Hugh Mortimer, Lead Scientist
What is your job and what kinds of things does this entail?
I am researcher working in the area of planetary science. The purpose of my research is to develop instruments that can tell us information about the atmospheres of planets. This work produces equipment to allow us to investigate, for example, the composition, temperature and pressures of the atmospheres of Earth, the planets in our solar system, and those orbiting stars far far away.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a scientist?
My interest in science developed at an early age and was influenced by TV programmes like BBC’s Tomorrow’s World. My love of physics and space has its origins in its potential to help us explore the world around us. For as long as I can remember I have known that I wanted to be a physicist. I think that this is quite unusual, but I have always been interested in how things work, from instruments to the universe.
Where did you train? What was this training like and what kinds of things did you need to study?
The training to become a scientist is through completing a PhD at university. This is in effect is the formal training that teaches you how to research. To get there I studied for a Master’s degree in pure physics (MPhys) at the University of Sheffield before working for 4-years at the National Physical Laboratory in London. After realising that the only way to direct my own research was to get a PhD , I went back to university to study for a DPhil in space science instrumentation at the University of Oxford. From here, I did one year post doctoral research work before moving to Rutherford Appleton Laboratories
What qualifications did you get to do the job you do?
To be a “qualified” researcher where I get to direct my own research, I had to get a PhD
Do you have such a thing as a typical day? Can you talk us through one?
My work is incredibly varied and changes from one day to the next. Typically it will involve practical lab work, computer modelling and data analysis. But I also have some management responsibilities, that require me to travel to attend national and international meetings and conferences.
What personality traits or skills do you need to be a good scientist?
I truly believe that everyone is a scientist, but they don’t realise that they are. If you have asked a question and gone through the steps of finding the answers then you are doing going through the steps that a scientist goes through to perform scientific research. The difference is simply that the questions that we ask currently have no answers and that we are very persistent (even stubborn) in our pursuits of find out the answers to these fundamental questions.
What do you love most about your job?
I see the scientists of today being like the modern equivalent of the great explorers, such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Sir Edmund Hilary. Through the great works of people like Newton, Einstein and Hawkins we help find the ‘edges’ of the world that we live in. It is this pursuit of knowledge that excites me the most.
Are there any bad bits?
There are always the mundane bits of any job, the paper work, that for me are necessary evil. It is being in the lab or the actual process of doing research which is interesting bit and anything that takes me away from that is the bad bit.
What advice would you give to a young person wanting to do the job you do?
Stay enthusiastic, always ask questions and never stop looking for answers.