Meet our new Head of School
7 November 2023
Professor Haley Gomez MBE appointed new Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy.
Professor Gomez has been part of Cardiff University’s community for over twenty years. After graduating with a MPhys Astrophysics in 2001, she went on to do a PhD under the supervision of Professors Mike Edmunds and Steve Eales. She was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s prize for best doctoral thesis in 2004, and after a research fellowship, became a School of Physics and Astronomy lecturer in 2014 and a professor in 2015.
Professor Gomez's research focuses on the origin of cosmic dust in the universe, specifically, whether the titanic explosions of massive stars are responsible for polluting galaxies with dust.
In 2018, Professor Gomez was awarded an MBE for her research and public engagement work, which includes outreach activities for schools, teachers and the public.
What sparked your interest in astronomy?
I’ve always loved astronomy since I was very young. I wanted to study the Universe and find out about all the things we don’t know yet. I really fell in love with the subject when I was doing my A levels and had a really supportive maths teacher, who showed me a book about a scientist called Vera Rubin – she was one of the first people to discover dark matter and from that moment I was hooked.
Can you sum up your research in a nutshell?
I’m trying to understand the origins of cosmic dust – the tiny, solid particles in space that can clump together to form giant dust grains, which are basically rocky planets. To ask about the origins of dust is to investigate the origins of the Earth and life itself. I’m really keen to find out when these dust grains first appeared in the Universe because that will help us find out when the first planets were created, so I use space telescopes and telescopes on the ground to try to answer that fundamental question.
As well as research and teaching, you’ve had several public engagement roles (both within and outside of the University). Why is this important to you?
I think it’s really important that we, as scientists, engage with our communities. As someone who came from a low socio-economic background and is part of a minority group, firstly studying physics and then working in academia, I think it’s really important to get out there and talk to the community and engage with them.
The message I am trying to convey is that physicists can be female – that anybody can be a physicist if they want to. There shouldn’t be any barriers for anyone studying physics. So I think it’s important for someone like me lucky enough to have become a physicist and an academic to engage with our community and particularly to help schoolchildren in realising their potential.
Who inspires you?
The famous female astronomer Vera Rubin is one of the people who most inspires me. Reading about her as a child made me realise how trailblazing she was – there weren’t even female toilets at the institute where she worked. I remember thinking that I wanted to do what she did and discover something brand new about the Universe.
I am also inspired by my colleagues here at Cardiff. I’m enormously grateful for the support I’ve had from all of my fellow colleagues, but in particular my female colleagues who have been role models for me. I am really inspired by the amazing things they do every day and I feel really lucky to work with them.
What’s important to you in your role as Head of School, and what are you hoping to achieve?
For me, one of the important things as Head of School is to bring people together – to move on from the pandemic and lockdown and to try and get our community feeling back. I want to support all of the staff in our School to reach their potential. We have so many great things happening in Physics and Astronomy and I want to build on that and support staff in being able to realise the wonderful things that they’re trying to do - my job is to help them be brilliant. What I would like to achieve as Head of School is to make sure our staff are happy and able to do their best work.
Is there anything you’d like to share with our physics and astronomy students?
Our students have been through a lot, and are still going through a lot with everything happening around the world. What I want to say to our students is that we’re here for you, and as part of our community, we will do our best to support you – to help you learn, to help you grow in your career, in your social skills and transferable skills. So talk to us because we care about you!
Watch Professor Gomez's interview on YouTube.