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Department of Physics

Graduate profile: Amy

Amy Foster

From: Yorkshire

Currently: TV producer

Ending up at Durham was quite the accident. It went something along the lines of "wow, that castle is pretty, I'd really live there?!" and the rest, as they say, is history. So, I left the land of dales and Yorkshire puddings (well, Harvey Nic's and a bad football team at least) in 1999, to begin a degree in physics. After my first year, I realised that I had a love for astronomy, and a slight dislike of things to do with electrons, and so changed my degree title to B.Sc. in Physics and Astronomy, and did an astronomy project in my final year. This turned out to be one of the wiser decisions I have ever made, as I had the best time doing my final year project. There is no feeling like running across Kingsgate Bridge at 10pm under clear skies only to arrive at the Physics Department to a cloud-filled sky! Argh! The opportunity to use the telescopes made it all worthwhile though – it was definitely my favourite part of my degree.

After graduating in 2002 with a 2:2, I did an M.Sc. in Communicating Science in Cardiff which predominantly involved learning the in's and out's of science centres and, best of all, planetariums. I applied to do an internship in a planetarium in Florida and moved over there for a year to be the Buehler Planetarium Intern, a great honour in the planetarium field, and of course a great sacrifice for me. Terrible – being surrounded by palm trees, permanent blue skies and sunshine – such sacrifices in the name of education!

My internship ended in 2003, and with no visa, I had to leave the country before I was fed to the Bush administration. I came home and had to find something to do, so I wrote a few letters to some TV people. I figured I was well-educated and well-experienced so it was about time I got a great job. And indeed, 4 weeks later, I was working unpaid making tea. Hurray! Then came my big break... I could be an unpaid runner on the BBC astronomy event series Stardate. Oh YEAH! So I did. I headed down to the Natural History Museum in London and had quite possibly, the most tiring, stressful and generally horrible day of my life. I sat on the train home thinking how I must not be cut out for this business, only to get to the office the next day and be offered a paid contract!

Following many years of studying electricity and magnetism (one of my least favorite subjects) I ended up making a show for Discovery Channel US and Canada ALL about it. In fact, I was the first human in the line of 240 that broke the Guinness World Record for the longest human electrical circuit as a giant Van de Graaf generator zapped a huge voltage through us all to make some neon tubes light up 240 people later! The biggest thing I learned making the props for that show was that theory is just that. It never quite matches what happens in practice… I've also made a series of the children's program "How 2", during which I managed to fly over the handlebars of a Penny Farthing, getting a fab shiner and a huge dent in my leg. Best of all, for the following episodes of Stardate, I went to ESA the day that the Huygens probe landed on Titan in January 2005 and watched the first ever pictures of the moon's surface appear on screen – an awesome, breath-taking and tear-jerking moment. Then we flew to Los Angeles to cover NASA's Deep Impact mission to smash into a comet on July 4 2005 live from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory – a NASA department I learned all about doing my project in Durham.

I did my physics degree because I liked physics, I was pretty good at it, and most of all, people told me that it was a "good, solid degree". At times I disagreed – generally on the day before "general problems" had to be handed in – but looking back, they were quite right. It has stood me in good stead and has led to great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, not to mention some of the best friends I could ask for.... and of course, there are fewer sentences better to utter than, "oh, when I lived in the castle... "

Amy Foster