How did you arrive at RAL Space?
I always liked physics and anything to do with space, so I did a degree in Physics and Space Science & Technology at Leicester. I went on to do a PhD researching cirrus clouds at Imperial. I joined RAL Space in 2010 as an Earth Observation Algorithm scientist providing expert support on the AATSR instrument on ENVISAT, measuring sea surface temperatures and working on the preparations of the calibration and development of the then new SLSTR instrument for Sentinel-3 which is part of the Copernicus programme.
What is your current role?
My role now is to provide expert support for the SLSTR instrument and I'm also working on various independent research projects including one looking at the properties of cirrus clouds and another focused on the retrieval of sea surface temperatures from SLSTR. Part of the work we're doing on the SLSTR involves validating the data. Clouds can really affect our view of the surface and must be identified in the images before any surface temperature retrievals are performed as they affect the accuracy of these. Earlier this year, along with Edward Polehampton and Mireya Etxaluze Azkonaga we won an STFC Spark Award to fund a new project on the Zooniverse App called CloudCatcher. It's in development at the moment. CloudCatcher will allow us to employ 'citizen science' to help us identify which satellite images do and don't have cloud. We can't look at every single image ourselves, but CloudCatcher will provide us with a valuable source of additional validation of the cloud masking algorithms and could help us identify where our algorithms need improvement. In the future it could also provide a data source for our machine learning algorithms.
Why is your role important?
The datasets that we're working on are used in climate research and to improve climate models – it's nice to be involved in the science looking at these issues.
What's the best thing about your job?
The work is really interesting and I get to work on a variety of different things. We are solving problems and the work we do directly impacts the datasets being produced by the satellite. In academia I would write a papers on my research, but here I'm working directly on the space mission and so I see the impact of what I'm doing far more quickly.
What do you value about working for RAL Space?
I like that we're able to work as part of a team, but we also have the independence to do our own research. The hours here are really flexible, so it works well around my family, and the people are really nice!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Trust your own instincts. Believe that your opinions and thoughts are valuable.