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Reader in Astronomy (1)

Name: Dr Graziella Branduardi-Raymont

Job title: Reader in Astronomy

What education and qualifications do you have?

Physics degree from the University of Milan, Italy
Ph. D. in X-ray Astronomy from UCL

Give an outline of your career so far

In 1973 I obtained a degree in Physics at the University of Milan, Italy (I was born in Milan). My thesis research centred on the calibrations of a gamma-ray telescope which was used on a balloon flight. In 1974 I started postgraduate studies at University College London (UCL), doing research at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) while holding a studentship of the European Space Agency (ESA). I obtained a Ph. D. in X-ray Astronomy in 1977. Subsequently I spent two years at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., USA, as a Research Physicist, continuing to work in X-ray astronomy. I returned to the U.K. in 1979 to take up a Research Assistant post at MSSL, and I expanded my interests to ultraviolet, optical and radio astronomy, thus entering the world of 'multi-wavelength astrophysics'. For about a year, in between contracts, I was employed as a scientific programmer and worked also on modelling radar altimetry returns for Earth observations from space. I became a lecturer at UCL in 1987, and a Reader in Astronomy in 1992. My teaching, to UCL undergraduate and postgraduate students, covers topics such as 'High Energy Astrophysics', 'Foundations of Astronomy', 'Space Exploration', 'Space Science, Instrumentation and Techniques' and 'Project Organisation and Management'.

For about 10 years during the 1990s I led a team of ~10 engineers and scientists at MSSL who developed the on-board digital electronics and on-board software for the Reflection Grating Spectrometer (RGS), one of the instruments flying on the ESA X-ray Multi-Mirror (XMM-Newton) mission, launched in December 1999. My role was that of Project Manager, with the responsibility of getting our hardware and software developed, tested and delivered 'on schedule, on budget and according to specifications'; these aims were all achieved, thanks to the joint efforts of our very dedicated team. I now continue to pursue research in multi-wavelength astrophysics. My main interest lies in extragalactic astronomy, which encompasses some of the most energetic, violent and exotic objects in the universe, such as active galaxies and quasars. In the last few years I have taken an interest in planetary topics, and used XMM-Newton to study the X-ray emission of Jupiter and Saturn, in particular that due to the planets' aurorae.

Why did you choose this career path?

I have been fascinated by astronomy and space research since I was a teenager, so I decided to build my career around these interests. I also like to be a bit different from the rest of the crowd, and this career (especially when I started in the 1970s) was still rather unusual for a woman, so it attracted me even more!

What does your current work involve?

Exploiting the data returned by XMM-Newton is my main activity at MSSL: this involves analysing and trying to interpret the data (in collaboration with the astrophysics team at MSSL and with scientists elsewhere in the UK and oversea), writing scientific papers on the results, and giving talks at scientific conferences. Recently I have entered into a new adventure, and got involved (together with colleagues at the Lab.) in a future ESA mission, called LISA, aimed at detecting gravitational waves: they are the elusive by-products, predicted by Einstein, of mighty and exotic accidents like neutron star and black hole collisions and mergers!

Part of my job is also to supervise postgraduate students in their Ph. D. research and undergraduates in smaller research projects; I lecture undergraduates and postgraduate students at the UCL main campus in London; I contribute to the public appreciation of science by talking occasionally to amateur astronomer societies and young scientists conferences. A few years back I was co-organiser of an annual conference at UCL for sixth-form girls, to encourage them to take up Physics at university. This was a very successful and rewarding experience, and in general in these last few years we have seen a larger number of girls studying scientific subjects at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Hobbies and interests outside work

One of my interests outside work is travelling, mainly on holiday, around the Mediterranean and in the Far East: in fact, one interesting aspect of my work is that it has taken me to a variety of places, from astronomical observatories (in the Canary Islands, the USA, South Africa and Australia), to ground tests and control centres of satellites (in Europe and the USA), to satellite launch sites (in the USA and South America) and to various conference locations (in Europe, the USA, the Far East). I also enjoy gardening, walking, swimming (in warm seas), skiing (not forgetting good food and wine, as appropriate to an Italian!).

Graziella running a functional check of the Flight Model of the RGS digital electronics, during a thermal vacuum test at MSSL (summer 1997)

Jupiter's aurorae in X-rays

Mullard Space Science Laboratory - Holmbury St. Mary - Dorking - Surrey - RH5 6NT - Telephone: +44 (0)1483 204100 - Copyright © 1999-2005 UCL

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