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Inspiring Leicester Students to ‘Reach for the Stars’

You may recognise Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock from ‘The Sky at Night’ – a popular and long running astronomy show, which has been airing on the BBC since 1957…

The award winning space scientist has been a presenter on the show since 2014 – a role she took over from the great Sir Patrick Moore.

However, this year sees Maggie take up another exciting role – that of Chancellor at the University of Leicester.

Picture: Jason Senior

It’s one which she describes as “an honour” thanks to the city’s exciting, and highly enterprising position within the space industry…

“As home to the National Space Centre, and also Space Park, Leicester is ideally placed for the future of space,” said Maggie, who took up the role in March.

“It really is the driving force for this area, and because the space industry is booming in the UK right now, it’s a very good position for Leicester to be in.”

Maggie told Pukaar that the city holds a very special place in her heart, as she’s spent a lot of time here filming with ‘The Sky at Night’ and even made a film a few years back, which featured it greatly.

“Leicester is such a diverse and vibrant community so to become part of that is a real honour,” she said.

“It’s a place I love for its diverse and thriving community. Leicester is a melting pot – people from all over the world coming together and making a community together. You see that in a few places but Leicester really brought that home for me…”

Born in London to Nigerian parents, Maggie attended 13 different schools before she turned 18 and suffered with undiagnosed Dyslexia.

She got the ‘space bug’ at an early age – something which was influenced early on by her love of science fiction, and ‘The Clangers,’ a ‘magical’ children’s show set on the moon.

I heard about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon – people like Yuri Gagarin going into space… And then there were programmes like ‘The Clangers’ that really inspired me. I thought they were really magical!

“From there I started watching science fiction programmes like ‘Star Trek’ and so all of these things came together when I was very very young. And I decided that my life’s ambition is to get out there into space,” added the 54-year-old.

Picture: Jason Senior

However, when Maggie told a teacher that she wanted to be an astronaut, they suggested that she go into the caring professions as that was a more realistic aim.

Despite this, she persevered with her love of science and obtained a physics degree and PhD in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London, back in 1994.

Due to her Dyslexia and struggles within the education system, Maggie sites getting these qualifications “against the odds”, as some of her proudest achievements.

However, her CV – the things she went on to achieve following this, are eye- wateringly impressive.

They include working for the UK Ministry of Defence, helping to develop aircraft missile warning systems and hand-held instruments to detect landmines, and developing a high-resolution spectrograph for the Gemini Observatory in Chile, during a stint at University College London.

Dr Aderin-Pocock also worked on the Aeolus satellite, which measures wind speeds in the Earth’s atmosphere
to help with our understanding of climate change.

In 2009, she was awarded an MBE for her work as a space communicator, breaking down complex scientific issues into simple information that everyone can understand, and for her outreach to young people.

A decade later she was awarded the Woman of the Year award for innovation. She is the first African woman to win a gold medal in the Physics News Award.

Picture: Jason Senior

Her appointment as Chancellor for the University of Leicester, which awarded her an honorary degree back in 2018, is the “icing on the cake” of her career she says.

“It’s lovely to find an organisation where we can work together for a common goal, and celebrate the wonderful city of Leicester,” she explained.

“I think it is a perfect fit – we have similar aspirations. We want to inspire the next generation to excel and realise how much potential they have.”

Maggie’s ambition as Chancellor, is to encourage students to “reach for the stars” when it comes to their education and future career goals.

“I’ve always dreamed of getting into space – that’s been my crazy dream, and it’s driven me throughout my life,” she said.

“By having that crazy dream, it means that I’ve over come various hurdles, through the education system and life in general.

I want everybody that comes to the University of Leicester to work out what their crazy dream is – to throw themselves at it, and see if they can reach their stars, no matter what those stars are.

By Louise Steel