Interview: Professor Isobel Hook

Professor Isobel Hook is currently a Professor of Astrophysics at Lancaster University. Her research focuses on distant supernova cosmology, using supernovae to probe constraints on the nature of dark energy, as well as predicting the feasibility of future telescope surveys. She is involved in a variety of prominent telescope projects such as the LSST (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope), 4MOST (4-metre Multi-Object Spectroscopic Telescope), E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope), and ESA’s EUCLID project. Being part of large multi-national collaborations allows Professor Isobel Hook to further her own research, by having access to facilities provided through involvement with various telescope projects.

1.jpgBefore coming to Lancaster, Hook worked in many different places across the world. Her interest in astronomy began very early on, taking inspiration from her babysitter, a lecturer in astronomy from America. She completed a degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, and stayed on to pursue a PhD, working on obtaining spectroscopy of distant quasar candidates at high redshifts. After her PhD, Hook began travelling to do work where she wanted, taking the opportunities to do so whenever they became available.

The next stop for Hook after England was America, where she carried out her postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, looking at high redshift supernovae spectroscopy. She was part of the team led by Saul Perlmutter that provided evidence for the accelerated expansion of the universe. Since then, Hook has been focusing her research on supernovae.

Following Berkeley, Hook then moved to the European Southern Observatory in Germany for another postdoctoral position. She then travelled to the Gemini North Observatory in Hawaii to work on instrumentation for the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph, and then to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, continuing her work in instrumentation. Staying in Europe, Hook then found herself working between two places; at Oxford University as part of the Gemini support group and at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy (INAF), where she met her husband.

Hook was a professor in astrophysics at Oxford University before she moved to Lancaster University, where she now works and lives. Having moved around so much during her dynamic career, she is finally glad to be able to remain in one place and settle down after following an unconventional route into a lectureship. Upon joining Lancaster University, she took on the role as Chair of The Equality and Diversity Committee which works to promote gender and ethnic diversity within the Physics Department. As chair, she found that the effort to promote diversity and equality was very much embedded within the department and that all staff were onboard with the initiative. Lancaster’s Physics Department has won the Athena Swan Charter Silver Award and the Juno Champion Award for their efforts in improving gender balance in recruitment and retainment of staff and students.

On being asked whether she would follow the same path after leaving university, Hook said it was not worth thinking how different things would have been if a different choice was made and that “You shouldn’t worry about it too much”. She advises students planning their future careers to talk to different people and explore the career paths they took, and take advice from them. It can be difficult to know what you want, and her advice on this was to decide on what you want and stick with it!


Physicsopeningcrop.jpgProfessor Isobel Hook, Professor Roger Jones, the Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology Professor Peter Atkinson