For some people, math is an alien language, but a Belfast lady is hoping it will be her ticket to the stars. Dr. Caoimhe Rooney is a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. The 29-year-old hopes that her aptitude for numbers will lead to her becoming an astronaut one day. If she succeeds, Dr. Rooney can become the first person from Belfast to boldly travel where no one has gone before.

But, as one of over 22,000 applicants for four spots on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Astronaut Corps, you don’t need a Ph.D. in mathematics to realize it’s a long shot. Dr. Rooney, who holds an Oxford University Ph.D. in applied mathematics, is researching how faraway planets were formed, what they are comprised of, and whether they may support life. A fomer Sullivan Upper School student from Hollywood, County Down, she now works for NASA in the planetary system branch, which studies planets outside our solar system. She wants to eliminate the misconception that math is dull by demonstrating that it is, in fact, “the language of our universe.”

Dr. Rooney remarked that after first losing interest in calculus, it was a specific teacher, Mrs. Anderson, who rekindled her enthusiasm for the subject. “It wasn’t until GSCE when I got a really amazing teacher who reinstilled that love of maths, who showed me I could do it, and more importantly that it was a lot of fun,” she said.