Emma Dean

Favourite Thing: Learning about how amazing the world and the universe we live in is. Contemplating and digesting all of the awesomeness. Sharing my new knowledge with anyone who comes within a Schwarzschild radius of Jupiter (~ 3m). Repeat.



Ormiston Sudbury Academy (1999-2004), University of York (2009-2014), University of Southampton (2015-present)


GCSEs, A-Level Biology, Chemistry and Physics, MPhys Experimental Physics.

Work History:

Current Job:

PhD Student


University of Southampton

My STFC facility

Me and my work

I’m a 1st year PhD student. I investigate how neutron stars emit gravitational waves by growing mountains.

Neutron stars are highly dense objects. They are the equivalent of squashing 2 Suns into a ball the size of a small city (like Southampton). They have an incredibly strong gravitational pull, they are very very hot, they have the strongest magnetic field strength known in the universe and they spin incredibly fast. All of these features arise from their extreme density, which makes them excellent laboratories for testing the laws of physics in extreme conditions.

I’m interested in how their strong gravitational field can cause them to emit gravitational waves. For this to be possible, they can’t be perfectly spherical (because if they were, nothing would appear to change). One way they can change from being a perfect sphere is by growing mountains. Because they are so dense, even a relatively small mountain will make the spherical star a bit lumpy. This change is something we can measure from earth using gravitational wave detectors.

My job is to see how these mountains might be able to grow, how big they can get and how long they live for. I do this using computers and traditional pen and paper maths.

When I’m not doing science I like to spend my time making clothes, creating unusual jewellery, cooking international foods and walking my puppy, Rudy.



My Typical Day

Reading up on lots of new science, practising maths and drinking lots of tea.

I’m a new PhD student, so that means I have a lot to learn. Most of my day is spent learning about new physical processes. This involves taking all of the physics I learnt at university and putting it all together to describe what is happening on a neutron star. Some of the things I am learning are completely new to me too. I read both textbooks and research papers. Research papers are ‘updates’ written by scientists. It’s a way people around the world can share information on what they are working on. This allows scientists to help each other and even work together. When I am reading, I follow the maths as I go along. This really helps to test my understanding of what is being explained to me. It’s great practise, as the maths can get quite tricky!

I also regularly attend seminars. Seminars are a place that people in the university, who are doing similar research, can meet up and discuss their work. These meetings are really interesting, as you find out what everyone is up to and it’s a great opportunity to ask lots of questions!


What I'd do with the money

I would hold gravitational wave workshops at local schools.

I’d use the money to buy equipment to build table top laser interferometers (what we use to detect gravitational waves). This would enable students to understand how the experiment works and the physics behind the detection. The workshop would also look at why gravitational wave detection is important and what this means for the future of physics and astronomy. With this money, I should be able to make 3-4 interferometers, which corresponds to 3-4 workshops. The schools would get to keep the interferometers, so the students can explain what they have learnt to other students.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curry monster

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Nina Simone

What's your favourite food?

All food, except for celery and bread crusts.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

A hot air balloon ride over the river Nile. The crash landing was even better!

What did you want to be after you left school?

An Astronaut!

Were you ever in trouble at school?


What was your favourite subject at school?

Physics and Art

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Been alive for the detection of gravitational waves!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

At school I had lots of questions that no-one knew the answer to. So I thought I could help to try and find those answers. Space is awesome, so I became an astrophysicist!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Fashion Designer

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) Speak every language that has ever been spoken on earth fluently. 2) Be able to fly (with retractable wings). 3) Invent a teleportation device.

Tell us a joke.

Want to hear a joke about sodium? Na. Want to hear a joke about Sodium Hypobromite? NaBrO.

Other stuff

Work photos:

Where the magic happens


Alice and I preparing to make some magic