose if I apply for this?" As always the answer was nothing of significance. So, I went for it. I filmed two short pieces to camera about my work and some of the things I thought needed to be highlighted in the media, and sent it in. A few months later I found out that I was selected in the top 60 out of over 2000 applicants and that in March the following year I would be heading to the BBC Academy for 2 days of media training and advanced training with 30 other applicants.

    But why am I giving you all of this back story, what has this got to do with a student radio show?
    Well, what this experience taught me was little to do with the technical side of TV and Radio, or even the way that you need to present yourself, I had learnt most of that from watching behind the scenes documentaries growing up and seeing my father giving copious numbers of talks around Surrey where I grew up. No what these few days taught me was, it does not matter who you are or how good you might be at what you do, no one is going to out of the blue ask you to do anything. You have to go out and get it, or do it, or ask for it yourself before anyone will take notice and start asking back.

    While at the BBC Academy on these two days I did meet a number of other astronomers who were already post-docs in their fields and have kept in touch with them since. One, Emma Bradshaw, was the host of a science show on student radio at Nottingham, which is a well respected student radio station in the student radio circuit. It was later in the summer of 2013 when I met her again at a UK wide astronomy conference that she gave me the best advice. "Just go for it!"

    Launching our Top Female Scientists card game LIVE on
    By now I was starting my 3rd year of the PhD and well out of the loop of student societies at university and anywhere. Let alone putting myself out there on the radio or TV. Luckily the University of Exeter has a fantastic and diverse media team from TV (XTV Online), Journalism (Exepose), and Radio (XpressionFM). In freashers week I stood out awkwardly at the introduction weeks and group meetings  making me want to flee. But I kept chanting to myself "What have you got to lose?" "Just go for it."

    The leaders of XpressionFM at the time were Hazel Morgan, a wholly wonderful individual excited about the prospect of some BBC Radio 4 style programming, and the ever encouraging Matthew Bate who later became the VP of Activities sabbatical officer for the Guild. It was Matthew who put me in touch with some new people and I was tenacious in getting a full show on the air as soon as possible.

    The first Science Hour show was broadcast LIVE at 11pm right in the middle of a 30-hour Children in Need broadcast for the station. I was given lees then a days notice to put something dynamic and entertaining together which would involve the two champion hosts for the full broadcast. I managed to rope in the Gareth Jones a new PhD student in Physics who had previously hosted on XpressionFM and was not serving as part of the station committee. The whole launch of the show could never have happened without him, and for that I am very grateful.

    In January of 2014 we kicked off the term with our regular show and time on Tuesday evenings, and have not stopped since. By half way through the term I had been fully trained as a radio presenter and was able to run the show myself. In our first term run we welcomed 12 scientists into the XpressionFM studio, and shared the research from over 5 departments at the University of Exeter.

    The Science Hour time wheel
    Each episode of the show requires varied levels of preparation, depending on prior knowledge of the subject. At the beginning of each term I would sit down with my co-host and we would write a list of the different topics that interested us and we wanted to talk about. We would then look at the shows calendar and make a balanced and ordered timetable. As each show on its own follows the same format a time wheel of the show is simple to fill in, and is a great practice to have if you want to set up your own show of any length. For each episode we find 5 songs with a connection to the topic, though sometimes the most tenuous of links is made between the discussion and the song of choice. We will also try to find the most unsung or unheard of scientist in the field of study to place a spotlight on. The ultimate goal of the show is to provide new and interesting information in an accessible way to our audience. I think the best compliment for the show I have heard is someone coming up to me and telling me a story about a science topic and then finishing the story with, 'oh wait I think I heard that from your show'. Almost all of our listeners within XpressionFM have told us they don't like science, but love the show. That is good enough for me! They don't really hate science, they live in a world based on it (especially on the radio), they just need the best way to hear about it. I hope we were able to provide that.

    Without the science hour I am certain I would not be as confident in myself or the science I have been working on. It has not only improved my interview skills, but also the way in which I respond when being interviewed. I love communicating my science, and hope that I can continue to do so through all types of media throughout my career.

    I am also now so much more aware of how little music I know.

    You can check out our full archive on Mixcloud and please leave any comments below or on our show pages (Mixcloud, Facebook).

    Sunday, May 3, 2015

    My PhD thesis through the quotes

    "Well, I suppose now is the time for me to say something profound… nothing comes to mind."
    General Jack O'Neill
    Stargate SG1

    "I tend to go with what you know. Until something better turns up."
    Admiral William Adama
    Battlestar Galactica

    Outlining the method
    "You know what the issue is with this world? Everyone wants some magical solution for their problems and everyone refuses to believe in magic."
    Jefferson/Mad Hatter
    Once Upon A Time

    Applying the method
    "If nothing else works, then a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through."
    General Melchett
    Blackadder Goes Fourth

    Some results never change 
    "There’s just nothing new in the universe is there? It’s the same everywhere, good cop, bad cop."
    Commander John Crichton

    Where to look for the next answers
    "The answers are there, you just have to know where to look for them."
    Agent Dana Scully
    The X-Files

    "We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty."
    Captain Malcolm Reynolds

    Future work
    "What's Next?"
    President Josiah Bartlet
    The West Wing

    Monday, March 30, 2015

    Writing my PhD thesis

    Handing in my PhD thesis to the University of Exeter
    Over the years I have found that saying you are doing a PhD can be taken one of two ways by people; 'that sounds fancy you must be a genius or something' or simply 'why?'. The former are never trying to put you on a pedestal, and the later are not trying to get you on the defensive, but the dichotomy is sometimes difficult to deal with.

    During the course of a PhD you are continuously finding out things that you, or anyone else, never knew before. That is the point, to present unique and new research at the end of it all. But this simultaneously puts you in the state of not knowing anything with impostor syndrome playing a big role in academia. No where does this become more evident to you than when you have to write it all up in your PhD thesis.

    It is an all consuming process, even if you try very hard for it to not be. It is now the end of March and I have just handed in my PhD thesis titled: 'cloudy with a chance of water'. It is a short 181 page document outlining a majority of the work that I have conducted as a scientific researcher at the University of Exeter over the last 3 1/2 years. A PhD in the UK is a very learn on the job kind of endeavour, and it is an experience that seems remarkably unique to each person considering we are all going for the same thing.

    A PhD is so different for different people, this is not intended as a formula to writing a thesis, nor is it to say that you should be able to work this way as well. Merely a document of my experience and process through it all and I hope that in a little way it can be reassuring or simply informative to people going through the same process now or in the future, and perhaps a little nostalgia kick for people who have already gone through this all before.

    The write-up, I suppose, officially started November 2014, giving me five months to complete and hand-in. That seems about normal. Though some people if needed have been able to write up in less than three weeks, or take over a year. The write up is a weird process and it really depends on the work you have done as to the final format that process takes. Some people have one large project that takes the whole PhD to complete and no papers can be written before the whole thing is done, so the write up is one long detailed story. Others do lots of little projects that form multiple papers as they go through their PhD which can then be stapled together in a vague order to be examined on. My fell somewhere in the middle of these two.

    My makeshift desk at my parents place over  Christmas
    with the obligatory bottle of wine
    Over the course of my PhD I have worked on a fair few projects all focused around one thing. Because my work looked at observational data (experiment) and analytical studies (theory) the hardest thing for me felt like the definition of the narrative that would bring these together. It was a long time before I could work out where my first observational paper would slot into the whole story as most of the first part of my thesis would focus on the new technique we were using which was developed after the first paper went out. I wanted it to read more like a book where the introduction to each thing appeared as you went along rather than all lumped into the introduction where you would have to flick back to remember what you had read. Once this was all in place it just took a little bit of work to get the right words in place. The section and sub-section headings changing right up to the week of submission. I just had a look back through my files and it appears the first figure created specifically for the thesis was made on December 8th so it was a least a month in before I had any idea where I was going with things.

    'Write drunk, edit sober.'

    All of your writing will be crap the first time you put it together. The important part is that you let your mind relax and spill onto the page all of the different ideas you want to incorporate into the work. The sentences don't need to make sense at this point you just need a vague idea of what needs to be there. I can't even count the number of bottles of wine I drank over the Christmas break working at my parents place on the makeshift desk they set up for me in the front room so I could work whenever I had a spare minute. In fact on new years eve my Father and I were child sitting round my sisters house watching The Newsroom drinking a LOT while I was typing up the analysis process I go through for each of my observations. Unfortunately for the wine industry the drinking tailed off considerably for the write-up towards the last few months as I edited the structure and formed slightly more coherent sentences from the waffle.

    But I cannot stress this enough: just because you are writing up does not mean that life has to stop and you cannot take time for fun. Go out with your friends, take an evening to do nothing but watch Netflix, celebrate birthdays and holidays when you can.

    The majority of comments I have had over the last few months are along the lines of 'you seem so calm', 'she is the calmest PhD student I have ever met', and 'it's annoying that you not panicking right now'. That last one came from my friend and housemate who handed in his PhD thesis in Feb and passed his viva in March. There was a distinct moment when his brain went into panic mode over the write-up and a point a month before hand-in that a constant state of stress seemed to kick in, so everyone was just waiting for me to go nuts I suppose.

    Top Female Scientist Card Game 
    Now I am not saying that I was calm all the way through. There were definitely some bouts of absolute panic and immense amounts of self doubt, but I did what I always do and gave myself something else to channel my worry and stress onto. If you know me or have seen me at work you will immediately notice the slight air of chaos surrounding my desk. It is not just the piles of post-it notes of every color, or the piles of papers and pens all over the place; it is the tiny person sitting there arms flailing looking for something or running off to one meeting or another grabbing something seemingly random as she ruses past you. I only wish I had gotten a picture before I decided to clean it all up after hand-in, but it seems every photo I have has been carefully framed to minimise the amount of mess visible.

    I need to be constantly distracted to get anything done. I know it seems strange, I find it strange too. But you know how it helps to have the background noise of a coffee shop to get work done? Well I need that ten-fold. If I do not have people moving around me and talking or something playing on the TV or a series of tasks to complete I will find it very hard to sit down and get one single thing done. There was one point where I had my two laptops playing different things with two separate sets of headphones in and a video on mute on my monitor just so I could concentrate and remember what I was working on. And the only reason I was allowed to have two laptops from work in the first place was that my first laptop, Louie, decided that it could not cope with the multitude of tasks I require to perform simultaneously any more.

    Photos from the Solar Eclipse Viewing Party 
    on March 20th at the University of Exeter
    That said a lot of my normal routine fell to the wayside during the final few months. I have not kept up with any of my TV shows, save one or two, and a week for me is normally set around which ones I need to watch next. I have little to no idea what movies are out, have been out, or are coming out. All of my departmental 'social secretary' roles were handed out to other, younger people to take over, I relinquished my keys to the boathouse and passed on my turn on the bar rota at the local scuba diving club. But saying all of this makes it sound dramatic. I did make sure to hold onto some things, Simon and I kept producing The Science Hour on XpressionFM right up to the last week before hand-in. We also created a Top Female Scientist Card Game that went viral and are now mass printing sets to send to schools. And for some strange reason I decided that it would be a good time to organise a Solar Eclipse Viewing Party at the university. Well that one is not entirely my fault on the timing as I have no control over such celestial events.

    All of these served as happy distractions so that my thesis work became the thing I did when I was taking a break rather than the other way round.

    It is strange but since the write-up life has got fuller not emptier. I spend more time with my friends happy to do nothing for a while, I am more relaxed and content than before. I just hope I can find something to distract me in the next month so I don't freak out about the impending examination viva.

    The following are my Acknowledgements from my thesis, and in sharing them here now, I think it sums up what I was trying to explain above.

    "None of this would have been possible without the financial support of the UK Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The research leading to these results has also received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement no. 336792. 
    Okay, now that we have the formalities out of the way it is time for the juicy bits. I have so many people to thank for their support throughout this doctoral endeavour so I shall attempt to do so here. This is for the people who will likely not read any further, save scanning the witty quotes marring each new chapter. Yet, for all of you I am still profoundly grateful.
    To all who have ever shared an office with me, sorry, but I do believe that I warned each and every one of you in advance. I am especially thankful to Emily who stopped me from freaking myself out by allowing me to worry about her. Also, to Paul, the time vampire that he is, Tom Evans and Tiffany whose knowledge and patience far exceed that of my own. 
    To all the goofballs in the Astrophysics group who for some reason allowed me to take over and dictate their lives for a few nights a month/week. It has been a fantastic few years and for the most part it kept a smile on my face. 
    To Alex Pettitt, Moncho, and Simon who aided in my productive procrastination and helped me shout science to the world, I am definitely going to miss it. I am also thankful to Matthew Bate who gave me the confidence and belief that I could get away with it in the first place. 
    To Andrew for enabling the crazy, Jon for joining in with the crazy, and Tom Wilson for embracing the crazy, I am sure he is still trying to convince himself that he knew what he was getting into. To David Amundsen who has been there through it all and even had to live with me to boot, I (and my family) cannot thank you enough so I will just say `Well done sir, well done'. 
    My penultimate thanks goes to my supervisor David Sing. The freedom and genuine support that you have given me over the last few years taught me how to be a scientist and for that I cannot repay you, I only hope to one day pass it on down the line. 
    Finally, to my family who always encouraged me to do whatever the hell I wanted, within reason of course, and never wavered in their support and pride. That, and our shared love of Stargate, could not have done this without Stargate. "

    Monday, March 2, 2015

    Solar Eclipse Viewing Party

    It was an amazing event. Thank you to everyone who came along you were all perfect (only got a minor shout down from the health and safety team for how many of you there were). Here are just a few of the photos taken on the day. I may put an album together at some point.


    On March 20th the moon will pass almost directly between the Earth and the Sun causing a Solar eclipse, which will be visible from the UK, with the moon obscuring 90% of the Sun between ~8-11am

    Here at the University of Exeter, we are holding our own Solar Eclipse Viewing Party for the local community, from 8-11 near the Forum on the Streatham Campus.  It has a fantastic view south, which offers the perfect view of the morning sun.  At the event there will be a big range of ways for everyone to safely view the sun with a range of different cameras, projections, and glasses, provided by the Astrophysics Group which is helping run the event. They will even have their radio telescope pointed at the sun to record the signal from the Sun as the moon steadily blocks it out. If you are not able to come along yourself you can tune into the XpressionFM, found at 87.7FM, who will be broadcasting live throughout the morning and have compiled a special eclipse playlist with The Science Hour team taking you through the events as they unfold. 

    We have a huge number of ways that you can safely view the eclipse event so come along and get involved in this unique opportunity.
     Facebook event page

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Top Female Scientists Card Game

    Hannah Wakeford and Simon Clark, showcase the
    Top Female Scientist Game they created.
    Over the last month or so my co-host of The Science Hour on XpressionFM, Simon Clark, and I have
    been developing a comparative card game of some of the greatest Female Scientists throughout history.

    There are 32 in total across maths, physics, biology, chemistry and geology - where each card has characteristics of Innovation, Impact, Obscurity and Badassery as well as a short biography. We hope that while the public will enjoy playing the game and hopefully learn about the scientists covered, our real goal is for the cards to be used as a classroom tool - specifically to encourage girls to engage with science. Many girls are put off studying science at school because they perceive it to be a very male-dominated subject, and one problem in particular is that they seem unaware of the female heritage in science. Most people can't name more than 5 or 6 famous female scientists, and yet some stellar women have contributed so much to our understanding of science. So we wanted to try and correct that.

    I am really proud of these cards and I think that they are a great way to get students of any gender involved in science. There is a huge history of scientists that we are not aware of and this is just scratching the surface of some of the most amazing scientists that have graced our world.

    You can find Simon and myself on Twitter (@simonoxfphys@stellarplanet) for more posts, or follow the #XSH.
    To download your own copy you can get them here for free!

    Imgur Album

    You can also listen to The Science Hour whenever and wherever you are via our online archive

    We also produced a promo video which can be found on our Facebook page for #XSH

    Facebook Page for The Science Hour on XpressionFM

    The cards have been popular throughout the world and this is a fantastic write up on Mujeres con ciencia by Marta Macho Stadler
    The cards also been featured on Buzzfeed - Thank you to Lane Sanity for writing up the article

    Here are a number of sites which have featured our card game in addition to Buzzfeed

    Women in Astronomy Blog - 
    National co-ordinating center for Public engagement -
    Scientista -

    You can also check us out assembling over 200 packets of our Top Female Scientist Cards in this time-lapse set to the Benny Hill music - just watch out for the bit where we all sync up in height order - mesmerising!

    In addition for those of you who enjoy 'internetting' here are the links to our Reddit posts


    Ladies of Science


    Everything Science

    Science Teachers