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Dr Chris Arridge

 Name: Dr Chris Arridge


Age range:34

Research institution: The Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Faculty of Mathematical & Physical Sciences, University College London

Research career length: 9 years

Research Council: Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

Location: Dorking, England

Salary: £30-34k

Brief summary of research: Studying the charged particle and electromagnetic environments of planets

School qualifications:
11 GCSEs
RSA Typewriting Skills Stage 1 and Stage II (Part I)
A-levels: Mathematics, Physics, Psychology
AS-level: Further Mathematics
GNVQ (Advanced) Information Technology

Qualifications post-school:
MPhys (Hons) Physics with Planetary and Space Physics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Postgraduate study in Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics
PhD in Physics at Imperial College London (awarded by University of London)
Vocational qualification in software engineering; PhD Space Physics

Career path:
Research Fellow

What we plan for our future career often changes as we are exposed to new things. As a teenager, Chris Arridge wanted to design computer games, but now he researches the invisible magnetic shields - the magnetospheres, that surrounds and protects planets.

We often think of outer space as a vacuum, but in fact there are lots of atoms, molecules and charged particles in space, and they can be measured by spacecraft and seen by telescopes. These particles are more concentrated around planets with magnetic fields, and form what are called magnetospheres. We live within the Earth's magnetosphere and it provides a protective shield, but can also be a danger, since storms can happen within it, causing a hazard to astronauts, satellites and terrestrial communications. My research uses data collected by instruments on spacecraft to understand the behaviour of magnetospheres and to help solve some of the problems they cause.

I originally wanted to be a computer games software engineer. I left school at 16 and went to a further education college to study computing. The course didn't allow me to go to university so I had to go back to college to pick up A-level mathematics. I did physics as an additional A-level and decided to change to the subject - applying for courses with a strong component in astrophysics, space science and planetary science. I got a place at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, including a European exchange to Svalbard in the Arctic Circle, spending months studying the polar atmosphere, the northern lights, and space science.. I also applied for and got a summer placement at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Sydney, Australia. Whilst on this placement I heard about a mathematics course run by Cambridge University. After my degree, I spent nine months on the course, studying general relativity, astrophysics, and applied mathematics. I rapidly realised that I enjoyed exploring the planets most of all, and applied for PhD places in this area, receiving an offer to work on the planet Saturn at Imperial College, using data from the Cassini mission, which was due to arrive at the planet during the first year of my PhD. Though I failed the course of mathematics at Cambridge, I started the PhD, completing it just over three years later.

“Imagine getting 30 people from your school together, some older, some younger - teachers too. You all try to solve some problem or find out something new. Some people you know well and some you like. But you all work together. You tweet, you Facebook each other, you email, you talk over coffee, you Skype, you spend afternoons together. You go out to dinner together too. You might be the boss of a project and so you'll be telling older people what to do. Then you present what you've found out together as a team.”

Many people and experiences inspired me to become a researcher. My parents took me to a planetarium in summer holidays, and I used to watch a TV programme called Cosmos, with Mum. Dad, was an engineer, and sometimes took me with him to work. My summer placement in Australia had a big effect on me, and an A-level tutor inspired me greatly through introducing me to what it meant to be a scientist.

I love the moments when you realise you have found out something that no-one else in the world knows yet. They don't come around every day, but when they do it is a powerful feeling. I enjoy being part of a worldwide community. People of all ages and backgrounds do science. Although research can be quite blue skies, there are applications in all sorts of unexpected areas and new fields.


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