Engineer looks to the future

Written by: Tom Shelley | Published:

Victoria Hodges of satellite manufacturer EADS Astrium recently won the third Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year competition from the Institute of Physics, both for her main work with the company and for devising interactive workshops to get local schoolchildren interested in physics and engineering.

"I am a glorified engineer," she began – she obviously thought she was speaking to a room entirely full of physicists. Her day job, she explained, was to be a member of the Attitude and Orbit Control Systems Team concerned with the GAIA – Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics satellite, scheduled to launch in 2012 with the aim 'To map the galaxy'.
Hodges is responsible for the most critical of the five 'modes' in which the satellite operates - the first mode is 'commissioning' and the final mode is 'science mode', but her responsibility is the mode where the satellite has to be told where to go and where to be, taking into account the time delay between instructions and execution.
At the same time, she has been made a STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – network ambassador and given the job of 'developing a better programme for visits to our site'.
When asked how she did this, Hodges said she organised workshops consisting of a series of 'engineering bases', each of which feature a piece of space hardware, along with work sheets. The hardware included pieces of thermal blanket, heat pipes and other bits of kit with an interesting look and feel and/or behaviour. Hodges said groups of students spent just three minutes at each base, so they did not get time to become bored. While at each base, they have to answer questions such as 'What is this?' and 'How do you think it works?'. The company was so pleased with the results that she is now training other STEM ambassadors, looking forward to the firm's participation in World Space Week, which is from 4 to 10 October 2009.
Presenting her with a cheque for £1000, Janine Wallace of competition sponsor Shell explained: "By the end of the Century, we will need twice the energy for half the CO2 emissions. To achieve this, we will need good scientists. We are aiming for 20% women, but good women scientists are in really short supply."

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