Growing up in Northern Ireland, I wasn’t always confident in maths – I wasn’t the top of the class that’s for sure. But the dark skies over there give you a clear view of the night sky, and I wanted to know how the world worked, especially space. Through Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, I discovered black holes, expanding space and collapsing stars. How could you not want to understand and work on that?
If you want to speak the language of the universe, it’s maths. I’m fluent in solving physics equations to tell the stories of exploding stars and swirling galaxies. For me, maths was a tool to understand physics and chemistry. Without it, we couldn’t calculate how galaxies grow or test theories of dark matter. Just like learning any new language, it gives you more confidence to explore the world – or the cosmos.
I know from experience what being thrown into an unfamiliar language is like. I arrived at the University of Amsterdam on a physics scholarship on the understanding the course was taught in English. It wasn’t. I’d copy physics notes in Dutch and translate them when I got home. Through sheer will, I passed my physics exams and became fluent in Dutch. It was the hardest year of my life.
Aiming high means climbing steep hurdles. You need to keep working when you feel like you’re getting nowhere. Believing in myself and overcoming imposter syndrome is something I work on every day.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I was at school. Most people don’t. And now I get to explore the mysteries of the universe, teach inspiring students and talk about exciting discoveries on TV. What more could I ask for?