When I completed my astronomy D.Phil. at Sussex in 1980, I was often asked whether my work on cool, carbon stars had any real use. It was often the first question in job interviews and my answers were indirect. Five years later those stars inspired work which led to the 1996 Nobel prize in chemistry and a new branch of nanotechnology. Furthermore in 2015 they helped to solve the mystery of diffuse interstellar bands which had been puzzling astronomers for almost a century.
The mystery began in 1919 when Mary Heger first observed unusual spectral lines in the spectrum of the blue supergiant zeta Persei at Lick Observatory. Next year will be the centenary of Heger’s observations, so we should be celebrating her pioneering work and those of the scientists who followed her!
Almost 40 years after completing my doctorate I am now able to answer that interview question properly and will show that astronomy research can have a real impact on the world!