Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

‘You’re not British, you’re Black. And so I didn’t really fit into either camps (Nigeria and England). And space was that wonderful thing that transcended all of that because when you look at the earth from space, there are no countries, there are no boundaries, we’re just one people.”

Quote from interview with Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock below.

Most of us may have come into contact with Maggie Aderin-Pocock on the TV when she presented Sky at Night in 2014, Stargazing on CBeeBies, Out of this World on CBBC and other programs.

As a person, Margaret Ebunoluwa Aderin-Pocock is just awesome. Born in London on 9 March 1968 to Nigerian parents, she attended 13 schools and at one when she said she wanted to be an astronaut, she was advised instead to become a nurse. She went on to gain 4 A levels in maths, physics, chemistry and biology and went on to get her BSC in physics in 1990 and her PhD in mechanical engineering in 1994. Her PhD research:

Her research investigated the development of an ultra-thin film measurement system using spectroscopy and interferometry to the 2.5 nm level. This involved improving the optical performance and the mechanical design of the system, as well as the development of control and image processing software. Other techniques at the time could only operate to the micron level with much poorer resolution. This development work resulted in the instrument being sold by an Imperial College University spin-off company, (PCS Instruments).

Aderin-Pocock has worked on many projects in private industry, academia, and in government. From 1996 to 1999 she worked at the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, a branch of the UK Ministry of Defence. Initially, she worked as a systems scientist on aircraft missile warning systems, and from 1997 to 1999 she was a project manager developing hand-held instruments to detect landmines. In 1999, Aderin-Pocock returned to Imperial College on a fellowship from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to work with the group developing a high-resolution spectrograph for the Gemini telescope in Chile. The telescope examines and analyses starlight to improve understanding of distant stars.

She was the lead scientist at Astrium, where she managed observation instruments on a satellite, measuring wind speeds to help the investigation of climate change. She is working on and managing the observation instruments for the Aeolus satellite, which will measure wind speeds to help the investigation of climate change. She is also a pioneering figure in communicating science to the public, specifically school children, and also runs her own company, Science Innovation Ltd, which engages children and adults all over the world with the wonders of space science.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock in Wikipedia

The way she tells stories about science and space are encapsulating, softly spoken, with humour, animating. She actively inspires young people into taking up careers in science, engineeering and reaching for the stars and becoming astronauts. She has reached 25,000 young people in inner city areas busting myths about careers, class and gender.

Her own story about her youth is just lovely. Wanting to see the stars:

“When I was young we were living in a council flat. We didn’t have much money [so] I saved up some money and I got a telescope,” she says as I glance enviously at the tripod. “But it was really not very good. It suffered from something called ‘chromatic aberration’ which means that as you look through it, the light coming through gets split up into different colours.” It was a disappointment to a youngster desperate to look beyond the glare of the capital and gaze into the depths of the night sky. But then she spotted an advert for telescope-making classes in Camden, north London. Turning up to investigate, she encountered a curious scene. “There were lots of middle-aged blokes – they had large slabs of glass and they were just grinding away,” she laughs. Bizarre or not, the following week she joined their ranks.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock: how a space-obsessed schoolgirl battled the odds to become a top scientist interview with Nicola Davis 21st September 2014 in the Observer

In her own words, in vitae: Realising the Potential of Researchers Maggie Aderin-Pocock says:

“My name is Doctor Maggie Aderin-Pocock and I am a space scientist and a science communicator. As a space scientist I actually build satellites that go up in space, and as a science communicator I like to try and translate some of the complexities of science into a simple format for everybody to understand.

“Someone, somewhere, will think we need a satellite to understand the universe to probe the Earth’s atmosphere or do something. At Astrium Limited what I do is, we take that requirement and we try and build instrumentation and a complete satellite system that will meet those requirements

“So my PhD was in mechanical engineering. But before that I did my degree which was in physics. And so that was quite an interesting hybrid for me ‘cause doing the physics and the mechanical engineering turned out to be a perfect marriage for making satellites in the future. I didn’t know it at the time but it worked out very well. So I sort of had an inkling that I’d quite like to go into industry ‘cause I liked to solve problems and actually take the physics and mechanical engineering that I’d learnt and put them onto a variety of different problems. But when I actually left university I wasn’t actually sure where I was going to go, and also jobs were very scarce at the time, but I actually found a job with a branch of the Ministry of Defence, The Defence Evaluation Research Council, and was doing and making instrumentation for them. The first sort of instrumentation I was working on was something called a missile warning system. This was a quite a complex piece of equipment, but what it was designed to do was warn pilots when a missile was coming and then automatically let off flares to protect the pilot and the aircraft.

“So I did that for a number of years, travelled around the world, went out to Australia and to Rumora and did tests out there, as well as Appendine Sands in Wales. Then I actively got a promotion and I changed to working in landmine detection. That was my first management role and I was managing a handheld landmine detection group. From there I actually actively decided that I’d come back to academia. Because my dream had always been to sort of work in space and astronomy, and as a child my very first instrument that I made was my own telescope.

“So an opportunity came up to work on the Gemini telescope in South America, and this is an eight metre telescope, and I did that role at UCL, the University College London, and we were building an instrument that bolted onto the telescope. So we spent sort of two and half years building an instrument in UCL in the basement. And then it was a fantastic day when we packed it all up and shipped it out to Chile. And I spent about six months working in South America. And then I got to my dream of actually working in space science and that’s why I transferred from actually making ground-based space telescopes to space-based telescopes and space based instrumentation.

“Because I think, for me, it took me a while to realise the call for my PhD wasn’t just the technical knowledge that I picked up but it was also the transferable skills which you don’t really see at the time. But it’s things like problem-solving, taking on a challenge, getting it down to sort of the nitty gritty and working out a step-by-step method of solving a problem. To me, space was the ultimate goal, and I think it was sort of a subconscious for a long time but I could see I had that sort of goal in mind, so when I took on jobs, it was also, well you know can they lead me to space or will it go a different way? And you know it didn’t matter that I did lots of different things along the way, ‘cause I think often that helps. But that was I think, my goal.

“Because I’ve had a sort of quite hybrid career there are benefits in working in academia and pitfalls and the same in industry. But I think I’ve gone, I’ve done it sort of in a strange way where I am doing both now.

“And sort of trying to get the benefits of both aspects and trying to minimise the detriments, and it’s not something that people often consider but there are some good benefits in doing both. Sometimes that means you don’t know what hat you are wearing on what day, but there are synergies between the two. Someone once told me that you don’t actually, that for the time, extra time you spend in university doing a PhD you don’t actually get the money back until you are 40, but I think you can actually get it back sooner than that.”

Like many people Aderin-Pocock has dyslexia, if this is not picked up at school many young peoples life chances are just thwarted. Looking at dyslexia differently, as visual thinkers, people who think outside the box of the linear as in lines of text – creative people. Maggie Aderin-Pocock joins a long list of inspiring people who also have dyslexia: the boxer Muhammad Ali; another famous scientist Albert Einstein; actress Whoopi Goldberg; British writer and dub poet Benjamin Zephania; British racing driver Lewis Hamilton; the illustrator Jerry Pinkney; the rapper M.I.A….the list is endless.

As Aderin-Pocock says:

“We’re not teaching kids to think, we’re teaching kids to pass exams.”

Quote taken from: Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE – Made By Dyslexia Interview

More about Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Commissioner – Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

Maggie Aderin-Pocock: how a space-obsessed schoolgirl battled the odds to become a top scientist interview with Nicola Davis 21st September 2014 in the Observer

Maggie Aderin-Pocock in vitae: Realising the Potential of Researchers

Wikipedia Maggie Aderin-Pocock

Listen on BBC Sounds Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock talks to Jim Al-Khalili on The Life Scientific

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