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  • Discovery Space - Cool Space Jobs Interview - Thursday 28 May 2009

    Posted on May 29th, 2009 Dr. Mario M. Bisi No comments

    Well, yesterday, I was greatly honoured to undertake an IM interview for the Discovery Channel Space Science (Discovery Space) thanks to my good friend and colleague, Dr. Ian O’Neill, who has become the new host there (I wait in anticipation of some great things happening at Discovery Space with Ian at the helm). This is his first interview at Discovery and I am very excited by its outcome. I have the transcript below (courtesy of Discovery Space) and it can also be found on Discovery Space here! Happy reading and please feel free to comment below…

    An example of comets in the sky as seen by the Solar Mass Ejection Imager (SMEI) in Earth orbit aboard the Coriolis satellite.

    Dr. Ian O’Neill: Hi Mario! It’s Ian O’Neill with Discovery Space. How’s your day going?

    Dr. Mario Bisi: Hello Ian! So far, my day is going well, thanks. It’s somewhat hectic, but that’s not too different from most days …

    IO: Oh good, how’s the weather? I hear San Diego isn’t as hot as it is up here in LA.

    MB: There’s a lot of cloud today, and yes, the weather is cooler here than it is in LA. You’re in a better place if you like it hot and sunny.

    IO: Ah, better pool weather up here by the sound of it!

    Where are you at the moment? Is your office actually on campus?

    MB: Okay, so, I’m actually at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences (CASS), on the main La Jolla campus at UCSD. My building is known as the SERF building which stands for the Science and Engineering Research Facility and is where the science members of CASS are based.

    IO: I understand you are working on solar wind research, and I saw a publication you did on comets. That sounds like fun to work on.

    MB: Ah, yes, our comet paper. I was indeed a co-author of a paper primarily looking at possible reasons why comet tails “wiggle” when traveling through the solar system.

    IO: Hold on. Comets wiggle their tails? Why do they do that?

    MB: Indeed they do! We used data from the “Solar Mass Ejection Imager” (SMEI) to study the comet tail wiggles and the final conclusion was that they are likely caused by solar wind speed variations.

    Also, a university student and I devised a way to measure solar wind speed directly from the comet tail images - very cool stuff!

    IO: That is cool. Are you still focused on comets?

    MB: Actually, I’m now working on a paper focused on the study of “twinkling” far-off radio sources using Ooty Radio Telescope in India. This is known as “interplanetary scintillation” (IPS), when solar wind plasma from the sun passes in front of the distant points of radio causing them to twinkle just like Earth’s air movements make stars twinkle in the night’s sky.

    The data is then used to create 3-D images of the structure of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) as they propagate away from the sun to the Earth. This is important as it helps us understand how these CMEs interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, creating aurorae and causing solar storms.

    IO: Wow, sounds like exciting research! So what would you consider to be the coolest part of your job?

    MB: To be honest, I love everything I do. But if I had to choose, then it’s the fact that I get to travel the world for meetings, workshops, conferences, and collaborative work. It’s great for getting to meet people and to interact with them — something which I enjoy very much. Of course the big bonus is that I get paid to travel!

    IO: Awesome, so you’re not scared of flying then?

    MB: Definitely not! This is a little strange given that the first time I flew was in 2003 and since then I’ve flown on over 130 aircraft!

    IO: Nice, I wish I had the travel budget for that!

    MB: Well, I wouldn’t say we had a great travel budget, no-one in academia does really, but we’re very clever with what little we have.

    IO: So have you always had a passion for the sun? Or is it just general space science you’re passionate about?

    MB: Actually, my original passion was for cosmology; at least until I came across the Ph.D. option at University of Wales, Aberystwyth in the UK to research the solar wind. Since then, my passion has certainly been for the wider scope of space physics — although I do like to dip into cosmology from time to time.

    IO: Wales to Southern California, that’s quite a change! Do you think it’s nicer to be studying solar physics in a location where you can actually see the sun?

    MB: Hmmm … I don’t know that actually seeing the sun is necessarily a good thing — you certainly shouldn’t look at it directly!

    I guess California has a lot going for it in terms of the weather, but I still prefer Wales. Besides, I use data from radio telescopes and spacecraft, so they don’t care if the sky is cloudy.

    IO: Well, at least you can go to the beach after a hard day in the office.

    Talking of the office, does it ever get boring or routine to be there every day? Or is it all worth it, as you are studying a topic you really enjoy?

    MB: There may be times when some people consider things “dull” or “boring”, but there is such variation of things going on in my day. There’s always something else I can do if I get annoyed at something I’m working on. I can even work from home. I do everything from analyzing data to publishing papers. There are also plenty of administrative things that need doing too.

    It’s certainly all worth it — even if I rarely have time to go to the beach! Although there can be a high volume of work, it rarely phases me as my job is also my hobby. It’s awesome to be in this position. I feel very lucky!

    IO: Sounds like the ideal situation to be in! So was this always your plan? Have you fulfilled a lifelong dream to be a solar physicist?

    MB: I was very much inspired by my school physics teacher Dr. Jones. I heard stories from him how interesting his research life had been and I decided that I had to work hard and I had to get a Ph.D. to do the same thing. At the time, my interests were in physics and music, then with cosmology, and then later with solar/space physics.

    IO: It sounds like a dream come true. So what’s the next big thing you’d like to do? Perhaps make a big discovery? Become the first solar physicist to get a Nobel Prize?

    MB: Isn’t that every researcher’s dream — to win the Nobel Prize?

    I think, I’d like to move into some teaching soon, and then that will give me a good grounding for a more “permanent” position. I’d also like to lead my own research group some day.

    IO: Sounds like a big plan! But so far, what is your biggest success? Was it a particular paper, conference or discovery?

    MB: I would have to say completing my Ph.D. It took serious amounts of hard work through the last 18 months of my undergraduate degree to get into a Ph.D. and then over three and a half years of even more serious hard work to complete it! That’s what I would consider my biggest single achievement.

    IO: Well, it sounds like you have many more achievements ahead of you!

    Now, finally, if you met a budding 15-year old excited about a career in space research, what three tips would you give him/her?

    MB: 1. Your dreams don’t have to be set in stone. Dreams should be allowed to change along the way as you develop with age.

    2. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, only you know what you’re capable of achieving.

    3. And I guess my last words are that you should always try to live your dream and don’t give up until you get it!

    4. Of course, good luck and have a great time along the way — I certainly am (and yes I know that’s really four, but what can I say, I’m a scientist and we always want more)!

    IO: Sounds good to me! I think everyone can learn from those three (four!).

    Thank you Mario so much for taking the time to chat to me. Now I can let you get back to those twinkling stars and wiggling comet tails!

    Good luck, and be sure to spend some time down on the beach.

    MB: Thank you too Ian, I appreciate you spending the time to interview me. Best wishes!

    The SMEI fisheye image was taken from the UCSD SMEI Comet WebPages.

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