IAU-Kavli Symposium, Durham University

IAU-Kavli Symposium, Durham University

An astrobiology symposium was convened last week at Durham University, UK. The conference brought together a multidisciplinary range of leading experts to discuss the search for extraterrestrial life, the emergence of life on Earth and how to communicate this exciting field with the media and wider public audience. Europlanet was represented through a crewed stand for the week.

The symposium was supported by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), The Kavli Foundation, Durham University, Breakthrough Initiatives and 4Ward Futures.

Group photo of participants in the IAU-Kavli Symposium held at Durham University in April 2024.
Group photo of participants in the IAU-Kavli Symposium held at Durham University in April 2024. Credit: Durham University.

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EXPLORE Career Profiles: Vix Southgate

EXPLORE Career Profiles

Name: Vix Southgate
EXPLORE Project Role: Communication Support
Professional Role and Affiliation: Creative Communication and VIP Manager, Vixen UK
Nationality: British
Current location: Chesterfield, UK

1. What did you want to be when you were 10?

Aged 10? That’s a good question, thinking back to where I was when I was 10; I was being bullied at junior school and, as a result, my interest in education was non-existent, my future hopes were merely to survive until I could move schools. So I dreamed of being famous – mainly because I saw this as being the complete opposite of where I was – the reality of fame is that celebrities are targeted even more by bullies (or trolls as they are now known), so I’m glad I changed that dream and didn’t take the role I was offered, as Vicky in Coronation Street, aged 15. I never really knew what I wanted to be – still don’t, but it’s been an amazing journey and fun adventure so far! 

2. What was your favourite subject at school?

I enjoyed art, technical drawing, languages and history, anything creative or information that was relevant to my life. 

3. What did you study at university? Why did you choose those topics and the places to study?

I did not do a degree, but left school after GCSES (aged 15) and went to Art College BTEC ND (National Diploma) in general art and design and photography; I then went on to a BTEC HND (Higher National Diploma) in Historic Decorative Crafts, because this course brought together all my passions, creativity through decorative arts, woodworking, photography, and technical drawing, as well as my love of history – in this case the history of art and architecture. To my surprise, it also had an element on Chemistry, in the form of paint technology, which I enjoyed, and even though my science results at GCSE were dreadful, I excelled at this, as it was relevant and interesting.

4. How did you get your first job? How many jobs have you had since?

My first job was a paper round aged 13, because I wanted to be able to buy my own Beano comics! My first proper job since leaving university was as a self-employed bespoke furniture maker, but I was making items for people who knew me and were helping me build a portfolio.  I would say my first BIG break was a year in, when I landed the job of painting ALL the new signs for the Emmerdale set, my Woolpack sign was on the show for 25 years (it was replace in Dec 2022 after the plot writers set fire to the Woolpack)! 

Occasionally, I had to supplement my income with temporary employment (which is fun and I am able to add new skills to my business skillset, which all helps with future employment) I’ve worked in most industries, and learned as much as I could with every job I have had.

5. What’s been the biggest piece of luck or ‘surprise twist’ you have had in your career to date?

Whilst there has been a huge element of luck throughout my career, that luck has always come along when I work hard to building a route to that moment that provides the big break. However, I think my transition into the space sector is the biggest surprise twist! I never had an interest in space, beyond supporting my Brother who has dedicated his life to Astrophysics. I thought of space as his universe, not mine, but then (after life-changing surgery which forced me to look at a new career) I found the technical/engineering side and fell in love with the passion of others in this sector.  

6. Have you had a mentor or person that inspired you? How did they help you?

For my initial career my mentors and inspirations were my tutors and the mastercraftsmen of history. In the space sector, I would say it is everyone I meet, everyone has an inspirational story to tell and it is the most collaborative and supportive industry I have worked in.

7. What are the main things you do each day?

Each day is different. There are the usual admin tasks, prioritising tasks, email, social media, etc and sometimes I am doing research for a book or article, or proofreading, editing, designing graphics or logos, or following-up regarding events or potential leads (future work). Networking and keeping in touch with my connections is also high on my every-day to do list. 

8. What do you like best about the work that you do and what do you like least?

I love the variety of jobs I do and the great potential to move in any direction I want to. I have the flexibility to follow new paths -and the unknown is so exciting, and terrifying!  
I dislike the uncertainty of where the next contract or payment is coming from, but over the decades I have found a formula that works for me ‘most of the time’! 

9. Do you have ambitions or things that you would like to do next?

I have so many dreams and projects that I have started and want to finish, but my main ambition is to continue to make a difference and support future generations. 

10. What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

I would not change the advice I gave myself, aged 10, and that was that ‘you will be fine’! What helps me is; to focus on the positives of each day and leave the negativity behind. Surround yourself with people that support you and celebrate your successes with you (not those who try to bring you down). Every new day is a new opportunity to learn and succeed, but also ‘do not fear failure’ it is through failing that I have learned the most and found my greatest successes!

Quick CV

  • Academic qualifications
    • GCSEs: Maths, Eng Lang, Eng Lit, French, Spanish, History, Art, Chemistry, Physics.
    • BTEC ND: General Art & Design and A-Levels: Art
    • BTEC HND: Historic Decorative CraftsYHAFE: Teacher Training
  • Main or selected jobs to date: 
    • Self employed: (1996-present) This has included bespoke woodwork; stately home restoration; theatre, TV and film production design; painting and decorating; graphic design; signwriting; motorbike repair and custom paint jobs; church restoration and woodwork; antique restoration; author and illustrator of childrens books; publishing; editing; marketing and PR; creative communications; business and design consultancy; events coordination; VIP management and scheduling; et al.
    • Capital One: (2000-2002) Customer service; creative communications; magazine editor; incentives manager.

More EXPLORE Career Profiles

EXPLORE has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004214.

Supporting UK and Hungarian Industry Collaborations

Supporting UK and Hungarian Industry Collaborations

Two overarching objectives of Europlanet are to foster industry-academic collaboration and to widen participation from under-represented states in Europe and around the world. Last week, there were opportunities to support both these aims at the UK Space Conference in Belfast and an event at the Hungarian Embassy in London.

At the UK Space Conference from 21-23 November, Europlanet shared a stand with the Hungarian Space Cluster (Hunspace). Over the course of the meeting, we met with many members of the UK and international community, in particular with early career researchers. We were particularly delighted to meet and take part in discussion sessions with the space clusters that represent the different space communities across the UK. Plenary sessions featured discussions on exploration of our Solar Sytem and the technical challenges involved.

On Friday 24 November, we were privileged to be hosted by the Hungarian Embassy in London for a meeting of the UK and Hungarian Space Communities. We were welcomed by Orsolya Ferencz, Ministerial Commissioner  Hungarian  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and by the Hungarian Ambassador to London, Ferenc Kumin. Nigel Mason (Europlanet 2024 RI Coordinator) and Zsolt Fulop (Chair of the research infrastructure committee in Hungary) kicked off proceedings. Tomas Barzy (Admatis) gave an overview of the Hunspace cluster’s membership, remit and history. Presentations by Hungarian and UK space industry and organisations were followed by a round-table discussion. Many thanks to Gábor Takács-Carvalho and all the team at the Hungarian Embassy for their hospitality.

Full reports on both events will be published soon.

Results of Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme 2023

Results of Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme 2023

The results have been announced of a call by the Europlanet Society to support funding proposals of €1000 to €5000 from its Regional Hubs, Committees and Working Groups and the Society Membership. Five projects have been supported in 2023:

French Hub proposal: Careers workshop at French Planetary Science Congress (€4900)

The French Planetary Science Congress will be held in Nantes in July 2024 conjointly with the French Astrobiology Society (SFE) and National Programme for Planetary Science (PNP), where two days will be devoted to astrobiology topics and two others to planetary science more generally. Funding was requested from the Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme to support a one-day workshop devoted to early career researchers focussed on careers in planetary science, divided into talks from industry and academia about their diverse career paths, and workshops on topics such as “CV writing for industry”, “writing a good research grant”, a poster session in the afternoon will allow attendees to exchange with the invited speakers and other researchers at the conference. The whole event will be in French to maximise interaction between the masters and PhD students and the presenters.

Spain Portugal Hub proposal: Pro-Am occultations campaigns with a portable telescope (€3300)

Occultations of stars by small Solar System bodies provide relevant information about their atmosphere, rings, satellites and morphology. The most interesting results are usually obtained when several different chords of the same occultation event are gathered. Therefore, it is usually necessary to deploy different instruments across the predicted shadow path in order to maximise the probability of capturing relevant data.

Several members of the Sociedad Astronómica Granadina (an amateur astronomy group from the south of Spain) have collaborated in dozens of different ProAm occultation campaigns promoted by the IAA and other organizations, specially those involving transneptunian objects, Jupiter trojans and NEOs. Those campaigns usually involve traveling (sometimes thousands of kilometers) in order to correctly position the telescopes and auxiliary gear. To continue and improve collaborations, funding was requested from the Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme to acquire a more powerful (but still portable) telescope to obtain occultation data of fainter stars.

Central Europe Hub proposal: Orionids 2023 (€1400)

Funding was requested from the Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme to support “Orionids 2023”, a meteor astro-camp. During a weekend workshop that will take place in Banská Štiavnica, in central Slovakia, different astrophysicist and astronomers amateur will provide lectures about how to observe meteor showers and secondary meteor showers in a classical traditional way. This seminar will teach the participants how to be prepared theoretically for such an observation, what methodology (IMO) to use and how to practically observe a meteor shower in general. Afterwards, it will be given the knowledge of submitting the results in the IMO database. Another aim of the project is to teach a new lecturing team in order to maintain visual observation discipline, also nowadays in modern digital times. The plan for the future is to organize the observation of meteor showers at least 3 times a year. The best possibilities would be in Slovak dark sky parks or another convenient location. The expected number of participants of the Orionids 2023 is 12 with 4 lecturers. The first Orionids astro-camp is planned in Slovakia but international participants are also welcome

Central Europe Hub: Variable stars and exoplanet research meeting – support for international audience (€3060)

The Czech Variable stars meeting is traditionally organised by the Czech Astronomical Society, Variable stars and exoplanet section, association of professional and amateur astronomers predominantly from the Czech Republic, but also members from other european countries. This meeting has a long history, the last 54th meeting took place in November 2022 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Average audience is between 50 and 100 participants, including online audience. Various topics with focus on pro-am research of variable stars and exoplanets are discussed. With the incresing number of international collaboration, there is a rise of international audience of the meeting. Last year’s meeting was also held in hybrid form. Funding was requested from the Europlanet Society to broaden focus of the meeting to the Central European international audience by formally dividing the meeting to consecutive international and Czech/Slovak sections, advertising the meeting on the European level and providing support for in-person participants – amateur astronomers and students. The support will comprise travel bursaries and support with translation of presentations and other material into English. Since 2021 there is also an student section in the form of a competition organised, where also students from other countries can participate.

Ireland-UK Hub: Europlanet Early-Career Networking at the British Planetary Science Conference 2024 (€4380)

The British Planetary Science Conference (BPSC) 2024 has been awarded by the UK Planetary Forum to Space Park Leicester (SPL). It will be held in June 2024 at Space Park and the adjacent National Space Centre in Leicester. Europlanet sponsorship was requested to raise awareness of society membership benefits in the UK. BPSC will start with a 1-day workshop for those new to the space and planetary science community, where experienced SPL engineers and project managers will lead examples of how space instruments and missions are developed. This will help facilitate wider access to new space exploration initiatives in the planetary and space science community, and is particularly focussed on connecting early-career researchers to new opportunities. The main 3-day part of the conference will consist of oral and poster sessions reflecting the range of topical planetary and space science activities in the UK, including results from sample return missions, Mars exploration, the Gas and Ice Giants, meteorites, Mercury. The main conference will also have an emphasis on careers and EDI, with input on careers in the space industry. On the final day will include a community consultation day with UKSA, STFC, and other interested stakeholders like Europlanet.

South East Europe Hub: Terrestrial Analogues for Solar System Studies Conference (€5000)

Co-funding was requested from the Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme for an already designed planetary-themed conference to be held in Greece, in the island of Milos, during the summer of 2024. The conference has both scientific and policy aspects, and aims to bring together planetary scientists from all over the world, with an emphasis on students and early career participants from Southeastern Europe, in a location of great relevance and interest for planetary geologic topics – the island of Milos. This region has experienced young volcanism and tectonism (Mars, Pluto), has undergone atmospheric shaping of volcanic deposits, and carving into yardangs (Mars, Titan, Venus, Pluto), and has current hydrothermal and fumarolic activity (Venus, Io, exoplanets). The conference will offer a combination of lectures, science discussions and filed trips, as well as policy and industry related discussions in a dedicated session. Planetary scientists with experience in field geology will interact with those who typically do modeling or laboratory studies, furthering the cross communication of topics and improving the research approach for all participants to lead to a better understanding.

EPEC: Early Career Activities at DPS-EPSC 2023 (€900)

EPEC has organised a programme of events for early career researchers at the joint DPS-EPSC meeting in October 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. The planned activities include a short course on mental health, a social event, mentoring for first-time attendees and the EPEC general assembly. In addition, EPEC will have a booth to help early careers find their way around and inform them about our work.

Find out more about the Committee Funding Scheme.

Outreach and Public Engagement after Covid Session at EAS 2022

Outreach and Public Engagement after Covid Session at EAS 2022

The impact of Covid-19 led to a dramatic change in the landscape of public engagement, which overnight transformed from “hands on” to entirely virtual delivery. Appreciation of astronomy briefly enjoyed a higher profile, with views of the sky connecting us to the wider universe while confined to our homes. Virtual access has enabled the astronomy community to reach audiences that could not normally attend “face to face” outreach sessions, but it has simultaneously widened the gap for disadvantaged communities without access to the technology needed for online engagement.

At the European Astronomical Society (EAS) 2022 Annual Meeting in Valencia from 27 June – 1 July, the astronomy outreach community took the opportunity to come together and discuss some of these issues.

In particular, participants were asked to consider for public engagement in the years ahead:

  • Is the increase in virtual outreach initiatives “the new normal”, or is “face to face” vital for engaging marginalised communities on the wrong side of the digital divide?
  • What does this mean for collaboration across Europe and further afield? 
  • How has public perception of science changed during the pandemic and what does this mean for the outreach community?

Over a lunch session on Monday 27 June attended by around 60 participants, we heard from a number of speakers and then had an open discussion of our experiences over the past two and a half years. While the general consensus in the room was that face-to-face interaction is very important for outreach and public engagement and that the return to in-person events is very positive, the impact of Covid remains an ongoing issue – not least in that several of the scheduled speakers were unfortunately unable to take part in the session due to positive tests. The benefits of hybrid meetings for sustainability and inclusion were also a topic of much discussion at EAS 2022 in the wider context of conferences and events.

If you missed the session, some of the presentations and virtual posters are provided here with kind permission of the authors:

Astro-lògos: stories of the history of the Universe. A science-art project inspired by Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, Claudia Mignone

Increasing the science outreach in Romania during the pandemic, Sandor Kruk

Communicating science worldwide with the International Day of LightGeethu Paulose

AstroEDU, IAU open-access platform for peer-reviewed Educational ActivitiesLivia Giacomini

Inspiring the Next Generation of Space and Planetary Scientists: The 2022 EXPLORE Junior Lunar Data ChallengeDaniel Le Corre

Planets In A Room and how hands-on activities has been forced to switch to onlineFederica Duras

Bringing the night sky to Italian living rooms via livestream eventsClaudia Mignone

Regional Hubs at EPSC2021

Regional Hubs at EPSC2021

Let us show you how the Europlanet Society and its regional hubs can serve you. We will present you the benefits of joining the hubs and will gladly hear about your needs.

12:45 Welcome (Séverine Robert)

12:50 Why am I a member of the EPS? (Miguel Lopez Valverde)

12:55 Funded project: Mars Atlas (Henrik Hargitai)

13:05 Why am I a member of the EPS? (Jonathan Merrison)

13:10 Funded project: Storytelling workshop (Arianna Piccialli)

13:20 Why am I a member of the EPS? (Nicholas Achilleos)

13:25 Collaborative framework: Europlanet Telescope Network (Manuel Scherf)

13:35 Why am I a member of the EPS? (Lena Noack)

13:40 General discussion: What do you want the EPS to do for you? (All Panelists)

14:10 Wrap up (Séverine Robert)

14:15 End of meeting


The Europlanet Society Regional Hubs support the development of planetary science at a national and regional level, particularly in countries and areas that are currently under-represented within the community.

Our Hub Committees organise networking events and workshops to support the research community, as well as to build links with amateur astronomers, industrial partners, policymakers, educators, the media and the wider public. Europlanet Society members are welcome to participate in the activities of one or more Hubs.

The 10 Regional Hubs established to date are:

Ireland-UK Hub Meetings

Ireland-UK Hub Meetings

The Ireland-UK Hub is supporting the British Planetary Science Congress (BPSC) 2024 in Leicester. Find out more.

Find out more about previous Ireland-UK Hub Meetings:

Banner for 1st Ireland-UK Regional Hub Meeting
Banner for 1st Ireland-UK Regional Hub Meeting


Banner for 2nd Ireland-UK Regional Hub Meeting
Banner for 2nd Ireland-UK Regional Hub Meeting