Lowbourne Infants School (1983-1986) and Lowbourne Junior School (1986-1988) in Melksham Wiltshire; St John’s Junior School in Trowbridge, Wiltshire (1988-1990); St. Augustine’s Secondary School where I completed my GCSE’s (1990-1995) The Clarendon School where I completed my A’ Levels (1995-1997), both in Trowbridge, Wiltshire; B.Sc. at The University of Bath (1998-2002); Ph.D. with The University of Liverpool (2006-2010).
GCSEs; A’ Levels; B.Sc. in Sport & Exercise Science; Ph.D. in Exercise and Bone Physiology
I worked for QinetiQ in the UK for 10 years before I started my current job with Wyle GmbH/ESA
Team Lead for the Medical Projects and Technology Team in the Space Medicine Office in ESA’s European Astronaut Centre [myimage1 left]
I’m employed by Wyle GmbH, but I am contracted full-time to ESA’s European Astronaut Centre
When I was 5 years old I wanted to be an astronaut; 30 years later I now work with astronauts, identifying ways to make their missions safer and more productive
I am currently the Team Lead for the Medical Project and Technology Team in the Space Medicine Office at The European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Astronaut Centre (EAC – you can the see the outside and inside in the two pictures below) in Cologne, Germany. The EAC is the home location of ESA astronauts, including Tim Peake and the Space Medicine Office is responsible for the astronaut’s health and well-being. My team is responsible for the different physical exercise programmes that astronauts follow at during their career, including those that they need for space missions. We provide astronauts with an exercise programme to follow before their space missions to help them stay physically fit when they are training in the different trainings centres in USA, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe (see our Gym and the Training Hall at EAC in the two pictures below). We also provide them with an exercise programme to follow during their space mission using the exercise machines we have on the International Space Station – a weight-lifting machine, an exercise bike and a treadmill. This is called an ‘exercise countermeasure programme’ as it is designed to help prevent some of the changes that occur to astronauts’ bodies in space that can make it more difficult for them when they return to Earth. When astronauts return to Earth, we provide them with another exercise programme that helps them recover from their space missions – this is called an ‘exercise re-conditioning programme’ because some astronauts return from space less strong and less physically fit than when they left. We can check how much astronauts have been affected by their space missions by performing a range of different tests in our laboratories (you can see one of them in the picture below).
The other main responsibility my Team has is identifying new ways in which can help astronauts – we call these Medical Projects. There are many challenges with human space flight and, although we have a lot of experience and have completed lots of successful space missions, there are still many things we do not know and challenges we have to overcome, especially if we want to spend much longer periods of time in space and explore other planets like Mars. Our Medical Projects are based on these challenges and my Team tries to identify new ideas and new technologies that might help us overcome them – when we identify these ideas/technologies, we begin projects to investigate and develop them with the aim of adding them to the programmes that support ESA astronauts.
My Typical Day
Emails, meetings, reading and writing. And more meetings.
On days when I’m in my office (which you can see in the picture below – I know where everything is, honestly), I normally start by checking my emails – we sometimes work with colleagues in Russia and the USA, so frequently emails arrive at night time. I have overall responsibility for a number of different projects, so most days I have meetings with one or more of the people in my team who are responsible for the individual projects (the ‘Lead Scientist/Engineer’). Depending on the stage the project is at, these may simply be a short update meeting or they may result in me having to spend the rest of the day working on the project.
With overall responsibility for projects, I also have to develop the long-term plan for them, so I frequently have to review my projects plans, check that the project is on track and look at how the next steps will be completed. Many of my projects have partners from outside ESA (and from different European countries) so I regularly talk to the partners, which I do through phone calls and travelling to meet them.
Another thing I have to do regularly is respond to requests for information and help. A lot of people are interested in the work we do here at the Astronaut Centre and regularly ask us to provide information, photos or interviews on a range of topics, and my job is to respond to these requests and provide what they need (or direct people to the best person to help them).
A final regular part of my job is to keep a look out for new ideas and technologies that will help us better support our astronauts, both now and in the future – we already do a very good job in supporting the medical and physical health of our astronauts, but there are gaps and you can always do things better. In addition, in the future, the types of missions that our astronauts participate in may well change and so the challenges faced by astronauts will change with them. As such, I regularly take time to explore new ideas and technologies, and see if they might be developed or adapted for our needs.
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d use it to fund visits for schools to a long-arm human centrifuge to teach children about physiology using the G forces.
The human body is optimised to operate in Earth’s gravity – the shape of our skeleton and how our muscles attach to it, and the different parts of our cardiovascular system (e.g. the heart, blood vessels etc.) and how they work, all allow to live and work successfully on Earth. We can see this when we go into space, where we do not experience the effects of gravity, as these systems quickly adapt to this new environment, and, when we return to Earth, these ‘space adaptations’ make life on Earth more difficult.
Long-arm human centrifuges (you can see one in the picture below) are large machines that create accelerations or ‘G’ forces by spinning (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRCtFGmBd7s). These accelerations have the same effects as gravity, but can be made much stronger by a centrifuge, and this is why they have been used to train pilots to fly fighter planes (which create G forces when turning) and astronauts (who experience G forces during launch and re-entry). The great thing about centrifuges is that you can closely control both the strength of the G forces and the direction in which they act, and, with modern medical technologies you can actually see, in real-time, how things like heart rate, blood pressure, and even the amount of blood flowing into your brain, change when gravity changes strength and direction. Gravity, acceleration and G forces are all about physics, and the centrifuge allows you to use physics to demonstrate now only how our physiology is designed to work in Earth’s gravity, but also how remarkably adaptable it is when gravity changes.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Stuck on Earth
What was your favourite subject at school?
History – if I had not become a scientist I would like to have been a historian and studied human history.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I didn’t know – When I was 15 years old I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but by the time I’d finished my GCSE’s I’d changed my mind. When I was 17 years old, I wanted to be a civil engineer, but by the time I’d finished my A’ Levels I’d changed my mind again. I went to University still not really sure what I wanted to do.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes, on many occasions, but I won’t go into details…
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Backpacking on the islands of Madagascar and Reunion in the Indian Ocean.