I was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and lived all of my childhood in the small coal mining village of Darfield, Barnsley, the majority of my known ancestry being employed within the coal mining industry.
I studied for GCSEs at the Foulstone School, Darfield, it was during my school days that I developed a strong interest in science, I then went on to obtain A’levels at Barnsley College. Initially my interest in science was awakened by a fascination of the night sky, I started to indulge in amateur astronomy but with so many cloudy nights in the UK I realized that I would need to find other practical ways of exploring the universe too.
Discovering that there were no meteorite collections within local museums and after much reading, I decided to develop my own meteorite collection to help me learn more about how the world around me developed and the idea of being able to hold a piece of another planet inside my hand was just too appealing to resist. With time as I learnt more about meteorites I started to give short talks about them and used my own modest collection as an outreach tool, this is how I learnt the great value of meteorites in the public engagement of science.
I went on to learn more of the theoretical aspects of the universe during my studies for a BSc(Hons) in Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire, the interior of stars had always amazed me and I needed to devote my time to understanding them better. But it was during my final year of theoretical studies that I realized my true calling was in the practical “hands-on” space science which I had always been drawn to since my early meteorite collecting days. So I then went onto the University of Hull obtaining an MSc in Analytical Sciences to give me a practical skill base to further explore space materials from. I devised my own MSc research project using mass spectrometry, emission spectroscopy and electron microscopy as a comparative study of a series of ordinary and carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.
I then temporarily returned to my home town to work at Barnsley College for a year where I was involved in teaching IT both on the college campus and within the local communities, my students ranged from post 16 through to people in their retirement. During this time I also became an Open University (OU) student to improve my knowledge of geological sciences. My OU studies continued over the subsequent 2 years which coincided with me moving to the University of Liverpool where I studied for a PhD in surface science. My special interest was in developing a better understanding of the growth of nickel, nickel oxides and nickel hydroxides on an atomic scale. This required the use of high magnification microscopy such as atomic force microscopy and scanning tunneling microscopy which was also complemented with synchrotron x-ray diffraction studies to understand interfaces of these different nickel species. During this time I also applied these techniques to iron meteorites.
In 2005 I moved to the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute at the Open University in Milton Keynes. I had the opportunity to develop further my specialist skills in electron and ion beam microscopy, combining research with specialist instrumentation support and application. All meteorites and space materials fascinate me but I developed a particularly strong interest in the iron and stony iron meteorites.
Then in 2009 I visited Egypt for the first time; I immediately fell in love with the country and have since returned every year. Combining this with my enjoyment of learning I enrolled to study for a Certificate of Higher Education in Egyptology with the University of Manchester. During my first year of study I started to consider the possible overlap in the subjects of meteoritics and Egyptology, ultimately this developed into a research project with the first results publication capturing the imagination of people across the world.