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Aiming for the Stars: Dame Maggie Aderin-Pocock inspires students with the wonder of space

As part of British Science Week and Women’s History Month celebrations, we were privileged to have Dame Maggie Aderin-Pocock, reknowned space scientist, science communicator and presented of the BBC’s The Sky at Night and CBeebies Stargazing, talk to students across Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South today. 

Dr Aderin-Pocock said she “fell in live with the idea of space travel” as a child and has spent her career “trying to show children how fascinating space science can be” by “translating the science, making it less complicated and distant.”

Dr Aderin-Pocock shared her journey into space science with primary students right through to sixth-formers, telling us about women who have inspired her and the life lessons she has learned along the way, as well why talking about her journey is an important way to encourage more women and girls from all backgrounds, to get into science.

Growing up in separate parents’ homes, Dr Aderin-Pocock attended 13 different schools as a child, but managed to seize an opportunity to study in the top band in her final school. Despite struggles with dyslexia, she realised that she was a logical thinker and problem-solver, which spurred her on to study and reach her goals to work in space. She worked hard, sacrificing TV and other leisure activities to study. Space exploration was very topical at that time, and she remembers watching the moon landings with awe, and even shares a birthday with Yuri Gagarin, the first man ever to go to space.

As a child she loved the BBC’s The Clangers, a children’s stop-motion television series about a family of mouse-like creatures who live on and inside a small moon-like planet, which first aired in 1969. Dr Aderin-Pocock featured in the first episode of the fifth series in 2019 ‘The Visitor’, as a human astronaut who lands on the Clangers’ planet – affirming her status as a space scientist role model. Just last week, Dr Aderin-Pocock was named as a Barbie Role Model for her work promoting science careers to girls was honoured with a Barbie doll. “I hope my doll will remind girls that when you reach for the stars, anything is possible” she said.

Candidly speaking about stereotypes of what a scientist looks like, typically male and white, Dr Aderin-Pocock spoke about the importance of encouraging diversity in STEM, particularly from women, people from different ethnic backgrounds and people identifying as LGBTUA+.

En-hedu-ana, Gladys West, Marie Curie, Katherine Johnson and Jocelyn Bell Burnell are among the inspiring female scientists who have made long-lasting impressions on Dr Aderin-Pocock – each making significant contributions to our understanding of the universe today.

From her first job working for the Ministry of Defence designing missile warning systems, to working on land mine detection to her spectroscopy work with the Gemini Telescope (breaking up the light from the telescope into wavelengths), and how this led to her involvement in using spectroscopy with satellites to better understand climate change, Dr Aderin-Pocock talked students through her career milestones.

Most recently, she was one of 10,000 scientists to work on the James Webb Telescope, the largest optical telescope in space, which will transform our understanding of the universe through the ability to view objects too old, distant or faint for other telescopes.

Dr Aderin-Pocock spoke about being a role model not having to mean being perfect, but more importantly, having something you are really passionate about and being brave and determined enough to follow your dreams. The session certainly sparked lots of curious questions and thoughts from students including:

  • Do you think life on other planets does exist?
  • Why is the search for life in space focused on other earth-like planets with water?
  • What is the salary like as a scientist?
  • Did you experience any discrimination or not feel supported as a black scientist?

“Thank you, what an amazing woman! Listening to your story was highly inspirational.... I hope you get to go to the Moon!”

“What an inspiration you are! Thank you. It was an honour.”

“Thank you Dame Maggie. It was an absolute privilege to hear you talk to us today!  From Year 5 at Hatcham Primary”

We hope to be able to have Dr Aderin-Pocock with us again soon. In the meantime, she has given us all here at the Trust much food for thought and will no doubt have motivated many of our young people to pursue their science dreams. 

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