Encouraging diversity in space
I’m Áine O’Brien from Newcastle in England, and I’m a third year PhD student in Planetary Science, studying Martian Geology and Astrobiology.
My ambition is to make the space industry more accessible.
Space can be an enormous force for good, since satellites observing our Earth give us unrivalled information about our environment, allowing us to understand climate change and other environmental issues so much better.
At the moment, the space sector in the UK is dominated by old white guys, particularly at the top of the field e.g. in CEO positions.
I am working at both a grassroots level through education and outreach, and lobbying for a top-down approach with policy, to remove barriers to the field at every level, whilst also advocating for better, more consistent, data collection on intersectional demographic representation in the space sector, in order for us to understand where and for whom these barriers exist.
In the next year I, alongside UofG alumna Sara Motaghian, will be running a large-scale space education programme ‘Roving with Rosalind’ to engage with school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK, and those with little access to space outreach, for example those in rural communities.
Through this I hope to provide diverse role models to young people to show them that the sky is not just the limit. I also plan to continue to attend advocacy and policy based events on space education and the wider industry, to champion the need for a more inclusive and accessible sector, to aid the incoming workforce.
I was keen to move to Scotland for the outdoor lifestyle and the people. I was drawn to UofG due to its great work in planetary, space science and engineering.
I was especially keen to move to Glasgow since more space craft are made along the banks of the Clyde than anywhere outside of California.
My late father also grew up here, so it’s really nice to get to know the city my family is from!
Why Planetary Science?
My undergraduate degree was in Astrophysics, where I spent a lot of time doing hard maths to understand stars and galaxies. I then spent 3 years teaching physics at a high school in Suffolk, England.
I gradually got jealous of my pupils who got to learn new science when I didn’t, so I decided I wanted to do a postgraduate research degree, but I wanted to do something a little more tangible than stars and galaxies.
My PhD involves looking at Martian meteorites, physical bits of Mars rock that have fallen to Earth, I fire lasers and x-rays at these tiny bits of Mars to assess whether or not Mars could ever have hosted life. It’s much more tangible and exciting for me holding actual pieces of another planet than doing lots of sums!
Aine is one of the University of Glasgow’s Future World Changers: students with ambitions to improve lives across the globe. Follow their journeys using #UofGFWC.