Bewbush First and Middle Schools, St Peter’s Cowfold Primary School, Millais (1997-2001), York St John University (2010), King’s College London (2012-2013) and Northumbria University (now)
I have 12 GCSE’s, an Advanced Modern Apprenticeship in Aerospace Engineering, a BHSc in Pysiotherapy and an MSc in Space Physiology and Health
I have worked in a few places, but my favourite is the European Space Agency
I am a PhD student and I look at keeping people’s backs healthy, including astronauts.
Working in space is really exciting. I got to work as a space physiologist (which means I look how peoples bodies work) by being trained in a number of different areas, which all come together in my current job as doctoral student looking at how to keep astronauts healthy. I started out learning how to fix plane engines, and after an injury I decided to learn how to fix people rather than planes, so I trained as a physiotherapist. After this I had the chance to do lots of jobs like work at a rugby club, but I still really wanted to work in space. So I went to University again to become a space physiologist . When I graduated I worked in the Human Research Office at ESA, where I looked after experiments due to fly to the International Space Station and Antarctic. Working at ESA was really good fun but I missed my family who were in the UK, so I moved back again. I was really lucky that the opportunity came up to go back to University again (!), because they needed someone who could be a physiotherapist, and engineer and a scientist all at the same time.
Now I do experiments to find out how to keep peoples backs healthy. Normally the muscles in our backs work all the time to keep us upright, like when we sit up straight or stand up. When an astronaut has been into space, or someone has had a sore back for a long time, or if they have been poorly and had to stay in bed for a while the muscles in their back can stop working as well, meaning the muscles become weaker.
I use a special exercise machine called FRED, which stands for the Functional Re-adaptive Exercise Device, to train the muscles in people’s backs if they have back pain, hopefully making the muscles work well again.
Meet FRED 🙂
FRED looks a bit like an elliptical trainer, but it doesn’t offer any resistance when you move the foot pads. This means that when you use FRED you have to work hard to stop your feet moving really fast. There are some very long muscles in the back which are automatically turned on when we try to control our feet and legs; these stop us flopping in the middle and keeping our backs steady when we walk. The muscles are deep inside the body, running from the bottom of your spine near your hip bone all the way up to your head- it’s these muscles which I want to study and train, especially the ones near the bottom of our backs, which called the lumbar region (between the bottom of your ribs to just about your tail bone).
Because we can’t see the muscles working from the outside I will be using an ultrasound machine, just like the ones that are used to look at babies before they are born, to look at the muscles while people exercise on FRED. I will also be using some sticky electrodes to measure the electrical signals made when the muscles work, which is called electromyography. To see if exercising with FRED makes people feel better I will also be asking lots of questions and testing their balance to see if they are more steady after they have exercised.
When we carry out space research it is important that it can help people on Earth as well as astronauts. The FRED study will look at normal people with back pain with the overall aim of keeping everyone’s back healthy- whether it is an astronaut on Mars who needs to build a Martian base, or a builder on Earth who wants to build a new school. My research is being supported by Northumbria University and ESA.
My Typical Day
I work in the PhD office writing or the the lab collecting data
0630- I get up, shower and have breakfast before I walk to the train station.
0750- I catch a train to work, and hopefully it’s not delayed!
0820-I get to my office and start the computer, have a cup of tea and answer all my emails. Mostly in the morning I look for other research that might help my study or I write about my experiment. Sometimes I also have training sessions to help me learn new skills to use in my research- at the moment I am learning how to use an ultrasound machine (like the one that is used to look at babies before they are born) so that I can see the muscles I want to train in my study.
Me learning to use the ultrasound machine
What the ultrasound image looks like- just lots of black and white bits!
My desk- it’s pretty much like other desks, but I have chocolate and an astronaut duck 🙂
1200-I go for a walk and have my lunch. Getting outside for some fresh air is really important as it helps me focus and remain alert in the afternoon.
1300- My afternoons are normally about people- I might have a meeting on Skype with the European Astronaut Center, who are funding my study, or I have a meeting with my supervisors (who are like teachers for PhD students) about my work. In a few months I will be actually collecting data so I will have volunteers in the lab using FRED
The lab-when we collect data there will be a lot more cables and computer bits and bobs about!
1700- I catch a train home. Once I’m home I have dinner with my husband and we might play a computer game, do something in the craft room or watch a film. I try and have a fun thing to do in the evening to help me relax.
2100-Some evenings I have homework to do- mostly this is reading research papers and making notes.
2300- Bedtime! Sleep is important so I’m ready and raring to go tomorrow.
What I'd do with the prize money
Use Stargazer Lottie dolls with primary schools to explore space and science.
Lottie Checking out the FRED computer
Science dolls didn’t exist when I was a little girl. Fortunately this has changed a lot, and there are now a range of toys available which show dolls as scientists and all sorts of exciting professions, for example Stargazer Lottie who is flying with Tim Peake on the International Space Station. This is brilliant news for children as they now have the opportunity to explore STEM topics through everyday play.
If I won the outreach funding competition I use some of the funding to buy Lotties to take to primary schools to use as a basis for teaching children about spaceflight, the solar system and other STEM topics. The remainder of the money would be used to produce some supporting resources for Lotties visits, as well as allowing me to visit schools with Lottie. The best bit is Lottie gets to stay at school and continue learning with the children!
I think Lottie dolls are perfect for this type of outreach for a number of reasons. Research carried out for campaigns such as WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) shows that young girls are turned away from STEM quite early in their education, so engaging them at an early point may help encourage them to continue a STEM education in the future. Lottie isn’t aimed exclusivly at girls, which means that using Lottie in STEM outreach can engage both boys and girls equally. Lastly Lottie has flown in Space, so she can tell children about her experiences as an astronaut, while still being relatable and tangible in the classroom.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, happy and science-y
What was your favourite subject at school?
Physics and PE (although I wasn’t very good a PE)
What did you want to be after you left school?
An Astronaut or Scientist.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not often, but I sometimes forgot to hand in my homework
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Flown in an aerobatic aircraft and experienced microgravity for a few seconds- I wish I had a picture because my hair went everywhere!