Meet the Researchers
Research Area: Thunderstorms and lightning, cloud and ice microphysics
What is it like being a researcher?
On the whole, I find being a researcher a lot like being self-employed—you set your own day-to-day goals to achieve a general, longer-term objective. On a daily basis, my drive comes from my desire to figure out the particular problem at hand—which in research is something unknown. I have an idea and hunt for the answer. That hunting can be laborious, repetitive, or often very difficult, but it’s uniquely satisfying when I accomplish my goal. But being a researcher is satisfying even if I don’t find what I was expecting, as it often opens my mind to new ways of seeing the problem and realising there’s an even bigger picture than I was expecting.
What inspired you to become a researcher?
I always had a strong desire to understand the world; always asking “why”, and a never-give-up attitude when things became incredibly difficult and forced me to my limits. This combined with a seemingly innate, deep inner passion for my subject area from a very young age shaped the decisions I took growing up—from which educational path to take through to choosing to stay on in academia once I’d reached the end of the educational chain. The beauty and complexity of the natural world became more apparent as I developed, which further fuelled my passion to continue along this path.
What is the best thing about being a researcher/your job?
In daily work, the independence I have to work at my own pace to achieve my objectives keeps me happy and productive. One of the most satisfying and unique aspects of being a researcher is being able to engage deeply with similar like-minded people in your subject area. If it’s a subject you enjoy and you can interface with someone you respect, who is wiser and more knowledgeable than you, one of the most unique and gratifying experiences I’ve had as a researcher is the deep conversation that can follow. Establishing coherence and communicating at a complex technical level with another person on something completely new to mankind is a privilege I feel being a researcher uniquely offers. It’s like speaking another advanced language that only you and they understand, and is something that could only happen under those conditions that you could never do elsewhere with other friends and family for example. Completely satisfying.
If you could go back in time which scientist/researcher/historical figure would you like to meet and what would you ask them?
I’ve never really thought about this question before. I would probably seek out one of the more famous historical figures from the early 20th Century considered great thinkers, such as Maxwell or Einstein. I’d find out firstly whether the historical records and stereotypes about them are actually accurate, and secondly, I’d probe whether they see the world like I do.
What do you do in your free time?
I had to look up the definition of “free time”. Because work. Lots of work. Actually, fairly typical and benign things: friends, films, music, games, etc.
What is the first ‘science’ you remember doing?
Playing with things that made loud bangs when I was young. Plus watching thunderstorms.
What’s the funniest/strangest/most surprising experience you have had in your career?
One time we had a TV crew come round—from the History channel of all stations—to film a documentary. To illustrate some science, we dressed up manikins of rival military dress to determine which was better insulated and had the advantage in cold environments. I’ve never put clothes on a plastic person-sized (genderless) dummy before or since.
What discovery or invention could you not live without?
Electricity, running water, the internet. If you have got those three, particularly the last one, the world keeps on spinning.
What do you think is the most important thing yet to be discovered/invented?
Quantum computing, the aging process, the brain function/consciousness, a better energy source, and the origin of the universe/theory of everything. There are probably many other things I’m not aware of and some things which don’t seem important but may become hugely so once we look.