David Wilson

making star rainbows today...

Favourite Thing: Look through a telescope



2002-2009 Sir Thomas Picton School, 2009-2013 Lancaster University, 2013- University of Warwick


Mphys Phyiscs (2013), A levels in Maths, Physics and Biology

Work History:

Current Job:

I’m a PhD student, studying what happens to planets and planetary systems when their stars die


University of Warwick

Me and my work

I’m trying to find out what happens to planets like ours when their stars go out.

When a star like the Sun reaches the end of its supply of hydrogen fuel, it swells up into a red giant, then shrinks down into a tiny, super-hot white dwarf. But that’s not the end for its planets- except for the close in ones, which are destroyed by the red giant. The outer ones are still there, and it’s what happens next that I study.

Sometimes the asteroids and planets left over get scattered in to the white dwarf, breaking apart to form massive rings of gas and dust similar to the rings around Saturn. I’ve used giant telescopes to observe┬ásome of these discs, and found evidence for asteroids flying in and hitting them in huge explosions.

The materiel in these rings can fall onto the white dwarf, and it’s really easy to spot. This mean that we can look at the stuff going into the white dwarf and work out what the planet that broke apart to form the disc was made of! In fact, this is the only was we have to discover what mix of chemicals the planets around other stars are made of- are they like the Earth, or is there more than one way to build a planet?

My Typical Day

Get data from telescopes, come up with ideas and write code to turn that data into science!

What I'd do with the money

Make some online videos about the science that my friends and I do.

Our astronomy group runs a Planetarium, which goes out to schools with shows about the work we do. Although we’ve been told that the shows are very good, they only get to about one school a week. If I won the money I’d use it to turn the shows into an online video format, to share the work we do with a much wider audience.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Who is your favourite singer or band?

The Piano Guys

What's your favourite food?

A good-quality burger

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Sailed on a Tall Ship

What did you want to be after you left school?

Something to do with space (success!)

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not really, sorry. Although once set a motor on fire in physics.

What was your favourite subject at school?


What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Explored the ruins of a planet with telescopes

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Probably my parents, Star trek, and Comet Hale-Bopp

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A writer maybe? Or a Lego Designer. Yeah, that one.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Tell us a joke.

Other stuff

Work photos: