Monday 30 March 2015

Top UK space scientist in Doha for British Festival’s

Doha, Qatar, 30 March 2015. Last night, Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, a renowned space scientist from the UK and TV presenter of the BBC series ‘The Sky at Night’ gave a talk to an audience of one hundred and twenty people called ‘Shedding Light on the Universe’ in the Georgetown University Atrium. The talk was a part of the British Festival’s ‘Café Scientifique’ series, which invites the public to learn about science from top quality speakers, in an informal and friendly setting. The British Council organised the event in partnership with UCL Qatar as part of the British Festival and UNESCO’s International Year of Light celebrations.

Martin Hope, Director of the British Council in Qatar said he believes that “Science communication events like Café Scientifique are all about making science accessible and fun for all. You don’t need to be a scientist to be interested in science. The British Festival is all about connecting British and Qatari peoples through arts, education and science: both Qatar and Britain have excellence in science and having two great speakers tonight, talking about a joint common interest made for a fantastic cultural event.”

Professor Ilham Al-Qaradawi, professor of Physics at Qatar University and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Texas A&M University in Qatar hosted the event and opened by saying “This talk is part of the international year of light and there are celebrations taking place all over the world. We take light for granted but we must remember that not everyone has access to light.” Al-Qaradawi, a UK alumnae who received her PhD in positron physics from the University of London, has been a great supporter of public science communication throughout Qatar and the Middle East. 

She was followed by Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who gripped the audience from the start: “In this “International Year of Light” let us take a trip through time and space to see how our ideas of the universe have evolved. We use light to understand what is out there but what about materials that do not interact with light? We can tell that such material is there and we call it ‘dark matter’, but how do we detect it? It remains unknown causing us large gaps in our current understanding….” 

Maggie proceeded to introduce the audience to complex ideas clearly, starting with the question ‘What is Light?’ and then delving deeper into the subject. She explained the electromagnetic field, drawing clever comparisons and analogies to help the audience understand: “Radiowaves are huge, their wavelengths are the size of a house” and also involving them by asking tricky questions like “How long do you think a billion seconds is?” The audience listened intently, and during the Q &A session, questions came from children and adults alike. One child asked, “How big is a supermassive black hole?” 

Her Majesty’s Ambassador, Nicholas Hopton, was delighted with the event, saying that “This kind of event brings science out to a much wider audience, it's important that people have an opportunity to ask questions to specialists. It was fantastic to listen to accomplished scientists like Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Professor Ilham Al-Qaradawi who can marshal all the ideas together and make the subject interesting and accessible to everyone.” 

After the talk, the audience were encouraged to mingle and the atmosphere became one of a veritable ‘café’, with audience members engaging both academics with further questions about space, black matter, extra-terrestrial life and many other topics. 

Notes to Editor

The British Festival is a month-long celebration of a longstanding partnership between Britain and Qatar, encompassing over 40 events and promotions, which brings together Qatari, British and international audiences to enjoy the best of what Britain has to offer in arts, education, science, sport and business.

The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. 

The British Council supports numerous Science related  initiatives throughout the year that promote public engagement in science, create research networks between Qatar and the UK and researcher capacity building. These programmes include Café Scientifique, Researcher Connect and the Qatar/UK Research Networking Programme. 

There will be a new round of bidding for grants on the Qatar/UK Research Networking Programme in April 2015. 

For more information please contact Faraan Sayed, Partnerships and Programmes Manager: or visit

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a space scientist who studied at Imperial College London, where she obtained her degree in Physics and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering. She has spent her career making novel, bespoke instrumentation in both the industrial and academic environments. These have ranged from hand held land mine detectors to optical subsystems for the James Webb Space Telescope. 

Maggie also had a science in society fellowship held at UCL from the Science and Technology Facilities Council which enabled her to present her science ideas to a wide range of listeners from school children to politicians.

To further share her passion for science, Maggie has also set up and runs her own company “Science Innovation Ltd”. Through this Maggie conducts public engagement activities sharing the wonders of space. To date Maggie has given these presentations to over 170,000 people around the world. As well as public speaking Maggie also works as a TV presenter and recently started to co-host the world’s longest running television program “The Sky at Night”.

Prof. Ilham Al-Qaradawi is professor of Physics at Qatar University and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Texas A&M University in Qatar. She received her Ph.D. working in the field of positron physics from University of London, UK in 1991. She established a positron laboratory at Qatar University including the first slow positron beam in the Middle East as well as an environmental radiation measurement laboratory. Dr. Ilham Al-Qaradawi is a fellow of the institute of Physics and a member of many international societies. She also sits on the advisory committee of the World Nuclear University Radiation Technology Summer School and the World Council on Isotopes. Prof. Ilham Al-Qaradawi has been awarded many awards for excellence in research, for Arab Women in Science and outstanding contribution to science. She has had many appearances on Al-Jazeera channel and several other TV channels and newspapers and magazines. She has been listed several times as one of the most influential Arab scientists.

University College London (UCL) is consistently ranked in the top five best universities in the world. It is the first and only British university to operate a campus in Qatar, in partnership with Qatar Foundation and Qatar Museums, based at Doha’s Education City complex. A postgraduate research-led department, UCL Qatar focuses on the cultural heritage of the Arab and Islamic world, offering Master’s degree programmes in Archaeology, Museum Studies, Conservation and Library and Information Studies. Since opening its doors in 2012, it has enrolled over 140 students from more than 40 countries around the world, as it works with its partners to develop and spotlight Qatar’s cultural heritage sector, training future leaders. 

About the British Council

The British Council has a long-standing presence and strong brand in Qatar. Our work in English language teaching, the arts, education and social development has undergone enormous growth over the last three years. It is highly valued by local stakeholders who understand how it supports Qatar’s ambition to be a knowledge hub for the region. The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide. We work in more than 100 countries and our 7,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the Arts and delivering education and society programmes.


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