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High Flyers: The Aussie astronomer passionate about navigating both the hills and the stars

Michael G. Burton in action with his other passion in life, orienteering.

In the High Flyers spotlight this week is Australian astronomer Professor Michael G. Burton, director of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.

What was your first job?

My first ever job was washing dishes at a restaurant in London called The Bear. In terms of my first ‘proper’ job, I was an assistant scientific officer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Sussex working for the astronomers there.

What qualifications do you have?

I completed my undergrad at Cambridge University and that was in Mathematics. For my PhD I studied astronomy at the Royal Observatory in the University of Edinburgh.

What do you attribute your success to?

Certainly having a passion for what I do. I have been interested in astronomy from around the age of six or seven. Perusing a career in an area that excites you certainly makes it all easier.

How would you describe yourself to someone who’d never met you?

Probably as an introvert! Most scientists can be quite like that. I am a very academic person.

Who do you look up to in business?

I admire the work of JRR Tolkien. Whilst he isn’t in my field of endeavour, I think the worlds he has created through his literature are so impressive and detailed. His imagination knew no bounds.

How do you get the best out of people who work for you?

I think the best thing you can do is lead by example. So, if you are expecting people who work alongside you to do their best work, you should also be doing the same.

If you could change one thing about doing business in Northern Ireland, what would it be?

The weather! Being from Australia I would love to bring the sun across to Northern Ireland so we could have more meetings and workshops outside in the warmth.

What website or app could you not do without?

It sounds quite cliché but I would have to say the Armagh Observatory and Planterium website at the moment. We recently revamped the website and it takes up a lot of our time making sure it is informative and engaging for people of different ages and interests.

What was the last book you read?

The Company of Trees by Thomas Pakenham.

What car do you drive?

I currently drive a ten year old Toyota Corolla.

Tell us something interesting about yourself?

I spent around two decades of my life working on projects involving Antarctica. I was there to work on building telescopes at the South Pole and the summits of the Antarctic Plateau – the direct and coldest place on planet Earth!

What’s your greatest passion outside work and family?

I am very passionate about orienteering as a sport! I am currently an avid member of the Lagan Valley Orienteers.

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