Orbyts Leadership Team
Dr William Dunn
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to coordinate the Orbyts programme since 2017. Orbyts was also run by the fantastic Dr Jon Holdship and Lucinda Offer during 2018, while I was based in the US, and was founded in 2015 by Dr Laura McKemmish, Dr Clara Sousa-Silva, Prof. J. Tennyson and many others. During my time running Orbyts, I've been lucky to see hundreds of passionate and inspiring young people discover new things about the Universe and to see the programme flourish and grow to a national scale. I currently hold an Ernest Rutherford Fellowship, within which I work as an astrophysicist X-raying other planets (see the Orbyts project on Jupiter's aurora for more on this, or some of my research here: 1, 2, 3 ). Before my ERF, I held a fellowship at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the US, and a European Space Agency NPI fellowship at ESAC (Spain) and at UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory (UK), where I undertook my PhD and held a PDRA role. Prior to my PhD, I launched programmes for Amazon and spent 6 years working on shop floors for Arcadia Group, All Saints and Megacity, while doing my degree at UCL. At various points in life I've been a semi-professional dancer, a semi-professional MtG player, a school governor and, in between, I've tried to see as much of the world as life would let me.
Dr Abbie Bray
Orbyts Co-Coordinator & Hub Lead (London Center for Nanotechnology)
I'm a theoretical physicist, associate lecturer, and EDI champion.I'm Irish–British and from a socially and economically diverse background, and despite many barriers achieved high academic success. With my background, knowledge, and passion for STEM, I have pursued a career that allows me to continue her work in EDI as well as teach the next generation of quantum physicists, including collaborating with the Orbyts programme. My scientific research is on atto second science with a particular focus on quantum interference patterns of electrons and high harmonic generation. As a theorist, I rely on the beauty of maths (such as quantum mechanics) to aid in explaining why electrons behave the way they do under a strong field regime (intense laser light). When I'm not querying quantum or exciting electrons, I can be found dancing to techno or baking bread.
Head of Teaching & Learning
I’m a PhD candidate at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL, where I use telescopes all over the world (and in space) to detect new planets around distant stars. I also work on improving our understanding of what the exoplanets we currently know about are like, and whether they are similar to the Earth. I originally completed a BSc in Physical Science at the University of Exeter and then went on to complete my teacher training as a physics-specialist science teacher. After working in a secondary school for a couple of years I went back to university to complete an MSc in planetary science before starting my PhD in 2020. I have been involved in the Orbyts programme for two years now; originally running my own project on exoplanet observations, and then becoming a hub-lead for MSSL, and now finally as head of teaching and learning. My current role involves ensuring the continued quality of the programme through a series of training for our partner researchers, as well as building the involvement of our partner teachers within the science community.
Dr Mark Fuller
Head of Evaluation and Impact
Mark studied Astrophysics at the University of Leicester eventually going on to gain a PhD in computational modelling, however it was working on outreach projects engaging young people in science that gave him the biggest joy. He is proud to be able to continue sharing his efforts through the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCL and the Ogden Trust by supporting fellow academics sharing their passion and enthusiasm with the next generations.
Carlos Navarrete Leon
Hub Lead - Medical Physics
Carlos is a PhD student in the Advanced X-ray Imaging group at UCL, working on novel multi-contrast X-ray imaging systems for applications ranging from biomedical sciences to industrial inspection. He was born and raised in Colombia, where he first engaged in programs for widening participation in higher education and teaching strategies for children with special educational needs. After moving to the UK, he has delivered research programs on biomedical imaging for pupils in non-selective state schools in London. He will now lead the Orbyts hub at the Medical Physics and Bioengineering department at UCL.
Hub Lead - Mullard Space Science Laboratory
I am a PhD candidate studying the interaction between Earth’s magnetic field and the Solar Wind, focused on a phenomenon called “Substorms”. I did my undergraduate Masters at the University of Glasgow studying Mathematics and Physics finishing in 2021 when I joined UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory to pursue my PhD. I have also been part of Maths Week Scotland, creating a library of resources to improve mathematics engagement and accessibility in Scottish Primary schools. From 2022, I will be the Orbyts hub lead for MSSL, helping to partner local schools with our space science researchers.
Co-Hub Lead - Northumbria University
I am currently a PhD student at Northumbria University working on diagnosing relativistic electron behaviour in the Earth's Van Allen radiation belts. I have a Bachelors degree in physics with astrophysics from Nottingham Trent University and was fortunate enough to study abroad at the University of Bonn before completing a Masters degree in astrophysics at the University of Sheffield. My current research involves using a range of machine learning techniques on NASA mission data to identify groups of similarly-behaving electrons and determine which physical phenomena drives this behaviour. I have been part of the Orbyts programme for the last 2 years, and I am excited to continue promoting STEM outreach as Northumbria's hub lead
Dr Jasmine Sandhu
Co-Hub Lead - Northumbria University
Jasmine Kaur Sandhu is a research associate at Northumbria University. She uses large spacecraft datasets to understand the Earth’s radiation belts - a very energetic and very dynamic collection of charged particles that surround our planet. Jasmine is also a councillor of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Hub Lead - University of Kent
I am currently working as Outreach Officer for the Division of Natural Sciences at the University of Kent. Before working at the University of Kent, I completed my master’s degree in Chemistry in June 2022, where I discovered my love of outreach and public engagement. I chose a career in science because I love exploring all the ways science can explain the world and universe around us. Outside of science, I love baking, going for walks, and crocheting flowers (because fake plants are the only kind I can keep alive)!
Dr Michaela Mooney
Hub Lead - University of Leicester
I recently completed my PhD at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL and I’m now working as a researcher at the University of Leicester. The Sun is a massive ball of plasma with a huge magnetic field that fills the entire Solar System. The Earth also has a substantial magnetic field known as the magnetosphere that protects us and our technology by deflecting the Sun’s magnetic field around the Earth. My research focusses on studying the structure and dynamics of the Earth’s magnetosphere. I use images of the northern lights, or the aurora, and other measurements taken by satellites in space to study how the Earth’s magnetosphere responds to the constant bombardment of the Sun’s magnetic field. Understanding the interaction between the Sun and Earth’s magnetic fields helps us to predict the how our magnetosphere responds and prevent damage to technology and infrastructure at Earth caused by particles and radiation in near-Earth space, known as space weather.
Lead - Students Advancing Research (STAR)
I am a PhD student within the Exoplanet group in UCL’s Physics and Astronomy department. My research focuses on how stellar activity can impact exoplanet observations and the different ways in which we can correct for it. When I am not modelling or validating new correction techniques, I spend the majority of my time focusing on observations of the most active exoplanet host stars. My particular emphasis is on those on the target list for the UCL-led Ariel mission which is scheduled to launch in 2029 and will look at over 1000 exoplanets (which means lots of potential stellar contamination!).
I am the lead researcher for the pilot Orbyts STAR (STudents Advancing Research) project which aims to extend Orbyts projects to hospital schools with the pilot project running this year (2024) in collaboration with the Great Ormond Street Hospital school. This is a cause that resonates with me particularly strongly as I suffer from Crohn’s Disease and have spent a lot of time in and out of hospital particularly during my secondary school years. I always try to be an ambassador for the Crohn’s and IBD community wherever possible. Largely in part due to my illness I have taken a longer, more unconventional pathway into academia and initially worked as a tattoo artist for several years before finding my place here. When I’m not breaking my own code and telling other people about stars, you’ll always find me out on a mountain somewhere; mostly trad and sport climbing.
I am currently a postgraduate research student at the University of Leicester and hold a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in astrophysics from Nottingham Trent University and the University of Glasgow, respectively. My current main research interests are the drivers and evolution of ultra-low frequency waves in the magnetic field that protects Earth from the solar wind. I have long been passionate about outreach and exposing people to new and interesting science that they may otherwise never have the opportunity to explore. In the past, I have been a science tutor, professional research scientist, and fortunate enough to take part in science outreach programmes across the country.
Karen has over 30 years' experience in professional marketing and is very generously volunteering her time alongside her current position as a Creative, Media and Digital Executive at the music and media company BMG UK. She was previously at Universal Music Group for 17 years where she became Marketing Director UMTV.
Karen has been studying Astronomy and Planetary Science for several years, most recently at Birkbeck (Planetary Science) for 2 years and before that 2 years at UCL (Astronomy Certificate). She is also a Fellow of The Royal Astronomical Society and a registered STEM Ambassador.
Prof Jonathan Tennyson
I am Massey Professor of Physics in the UCL's Department of Physics and Astronomy, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.
I am co-founder and Chair of Blue Skies Space Ltd which aims to provide rapidly-delivered, cost-effective space science facilities with the Twinkle exoplanet characterisation mission as its first major project. My research involves using quantum mechanics to solve problems with real world significance including studies of processes involved in climate change (precisely how much light does one molecule of carbon dioxide absorb?), providing data to model technological plasma such as those used in etching silicon chips used in computers, phones, etc. and, of course, astrophysics. I was Head of Department until 2011 and I stepped down to run the European Research Council (ERC) funded ExoMol project (www.exomol.com).
ExoMol aims to provide the necessary laboratory data to allow us characterise exoplanets. With my former PhD student Clara Sousa-Silva, I launched the ORBYTS project in 2015 for which the original projects were strongly focused about supporting
ExoMol and the original tutors were all members of my research group.