Maggie Aderin-Pocock: Nasa scientist inspired by appointment

Maggie and Naomi
Naomi met Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock on her visit to Leicester

A woman who is working at Nasa has spoken of how inspired she was by the appointment of Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock as her former university's chancellor.

Dr Aderin-Pocock, who presents The Sky at Night, took on the role at the University of Leicester this month.

Naomi Rowe-Gurney, 32, a former student at the university, said she had been inspired by Dr Aderin-Pocock's career.

"I couldn't believe a black woman was on TV talking about space science," she said.

Dr Rowe-Gurney, who is originally from Newbury in Berkshire, is on a two-year contract as a post-doctoral research scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Washington.

Dr Rowe-Gurney
Dr Rowe-Gurney said it was her dream to work to Nasa

She said she had been "in love" with space science from an early age after a school trip to the London Planetarium.

"When I found out about space, I was about five years old," she said.

"When I realised we're on just one planet out of many planets and rotating around a star, it all just, you know, kind of blew my tiny little mind.

"Ever since then I was really interested in deep space and black holes in cosmology, before I moved into planetary science."

Dr Rowe-Gurney
Dr Rowe-Gurney said she had always loved science

She said that, as a black girl who loved science, coming across Dr Aderin-Pocock presenting the BBC's The Sky At Night had been "amazing".

"It was really an inspiration to see her there, and then I got the chance to meet her as well, in Leicester, when she was filming one of her episodes and, like a proper nerd, I asked her to sign my calculator," she said.

"I've still got it somewhere and I treasure it."

She said she had also been inspired by friends and family members when she was growing up, including one of her aunts who had done a physics degree.

"I had a lot of role models growing up," she said. "So that was a real key part in my success."

She said that although she had found the US very diverse, Nasa itself was less so but she was being mentored by senior black colleagues.

"That's kind of the reason why I came to Nasa," she said. "You think of black women pioneers like in the film Hidden Figures, which is one of my favourite movies.

"I'm helping all the scientists who look at planetary systems, so not just atmospheres, but surfaces, moons and rings."

She said it had been her dream to work at the space agency and arrived there in October 2021, after completing a PhD at Leicester, during which she studied the atmospheres of Neptune and Uranus.

She is due to return to the UK in October and she said she was looking forward to seeing her family.

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