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Dr Hugh Mortimer

 Name: Dr Hugh Mortimer


Age range:30-35

Research institution: Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Didcot

Research career length: 9 years

Research Council: Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

Location: Didcot, England

Salary: £30-39k

Brief summary of research: Space Science

School qualifications:
A-Levels: Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Further Mathematics

Qualifications post-school:
MPhy in Pure Physics at the University of Sheffield
PhD in Space Science Instrumentation, University of Oxford

Career path:
National Physics Laboratory, London
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Didcot

Exploring what conditions are like in the atmosphere of distant planets, poses exciting challenges for space scientists like Hugh Mortimer. The same ingenious instruments that his research helps to develop also provide insight into our own changing environment.

The purpose of my research is to develop instruments that can tell us information about the atmospheres of planets. This work produces equipment to allow us to investigate, for example, the composition, temperature and pressures of the atmospheres of Earth, the planets in our solar system, and those orbiting stars far far away.

My work is incredibly varied and changes from one day to the next. Typically it will involve practical lab work, computer modelling and data analysis. I have some management responsibilities, and attend national and international meetings and conferences. In addition, I communicate my work to public audiences, including giving presentations to schools, as well as being the science adviser to an international art project called Invisible Dust and the Hollywood blockbuster Prometheus.

“The potential and the impact that you can have as a researcher are the driving forces for me in the work that I do.”

Much of what we know about distant objects in the universe depends on detection of electromagnetic radiation in the form of light. The instruments that my research helps to develop are designed to detect changes in the behaviour of this radiation when it passes through different types of planetary atmospheres. I am a calibration scientist on the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer programme, working on Sentinel 3 mission. A satellite is to be launched in 2015 that will provide data of the Earth’s sea and land, including surface temperature and the colour of the ocean - providing further information on the effects of climate change.

I studied for a Master’s degree in pure physics (MPhys) at the University of Sheffield before working for 4-years at the National Physical Laboratory in London. After realising that the only way to direct my own research was to get a PhD , I went back to university to study for a DPhil in space science instrumentation at the University of Oxford. From here, I did one year post doctoral research work before moving to Rutherford Appleton Laboratories

My interest in science developed at an early age and was influenced by TV programmes like BBC’s Tomorrow’s World. My love of physics and space has its origins in its potential to help us explore the world around us. I see the scientists of today being like the modern equivalent of the great explorers, such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Sir Edmund Hilary. Through the great works of people like Newton, Einstein and Hawkins we help find the ‘edges’ of the world that we live in. I suspect it was these people that inspired me most to go into physics, but I was also certainly inspired by the enthusiasm of my science great at school, and it was a combination of all of this that contributed to my passion for science.

I now feel privileged to be able to work on something that I love to do and in some respects I can’t believe that I get paid to do my job. Some of the drive and determination has been fostered by other hobbies, such as rowing and tennis, where I learnt to apply myself competitively to do my best and win. But I think it’s fair to say that my work encompasses my ambition and hobbies and rolls these all into one and I often work into the night, in the comfort of my home living room, dabbling in a bit of research just for fun.


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