• Individual Members
  • Early Career Members
  • Student Members
  • Corporate Members
  • SPIE Professional Magazine
  • Visiting Lecturers
  • Women In Optics
  • Women in Optics Events
    Women in Optics Planner
    2018 WiO Planner
    2017 WiO Planner
    2016 WiO Planner
    2015 WiO Planner
    2014 WiO Planner
    2013 WiO Planner
    2012 WiO Planner
    2011 WiO Planner
    2010 WiO Planner
    2009 WiO Planner
    2008 WiO Planner
    2007 WiO Planner
    2006 WiO Planner
    2005 WiO Planner
    Women in Optics Videos
    Women in Optics Survey
    Women in Optics Funding
  • BACUS Technical Group
Print PageEmail Page

Gillian Wright

Director of the UK-ATC & European PI for the JWST MIRI instrument, UK
Country of Birth: Scotland

Educational Background: PhD Physics, Imperial College, University of London, UK; BSc Natural Philosophy (Physics), University of Glasgow, UK

Gillian WrightWho or what inspired you to work in science/engineering?
I was interested in science from a very young age and like many growing up in the 1960s, I watched the space race with great excitement. Another key influence was a British television programme called "Tomorrow's World," which showed how science and technology would change the future for the better - my class prizes at primary school inevitably included books from that show. There was also Patrick Moore and "The Sky at Night" - on dark winter nights, identifying the constellations mentioned as I walked home from Girl Guide meetings was great fun.

What are the primary responsibilities of your current job?
As Director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, I am responsible for the overall work of approximately 60 engineers and scientists. I work with academics from universities, as well as colleagues in the national labs of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. I am also the European principle investigator for the MIRI instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope, which means I lead the team that is responsible for building our share of the instrument. My work involves a stimulating mixture of scientific research, problem solving for technical issues, and people management.

What is the biggest challenge you have overcome in your career?
When I started, it was still unusual and unexpected for a girl to study math and physics at university. I was just very determined to be scientist and study the subjects that interested me and I was good at. With hindsight, I see that "social attitudes" were not helpful in general. It's hard to point to specific incidents - it was the cumulative effect of many small things. The situation is different now, with great improvements particularly in the last decade.