The space scientist
Jesús Manuel Muñoz Tejeda
Jesús Manuel Muñoz Tejeda is studying for a PhD in Space Propulsion Technology. His natural curiosity has been the biggest driving factor in his scientific journey, and he’s only just begun to scratch the surface.
When the Universe is your muse, it takes a lot of curiosity to begin to understand it.
Listen to Jesús in this full audio interview, or read the highlights below.
You were recently featured in a news story which showed a picture of you on a parabolic flight. What was that about?
That's honestly one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. We have a contract with the European Space Agency in order to test technology in microgravity conditions. Microgravity simply means very, very low gravity. So, basically you are floating in a space, or in this case in a parabolic flight, which is simply a commercial aircraft that, instead of going for example from London to Paris, goes into a parabola! You go up in the sky and you go down and during this parabolic motion you experience microgravity for approximately twenty seconds. Thanks to the support of the European Space Agency (ESA) Education office, we tested some of the technology that I am also using for my PhD research during the 77th ESA Parabolic Flight Campaign.
That sounds incredible! So, what was the first moment that you truly felt like a scientist?
The first time I felt like a scientist, I wasn't at the laboratory. I wasn't really doing something that people think science might look like: I was just going into YouTube and I was looking for videos related to science and the Universe and things that interested me. I start realising that curiosity is one of the most important aspects of what it means to be a scientist. I really encourage people who are curious to undergo a scientific career because this is what really drives you into science and technology.
Being a scientist is more related to how curious you are, how you want to make a better future, how you want to use your knowledge to develop something that nobody has done before.
What do you think are some of the biggest myths about being a scientist?
I think this is something that is changing over time. Twenty years ago being a scientist was something more extravagant and exotic. If you were a scientist, you were the guy in the laboratory with one thousand formulas in your brain and undergoing scientific-related stuff. But nowadays, the title of being a scientist is getting more and more into normal culture. There are people who are, for example, promoting science – they are explaining topics in simple words to other people-. People are seeing scientists as normal people.
But it's true that sometimes people think of scientists as people in the laboratory with the laboratory coats, and I don't blame them because I also do this kind of stuff. But I think the term of being a scientist is more related to how curious you are, how you want to make a better future, how you want to use your knowledge to develop something that nobody has done before. I think this is what real scientists do and the fact that people also start to think so makes me very happy.
What’s your advice for somebody who might be thinking about studying science or pursuing it as a career?
The fact is that, when you’re eighteen-years-old or younger, or even when you are older, you cannot know for sure what you want. And that's completely normal. I totally understand that people have doubts about what they want to be. If you want to be a scientist, or you want to develop yourself along a scientific path, you don't need to be explicitly convinced about it. You just need to have the curiosity and the willingness to put effort into.
Then, if you don't like it, you can do something else, for example any kind of scientific bridge between mathematics and physics, or engineering into physics. This is something that people very commonly do so just take the chance to prove to yourself that you can do it.
If I had to say something to my eighteen-year-old self, or anybody that's eighteen, it would be to make time for themselves, to know themselves better.
What's next for you in your current scientific journey?
Right now I'm doing my PhD, I'm in my second year. The future isn’t set, which is something I like, because I don't like to plan my career more than a few years ahead. But if I have to guess, if I have to dream about it, I would like to be in a scientific project related to a space programme. So for example, in Europe and in the UK we have the European Space Agency, and also the UK Space Agency, so in a couple of years I would like to be part of them – because exploration of space is a topic that is interesting for everybody and it's also very important in order to know more about, not only our universe, but also about ourselves.
If you could get in a time machine and visit yourself at a younger age, what advice would you have for younger Jesús?
If I had to say something to my eighteen-year-old self, or anybody that's eighteen, it would be to make time for themselves, to know themselves better. Because nowadays people tend to be very obsessed with what other people think, but nobody pays attention to knowing themselves.
You should start doing so at an early age, because if you know yourself, then you know what you want and what's your purpose in this world. Of course that doesn't come in five or even ten years, I haven't reached that point yet. But it’s something that is definitely worth doing and pays off in life!
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