from left to right: Aurora over Alaska, coronal loops seen by TRACE, UV aurora seen by Polar, heliosphere in Orion seen by Hubble Space Telescope, magnetosphere schematic, aurora over EISCAT radar, The Sower by Van Gogh, terrestrial clouds, Coronal Mass Ejection seen by SoHO, simulation of a cosmic ray shower, lightning over Geneva

Mike Lockwood QandA profile
What does receiving the RAS Gold Medal mean to you? I gave my first ever talk at an RAS MIST meeting – it was terrible. But the RAS provided a tolerant and nurturing environment that allowed me to learn both from my own mistakes and from watching the great and the good at work. I also feel that the RAS is the closest thing we have to a trade union for our science. So I am genuinely thrilled to be recognized by an institution so close to my heart, and looking at the names of past winners is deeply humbling.

What got you interested in science? Three factors: one, my school physics teacher, an outstanding and charismatic man called Len Goldsmith; two, it was the only thing that I was any good at; and three, it was innately interesting. I should also mention Ted Sorensen , JFK's brilliant speechwriter, for the words: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” – words that spoke directly to the new confident mood of my My Generation generation. I remember thinking “I´d like to be part of that!”

Why should anyone study astronomy or science now? If you long to know the way that things really are, and why they are the way that they are, it's the only thing to do.

Where would you go if you had a TARDIS? I would pack it with instrumentation and return to September 1859 to make proper measurements of the Carrington solar flare and its after–effects. After a brief onward visit to the Maunder minimum, I'd return to the present and provide much of what we need to underpin space-weather hazard planning.

What gets you up in the mornings? Working with PhD students. I love watching them develop from wonderful young people into wonderful young people with honed technical skills, deep knowledge, quiet confidence and the belief that they can make a real difference to science and society.

What keeps you awake at night? Short–termism and the inability of key individuals to understand how important it will be to exploit all our talent, irrespective of social class, wealth, ethnicity or gender. After a post–war flowering of opportunity and creativity – the rewards of which we still reap today – I worry that we are returning to a society that does not understand just how important this will be to us all, particularly in a world that is changing so fast and in so many ways. Also Niels Bohr once said: “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it” – the same is true today of the implications of climate change.

What do you do for fun? I play guitar in a rock band called Dumber Than Chickens , but growing families mean that we haven´t played for a while. Also, I now have three lovely granddaughters, all under four, and being with them is endlessly entertaining and a pure delight.

What is your biggest mistake? How long have you got? I do try to not worry too much about mistakes - particularly those that happen because I was trying something new or to push boundaries. I regard heroic failures as a good thing, it's dismal failures that must be avoided. When I do make a mistake I try to work out why and use it to improve the set of mental processes that we call “judgement”, but then not dwell on it beyond that. That's what I try to do, but failing in that is my most persistent, if not my biggest, mistake.

Who is the most influential person you have met? Richard Feynman : a charismatic, generous and iconoclastic man as well as a supremely talented one. He came to Auckland, New Zealand when I was a postdoc there, to lecture on quantum electrodynamics. I learned so much from him about how to make science interesting, accessible and fun – as well as how to get your message over and how scientists could and should behave, particularly towards the younger generation. To have a Nobel laureate taking a genuine interest in me, a humble postdoc, and what I was working on was more than just inspirational.

What is your greatest regret? I have two big ones. Out of a mixture of parental pride and really not knowing anything about how rare an honour it is, my lovely Dad was always certain that I'd become an FRS one day. He died just a couple of years before it happened; he'd have loved the induction day with his amazing ability to work any room and to entertain and charm all that he spoke to. I console myself with the thought that he never had a single moment of doubt that the day would come. But also I must mention two other people who have given me massive support, my wife and my sister. I get to thank my wife often but my sister, like our mother before her, died too young from respiratory disease. Even from a very early age, sister Sue was always a great believer in me and a very skillful motivator, I wish I had found ways to thank her more.

Of what are you most proud? Most proud - my two wonderful children; but I do also sometimes have cause to re-read a past paper and think “We did a really good job there”

What are you working on now? I'm looking for more ways to extract information about the past variations of the Sun and the effects that they had on the terrestrial environment. To make further progress we need much more sophisticated methods and better models. ESA´s Solar Orbiter mission will provide exciting new insights and I am really happy to be part of the superb combined magnetometer and magnetograph package that Tim Horbury has put together.

What are you looking forward to in the next 10 years? My prime aims are to establish and assist the next generation of researchers who will take the science to new levels. But I hope to contribute myself – Solar Orbiter will be launched in 2018 and I am looking forward to other opportunities such as the EISCAT–3D radar .

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Michael (Mike) Lockwood CV
generated by Mike, October 2015
updated 3 1 / 0 5 / 2 0 1 7

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