Name: Dr. Graziella Branduardi-Raymont
Job title: Reader in Astronomy
Graziella running a functional check of the Flight Model of the RGS digital electronics, during a thermal vacuum test at MSSL (summer 1997)
What education and qualifications do you have?
Physics degree from the University of Milan, Italy
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', '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.
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. I am currently organising a workshop at MSSL for next October, where some 60 scientists from all over the world will get together to discuss the most recent results from XMM-Newton and other space observatories. I also 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 USA: 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, Japan). I also enjoy gardening, walking, swimming (in warm seas), skiing (not forgetting good food and wine, as appropriate to an Italian!).