Seven Questions with... Nour Skaf

Nour Skaf

Nour Skaf

This week, Nour - who was recently awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO Prize for Women in Science - chats to us about her favourite spot in London for cheese samples and an exciting (and insomnia inducing!) planetary discovery.

What are you studying, why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?

I am a PhD candidate in astronomy and astrophysics. I study exoplanets - planets that rotate around stars other than the sun. I have been passionate about the universe since high school, it is for me a lot more than a scientific topic. I would love to be able to continue doing research and to push the limits of human knowledge. Sharing my knowledge with science communication is also dear to my heart.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?

I have been working in an exoplanet group, which is also where I worked on an AI algorithm to directly detect exoplanets. This was a fascinating project, with fantastic researchers. It was around that time that the first exoplanet in the habitable zone of its star - with water in its atmosphere - was discovered. An exciting discovery that gave me insomnia for days!

Have you discovered any hidden gem during your time at UCL?

There are several sweet spots on campus and around. What moved me the most were the people in the exoplanet group. It felt like having a real professional family - a feeling I never before experienced in any other research group.

Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London:

  • Get lost exploring the museums
  • Get a ton of cheese samples at Borough Market (can you tell I am French?)
  • Check out the VR exhibitions at the Science Museum
  • What one thing would you like to see in a post-COVID world?

    I would like to see more action for the environment.

    Who inspires you and why?

    It really depends on the moment - it varies a lot. I love having many role models, exploring their personalities and learning from them. These days, I am all into the Sufi poet Rumi - his poems on love resonate a lot and help me to develop my emotions towards the starry sky that I love admiring, the universe, science, and life in general.

    What would it surprise people to know about you?

    They may be surprised to see how much of an imposter I actually am. But a happy imposter. :)


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