Nicky Fox

Johns Hopkins University

 

I was born in a small market town called Hitchin, about 40 miles north of London, England.

I work at the Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory, and am on contract to NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

When I was 9 months old, Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. This occurred during the night in England. I apparently stirred in my crib so my father propped me up in front of the TV so that I could watch this momentous event. He gave me a running commentary through the entire thing and now takes full credit for my interest in space. When I was a young child he would explain to me how the planets rotated around the Sun and point out stars and planets to me at night.

My earliest memory about the Sun is learning that it is a star and that the Earth rotates around it. I got interested in science through my father's love of everything to do with space and space exploration, in particular the Mercury and Apollo programs. But what ultimately inspired me to become a solar-terrestrial physicist was seeing an aurora in Alaska.

I went to an all girls school where I was actively encouraged to study the sciences. I knew that I wanted to be a scientist but was not sure which type. I discovered that I fainted every time we had to do dissections in Biology to the point that the teacher would tell me to stay home when they were scheduled. Then my lab partner in Chemistry was definitely suicidal as she would blow up test tubes, spill concentrated acid on herself and leave the fume cupboard door open, practically gassing the whole class. She was going to do Chemistry at college so I decided that this was too frightening as there may be others like her around. So I took the safe option of Physics!! I also loved the mathematical aspect of the subject and really enjoyed astronomy.

I went to Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine in London, where I studied Physics at college level. I then went to the University of Surrey, where I took a Masters in Telecommunications and Satellite Engineering. I quickly realized that I was definitely a scientist and not an engineer. I was regularly told that I asked the "wrong" questions and thought like a scientist. So, I returned to Imperial College were I completed my PhD in Space Physics.
Currently, I am the Operations Coordinator for the International Solar Terrestrial Physics Mission - a suite of multiple spacecraft and ground based observatories. I also track Earth-directed solar events and chart how they affect the Earth's near space environment.

In a typical week, I attend a lot of meetings !! I am involved with the operations planning for the Polar spacecraft which orbits the Earth. The spacecraft has many instruments which detect different kind of phenomena, for example particles, and magnetic and electric fields. The spacecraft also has 3 cameras which image the Earth's aurora. I use Polar, and all of the other ISTP spacecraft to chart the progress of events which begin on the Sun and then move towards Earth. When they reach the Earth, I monitor how they affect the Earth's upper atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetosphere. I also organize a number of scientific meetings and travel to lots of conferences.

The main thing that keeps me interested in being a solar physicist is our ever changing Sun. We never know what will occur on the Sun each day - will it be quiet or will there be a huge solar storm ? Then what will the effect be when it reaches the Earth?

To do my job, I use more than 20 different spacecraft and 30 ground-based observatories to track the progress of solar storms.

The interesting thing about my job is that every day is different. There are always new challenges to face. I also get to travel to many different countries. The most satisfying thing about being a scientist is that you are always trying to discover something new, and every now and then, you actually succeed in this. There is virtually nothing I dislike about being a scientist.

 

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