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A journey to the Sun

by Aldara B. Dios

During this year’s AGM we were fortunate enough to have Dr. Helen Mason OBE as the speaker. She took us on a journey, not to the Sun perhaps, but through her life and research.

The Sun

She began talking about the Sun. The Sun is a middle-aged star that has fascinated scientists of all ages like Galileo and Newton, two of her favourite scientists, and still fascinates Helen Mason. The focus of her research is the Sun’s Corona, the aura of plasma that surrounds the Sun and which is only visible during an Eclipse. Although the Sun’s temperature is about six thousand Kelvin, the Corona’s temperature raises to an amazing millions of Kelvin degrees. And it is from the corona that the solar winds and storms originate which only add interest to its research.

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Full-Sun SOHO-EIT ultraviolet movie

Nobody is an island

But the Sun was only an introduction, she wished to share with us her path, and in her own words “Nobody is an island”. It’s true, no one creates a career alone. Your network (your family, your friends, your colleagues)  through the years is as important as your work. Helen shared with us how her friends and colleagues not only help her, but also make her feel very fortunate.

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While Helen was doing her Ph.D. at the University of London she found her first professional support: Professor Mike Seaton. He not only trusted her but he boosted her confidence as well, encouraging her to go beyond her comfort zone.

Mike Seaton with Alan Burgess at DAMTP

Years later, working in the USA, Helen was able to call upon her family’s help. By then she had two children and with both she and her husband working, her only support was that from sisters, which allowed her to continue researching.

It was hard, she said, but again I was fortunate, very fortunate to have my sisters. 

Back in the UK, she started working at the DAMTP (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge) where the confidence and support of Professor David Crighton allowed her not only to continue working, but to expand in her career.

I’m in debt of this man

During her career, she has collaborated with NASA, ESA, SOHO (solar and heliospheric observatory), HINODE and CHIANTI, making her network bigger and giving her opportunities to visit astonishing places.

 

From left to right: Giulio Del-Zanna – Peter Young – Ken Dere – Massimo Landini – Enrico Landi – Helen Mason

 

You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him discover it himself.

Help and networks go both ways, it’s a two-way road. Helen has been fortunate enough to be the support and inspiration not only of her Ph.D. students but also of hundreds of students in schools in Africa and the UK.

She confessed that her experience in India and South Africa, was a learning experience for the children and also for herself and the young teachers that accompanied her.

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The children had thirst for learning, they valued the opportunity to absorb new knowledge, new skills. Something that is taken for granted in Occident. 

Her advice

Helen has been fortunate (she said so several times during her talk) in her path with personal learning along the way. To end her talk she shared with us her magic list to achieve a successful life ourselves.

  • Be yourself
  • Be true to what matters in your life
  • In success remember those who helped you
  • Treat failure as an opportunity to learn and move forward
  • Never be afraid of a new challenge
  • Engage in other activities

 

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Ruchi Chauhan

 

We want to thank Dr. Helen Mason for an inspirational night and Ruchi Chauhan for inviting such a motivational speaker.

 

 

 

 

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