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Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock: oration

Read Dr Alison Walker's oration on Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock for the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in December 2014.


Chancellor, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you and the congregation Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, an inspirational figure to young people. She has achieved high visibility through activities run by her company, Science Innovation Ltd, that presents a ‘Tour of the Universe, with her husband, Dr Martin Pocock, and colleagues, to date to tens of thousands of pupils.

Many of her audience are pupils at inner-city schools and part of the presentation is talking about how and why she is a scientist, defying myths about careers, class and gender demonstrating the wonders of space by showing innovative simulated space journeys using celestial flyby projections and has produced a film which features her on a “Big Brother” simulated spaceship journey to Mars.

She has been co-host of the BBC’s longest running astronomy series, The Sky at Night since February 2014 after a break of several months, following in the august footsteps of Patrick Moore. Her television career also includes presenting BBC Two’s Do We Really Need The Moon? and Do We Really Need Satellites? as well as regular appearances on BBC One’s The One Show. On the radio, she discussed her biography on BBC Radio 4's renowned programme Desert Island Discs in March 2010.

She has received many high-profile awards in addition to her MBE which she was given in 2009. In inverse chronological order these are the following: 2012 and 2013 she was listed as one of the UK top 100 then top 10 most influential black people and the Yale University Centre for Dyslexia "Out of the box thinking award", in 2011 Women in Film and Television gave her the Winner of the “New Talent” award, in 2010 she received an Honorary fellowship from the British Science Association, in 2009 she won Red Magazine's “Red’s Hot Women” Award in the pioneering category and was given an honorary degree from Staffordshire University. 2008 saw her deliver the British Science Association Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award Lecture and win the Arthur C Clark Outreach Award for Promotion of Space. The organisation that is now Women in Science and Engineering made her their Woman of Outstanding Achievement in 2006 and in 2005 she was awarded "Certificate of Excellence" by the Champions Club UK in recognition of efforts at promoting the study of science amongst young girls especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Back further to her childhood... Space has fascinated Dr Aderin-Pocock ever since she was six years old, when she saw an astronaut on a beautiful book in her primary school library. Her dream was to work in space and astronomy and the very first instrument she made as a child was her own telescope. She has dyslexia and, as a child, when she told a teacher she wanted to be an astronaut, it was suggested she try nursing, “because that’s scientific too”. Fortunately, she ignored what passed for careers advice to women in those days. I can confirm similar experiences. Instead she read for a Physics Degree and followed it with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, both from Imperial College London. Her PhD involved development of an ultra-thin film measurement system. The instrument developed was subsequently sold by an Imperial College spin-off company.

While she never realised her childhood dream to become an astronaut, she did spend her career leading teams creating bespoke instruments in both industrial and academic environments. She has worked on the Gemini Telescope in South America, co-developed hand-held land mine detectors and spearheaded work on an optical subsystem for the James Webb Space Telescope that is replacing the Hubble. Now she is a prominent space scientist and science communicator, awarded an MBE in 2009 for her services to science education. She is a judge at the National Science and Engineering Competition and the finals are held at The Big Bang Fair every March to reward young people who have achieved excellence in a science, technology, engineering or maths project. She also holds her third Science in Society Fellowship awarded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council held at University College London.

I ask you to join me in praising her to the skies, in the most literal sense. Chancellor, I present to you Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

Dr Alison Walker

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