Jim Barrett

Favourite Thing: I like finding order in chaos; like when you look at some measurements of a star that look completely random, then with a little mathematical trickery you find a planet orbiting it.



University of Birmingham (2009-2013), Benjamin Britten High School (2004-2009)


MSci Physics, AAA (A-levels, Physics, Maths, Further Maths), A*AAAABBBC (GCSEs)

Work History:

Software Developer at The Phoenix Partnership (Leeds)

Current Job:

PhD Researcher in Astrophysics


University of Birmingham

My STFC facility

Me and my work

I look for cool astrophysics in data that’s so messy, no one else can see it.

Noise is the word that we use to describe all of the junk in our data that we wish wasn’t there. Maybe it was a windy day and our telescope was wobbling, or maybe there were a bunch of clouds overhead, or maybe the person operating the telescope was just having a really bad day.

Most of my work is all about understanding noise, and I’m in the process of writing a computer program that can do this really quickly.

I then use this program to analyse lots of cool data that other people have looked at and not been able to find anything. Right now, I’m looking at some measurements from a star called Aldebaran (which you can actually see at night!). I managed to confirm the existence of a big planet orbiting it, but I also was able to see evidence of the rippling of the surface of the star itself (something which no-ones seen before!)

My Typical Day

I typically spend most days writing lots of computer code and drinking lots of coffee!

Being a scientist usually means you can often work very flexible hours. I make full use of this and usually get up around 9.30, shower and walk to work, arriving around 10.30.

I then work my way through any admin I’ve got to do, emails and so on, before meeting some of my colleagues for 11 o’clock coffee! Here we usually talk about all kinds of things, but the conversation inevitably ends up back at physics, which is often a very helpful way of seeing your own problems from a different angle, and keeping in touch with what your friends/colleagues are working on.

Then I do an hour or so of work. Usually I start thinking really hard about what I want to achieve for the rest of the day, and how I might go about doing that. I might read some academic papers, or watch a tutorial online, or maybe chat with my colleagues some more about my ideas.

Then I go for lunch, typically sandwiches from the local shop (lazy, I know!), then back to the office for a solid 4-5 hour stretch of work. This is where the real work gets done for me!

What I'd do with the money

I would use the money to develop and host some web-based games that demonstrate some of the ideas behind astrophysics and data analysis

Explaining the actual work I do day to day can be quite difficult to explain to people who don’t already know a lot of maths or computer programming.

During my PhD I’ve had a few different ideas of some fun games that I could program which would also give valuable insight into the way the really technical, behind the scenes bits of my work actually operate.

For example, I use a technique in a lot of my work called Bayesian Inference. If you look at the Wikipedia page, you’ll see the maths, and it looks horrible!. However, if you ignore the maths, the ideas are really simple, and I have an idea for a Dance Dance revolution style game which could show just how simple they are.

If I won the money, hire a young student to help me put my ideas into practise, and then buy a domain and rent some web-hosting so that anyone and everyone can play.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Geeky Physics Guy

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Led Zeppelin

What's your favourite food?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

What did you want to be after you left school?

A journalist, then a lawyer, then a vet, then a physicist (I’m indecisive!)

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not really

What was your favourite subject at school?


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

Confirming the Existence of a Planet

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always loved puzzles, so maths and then physics followed naturally :)

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

A Computer Programmer

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

1. To get an academic job after my PhD 2. To be able to work outside of the UK for a while 3. Win a load of money :p

Tell us a joke.

I know a neat trick to recite loads of digits of pi easily…. just don’t start at the beginning!

Other stuff

Work photos: