About Hannah Wakeford



The life and times of an Exoplanet explorer


Hannah R. Wakeford is the 2017 Giacconi Fellow at Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Hannah's work focuses on characterizing the atmospheres of exoplanets through observations with HST, and working towards a better understanding of how exoplanets can be understood further with JWST.

Hannah is an advocate for public engagement and has appeared on many TV and Radio shows in in the UK and USA to bring science into the general conversion. Hannah currently co-produces and co-hosts a podcast dedicated to exoplanets called EXOCAST with Andrew Rushby (NASA AMES) and Hugh Osborne (Warwick University).

Hannah previously worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow in the Planetary Systems Lab.

In 2015 Hannah received her PhD in Physics from the University of Exeter, where she worked with Dr  David Sing on Exoplanet characterization. While at Exeter Hannah was also the producer and host of The Science Hour on XpressionFM, IOP 3 minute wonder national winner, Co-creator of Top Female Scientist Card Game, producer and presenter of H&M Astro Video Log, BSAC scuba diving instructor, and eater of pastries (except during lent).
You can follow Hannah on Twitter (@StellarPlanet) by clicking on this link - https://twitter.com/StellarPlanet

For her PhD in Astrophysics at the University of Exeter under the supervision of Dr D.K.Sing, Hannah researched the atmospheres of exoplanets through observations and theory. Her work focuses on the search for water in the atmospheres of hot Jupiter exoplanets using Hubble Space Telescope observations, with new theoretical investigations into cloud condensates in the atmospheres of hot Jupiters. You can find Hannah's PhD thesis - Cloudy with a chance of water: Investigating hot Jupiter exoplanet atmospheres through observation and analysis - HERE.

Hannah Wakeford at the JCMT on Mauna Kea in Hawaii
Before starting her PhD at the University of Exeter, Hannah completed her MPhys in Planetary and Space Physics with the University of Wales: Aberystwyth (now Aberystwyth University). In her 4th year of study she worked at the University Centre in Svalbard in the Arctic, 78 degrees north, to observer the interaction between the Sun and the Earth's upper atmosphere through the aurora and ionospheric flow.
Hannah is also an advocate for public engagement through research. During her PhD she has attended the BBC Academy as part of their first Expert Women training Days with brief appearances on BBC Radio Devon, Devon and Cornwall ITV News, Stargazing LIVE and BBC Sky at Night.
Hannah is also the producer and presenter of her own radio show on XpressionFM called The Science Hour which takes a look into a different scientific topic each week. The show has now finished its third season and went out on a big high hosting the Solar Eclipse Viewing Party on March 20th at the University of Exeter.
In addition to the Solar Eclipse Viewing Party, The Science Hour on XpressionFM has lead different public engagement initiatives to promote science and research at the university. Hannah and Simon's Top Female Scientist Card Game was a big hit across the internet with a lot of positive news coverage, and is a project that is continuing now to promote women in science. You can see the full story and links to the media here.

Hannah Wakeford in an ancient storage
chamber on the Isle of Skye.
It was a little flooded but she went for it.
She is also worked with fellow astrophysics PhD Moncho Rey-Raposo on the H&M Astro Video Log (#HMavl) to introduce interesting scientific concepts in a fun and simple way, as well as to introduce people to different aspects of working life as a scientist, both the fun and the frustrating. Hannah has also written a blog post about this and encourages people to give it a go themselves, you can find the post HERE.

You can find a link to all of Hannah's media work on the tabs above. Hannah has also now added a tab for her outreach work specific to public appearances and work with schools so check that out for more information.

Hannah was also the head of the Public Engagement team from 2013-2014 for the Exeter Radio Telescope at Caradon (XRT-C) Project which is a UKSEDS National project to build a 5m radio telescope in the South West, designed by students for students, and was awarded £2,500 starter grant for public engagement through research.

The following are Hannah's first person accounts of life as it happens studying for a PhD highlighting both the ups and the downs with joy. Click the links to read the full story.

Writing my PhD thesis
Hannah has now handed in here PhD thesis to the University of Exeter titled; 'Cloudy with a chance of water: Investigating the atmospheres of hot Jupiter exoplanets through observation and analysis'. The journey to completing the thesis write up is a strange one and Hannah takes you through the journey she went on to get hers completed - Write drunk, edit sober.

Video Blog: NTT Observing Run
Hannah travels to La Silla Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile to observe with the New Technology Telescope (NTT) and collaborators looking at the variability of fast rotating brown dwarfs in the near infrared.

What I learnt at Exoclimes III
Hannah once again shares those little nuggets of information you take away from conferences in this informative if slightly sarcastic list of comments.

Observing on Mauna Kea
Hannah Wakeford's first ground based observing run took her to the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii to observe with the Subaru and JCMT telescopes.

Paper One - a PhD's journey
The journey to the publication of your first paper as a PhD student is different for everyone. This is Hannah's story of the ordeal - don't worry it ends with a positive level headed view of it all.

RAS NAM 2013 St Andrews
At Hannah's 2nd RAS NAM conference she documents the typical jovial nature of the Royal Astronomical Societies National Astronomy Meeting.

What I learnt from the EOS Workshop
Hannah Wakeford and collaborators from Exeter, Oxford and Switzerland attended a workshop in Anzere Switzerland in 2013. Here is the little nuggets of information Hannah picked up along the way.

It's a Roller Coaster
Hannah Wakeford's first year was certainly interesting. When you start a PhD your fellow graduate students will not hesitate to tell you that it will have its up and downs, and Hannah believed them at the time. That naiveté is now way, way behind her. Or is it? 

Exoplanets and their Host Stars STFC Course
Hannah Wakeford's first 'field trip' since starting her PhD took her to Oxford for the STFC Exoplanets and their host stars course. Here she tells you about those little highlights you take away with you.
With her first series of little nuggets to take away - What EaHS'12 taught me
Every year Hannah and her family spend Christmas day on
the beach at Birling Gap, East Sussex

Hannah is a great lover of staring up at the sky in wonder and in the years of amateur observing from the UK as a child has picked up these top 5 handy tips.


When things are going well you feel like nothing can stop you, you have a clear plan and an end goal in mind. When things go bad, however, it feels like it will never work and you want to break down an cry right there at your desk. A situation Hannah found herself in often at the start of her PhD. In this situation she suggests you swiftly put on something to hide the tears, she will usually go with Stargate or the end scene from V for vendetta that always makes her smile but make sure you have something on hand.

You know the song was right it is a very good place to start!
When Hannah started her PhD in all honesty she did not really know what to expect, here is a little guide on what she found and what you do in the first few months of a PhD.