Dr. Suzie Imber: The Spirit of Exploration

Dr. Suzie Imber: The Spirit of Exploration

March 15, 2019

At the 2019 Sir Charles Kao Memorial Lecture last week, we were privileged to hear from a remarkable scientist, athlete, modern-day explorer, and would-be astronaut, Dr. Suzie Imber. In a fascinating hour-long session, Dr. Imber led us through her sporting triumphs as a lacrosse player and world-class rower, up unclimbed peaks in the Andes, and into the challenging world of astronaut training. Her personal narrative was full of personal insights, experiential wisdom, and a deeply-rooted self-deprecating humor.

Perhaps the highlight of the presentation was the retelling of Dr. Imber’s most recent noteworthy adventure in which she featured as a contestant in a BBC program pitting a dozen hand-picked candidates against the rigours of astronaut training under the supervision of NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield. Dr. Imber endured challenges such as taking her own blood, speaking Russian while in a centrifuge at 5g and carrying out emergency procedures on the NASA undersea astronaut training facility, Aquarius. With characteristic modesty, having spent time detailing the difficulties and failures associated with each test, it took a question from a student in the audience for Dr. Imber to disclose that she had, in fact, won the contest.

Looking to the future, Dr. Imber’s also shared a little of her current work as a member of the team that has sent an exploratory scientific probe to Mercury. This keenly anticipated encounter with Mercury, still some six years away, will no doubt significantly enhance human knowledge about this distant planetary relative.

What did we learn from our all-too-brief encounter with Dr. Imber? In one sense, it was some of the simple truths and observations that stood out. For example, just by looking more closely at how mountain peaks are defined cartographically, Dr. Imber was able to use a computer program of her own devising to identify a significant number of hitherto unidentified mountains in the Andes of South America – a remarkable achievement from a desktop exercise conducted half a world away. More profoundly, Dr. Imber’s willingness to take risks to learn new skills or gain new insights into her own character was inspiring for our audience of Secondary School students. Having succeeded in one field, Dr. Imber quite intentionally set her sights on conquering others, including some in which she felt she had no particular aptitude or talent. In each endeavour, Dr. Imber had no expectation of success or acclaim, just the modest aim of exploring the unknown, both without and within, to discover and learn.

The lesson to take away from this remarkable lecture is that for those with a genuine spirit of adventure and a deep desire to shine light into the unexplored corners of our universe, there are indeed no insurmountable barriers, just our own hesitancy in the face of challenge. There is so much that we can learn from Dr. Imber: a truly modern incarnation of the spirit of exploration!

Dr. Imber is an associate professor in the field of planetary science at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. In her current role, Dr. Imber specialises in studying space weather, seeking a deeper understanding of the impact of the solar wind on the magnetised planets, in particular the Earth and Mercury.  Dr. Imber is a Co-Investigator on the x-ray spectrometer which is on board the joint European Space Agency and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency spacecraft which launched in October 2018 and which is due to arrive at Mercury in 2025.




Dr. Malcolm Pritchard

Head of School

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