Karen Masters

Sad I was the first to go. Will still answer some more questions if I have time.

Favourite Thing: I like to go observing. I love the twilight time before the night has really started, when all the big telescopes are getting ready to start. I wonder what they might discover that night. I also like looking at beautiful images of the night sky.



1993-1995 The Coleshill School, Coleshill (11-16);1995-1997 King Edward Sixth Form College, Nuneaton (A-levels in Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Further Maths)


1997-2000: Oxford University (Wadham College), BA in Physics; 2000-2005: Cornell University (USA), MA and PhD in Astronomy

Work History:

I was a researcher at Harvard University from 2005-2008. I’ve worked at Portsmouth University since 2008. When I was 19 I spent a summer working at the Davis Planetarium at the Maryland Science Center (in the USA). As an A-level student I worked part-time in a pub.


Portsmouth University

Current Job:

Astronomer (research scientist).

Me and my work

I try to understand galaxies, with the help of citizen scientist at Galaxy Zoo.

Galaxy Zoo (link) is an internet based project where anyone can contribute to astronomy. If you log onto the site you will be asked to help astronomers classify galaxies by how they look.

In my research I use the information which has been collected by Galaxy Zoo over the last 4 years along with other information about galaxies (like how many stars they have, what colours those stars are etc) to try to learn about how different galaxies in our universe might have formed and how they transform over time.

Last year I made the below video for National Science and Engineering Week where I talk about why I like to study galaxies.

(done in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth’s Creative Technologies Department, this was shown on BBC Big Screens across the country).

My Typical Day

After dropping my children off at school and nursery I usually work at a computer, writing (papers, or blogs or other articles), making presentations, or working on data analysis.

Here’s me at my desk at work


One of the best things about my job I think is the variety of tasks. For example today after I write this I’m then going finish getting ready for a school visit where I’ll give two talks. One about the scale of the Universe, and the other about why the world won’t end later this year.

Another task on my to do list today it to make a different plot looking at correlations of bars from Galaxy Zoo with the amount of star formation fuel in a galaxy. I was talking about what I see with another scientist recently, and he suggested a different way of looking at the data might help. So later on I’ll try that.

A beautiful barred spiral imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. I want to understand what this bar (the line across the centre) might be doing to the galaxy.


(read more about this image in a Galaxy Zoo blog post I wrote about it).

What I'd do with the money

I will use it to help buy equipment to show people (and especially children) the universe.

I will use about half of the money to buy a telescope which can track the sky to help in our “Astronomy in the City” outreach. I want to buy an easy to use telescope specifically to help young children get their first look at the stars. I want it to track so I can talk to people about what they’re seeing instead of spending time adjusting what the telescope looks at.


I will use the other half to buy models of the solar system which I will take on my visits to local primary schools. I will use the model in a demo about the scale of the universe and then leave it behind for the school to use.


(My colleage Claudia Maraston recently visited a local primary with the model planets, and got this great picture, but we couldn’t leave this set behind as it’s the only one we have!).

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?


Who is your favourite singer or band?

Well I decided to let my copy of iTunes tell me this using the “most played song”. Unfortunately (and perhaps not surprisingly) it’s my kids favourite not mine – Snuggle Puppy, by the Philadelphia Chickens! ;) The most played belonging to me not the kids is Dido, Life for Rent.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Sitting on the beach in Hawaii with my 3 month old daughter after having attended the American Astronomical Society meeting there has to be pretty high on the list.

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

I would like to live to see my kids grow up into happy adults. I want to feel like I’m helping to make the world a better place. I would like to be able to be able to stop worrying if I will have a long term career in science.

What did you want to be after you left school?

For a long time I wanted to be an astronaut, then decided keeping my feet on the ground while looking up at space might be better!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not really. As a girl interested in math/science I just kind of kept my head down and got on with it most of the time. At school I really enjoyed most subjects.

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

I once had a day which involved both tramping around in a muddy field with bits of telescopes and having a fancy black-tie dinner with the future Prime Minister (and 400 other people). That really brought home to me the variety of experiences being a scientist can provide!

Tell us a joke.

Well the Zooites have a whole lot of Galaxy Zoo based jokes. My favourite (perhaps not exactly a joke) is “Ellipticals are red, spirals are blue, at least so we thought until Galaxy Zoo”.