Dr Helen Mason OBE


  • 2016 - present: STFC Public Engagement Fellow
  • 2014 - Awarded an OBE for services to Higher Education and Women in SET
  • 2013 - present: DAMTP, Personal Readership in Solar Physics
  • 1993 - 2013: DAMTP, Assistant Director of Research
  • 1976 - 1993: DAMTP, Research Assistant/Associate
  • 2006 - 2011: Senior Tutor at St Edmund's College
  • 1987 - present: Fellow of St Edmund's College
  • 1982 - 1989: taught for the Open University
  • 1973 - 1976: Research Assistant, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London


Helen Mason's group has a very high international reputation in the field of solar physics with particular expertise is the analysis of the ultraviolet (UV) and X-ray spectrum from the solar atmosphere. The group carries out both theoretical simulations and observational work.

She has been involved in many solar space projects: Skylab, Solar Maximum Mission, Spacelab and YOHKOH. Over the past two decades, she has been working as a co-investigator on a major ESA/NASA project - the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), which was launched in December 1995 and is still operational. The instruments on SOHO are used to monitor and study the solar interior, solar atmosphere and the solar wind. These observations, combined with those from other satellites in the near Earth environment, allow an unprecedented insight into the nature of the Sun and its interaction with the Earth. SOHO has provided some amazing and stunning observations and insights into the Sun, our star. More recently she has been working on the joint Japanese/UK/NASA/ESA solar satellite, Hinode, in particular with the UK-led EUV Imaging Spectrometer, EIS, team at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL. Recent work involves the study of solar active regions, solar flares and jets with NASA's SDO/AIA (Solar Dynamics Observatory) and the IRIS solar satellite. This research is important for understanding and predicting space weather events (such as coronal mass ejections).

Helen is a founder member of a highly successful international collaboration (UK/USA/Italy) called CHIANTI - an atomic database for the analysis of astrophysical spectra. The CHIANTI project provides an important facility, which is now widely used by the solar and stellar physics communities. Helen's group takes an integrated approach to modelling solar physics phenomena, by linking its own theoretical models with atomic physics models (CHIANTI) to predict the observational characteristics of UV and X-ray spectra, for various instruments. This requires a very wide expertise in theory and observations. In 2010, the CHIANTI team were awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Group Achievers' Award for Geophysics.

Outreach and Schools Activities

Helen has always been keen to convey her passion for solar physics to the general public and school children. She has engaged in a multitude of outreach activities, in particular for school children. She gives talks at schools about the Sun. She has worked closely with the Millennium Maths Project , in particular the MOTIVATE project. She has also worked hard to encourage more females to study science and mathematics. Helen has participated in several Royal Society Summer exhibitions. She has given many public lectures, including at the Royal Institution. She has participated in numerous local and national radio and TV programmes, including the popular BBC4 - 'Seven Ages of Starlight'.

Helen led the production of a major website for UK schools called Sun|trek (www.suntrek.org), sponsored by STFC. Launched in 2007, Sun|trek has become very popular both nationally and internationally. She is also keen to promote education in developing countries, and has worked extensively with teachers and school children in South Africa and India.

Her outreach work was recognised in 2010, when she was nominated as one of the six 'Women of Outstanding Achievement'. A large photo-portrait of her now hangs at the London headquaters of the Institute of Physics.

In 2014, Helen was awarded an OBE for her services to Higher Education and to Women in SET.

During the last couple of years she has been working on the Principia educational project linked to Tim Peake's flight on the ISS. In August 2016 she became an STFC Public Engagement Fellow and is working on a project which takes scientists and artist into schools 'Sun,Space and Art'.

External Activities

From 2002 - 2006, Helen served on the PPARC (now STFC) Science and Society Advisory Committee and Chaired the Small Awards Panel.

Press Releases

Selected Publications (see Atomic Astrophysics website)

  • Dzifkov, E., Kulinov, A., Chifor, C., Mason, H. E., Del Zanna, G., Sylwester, J. and Sylwester, B., 2008, Nonthermal and thermal diagnostics of a solar flare observed with RESIK and RHESSI Astron. Astrophys., 488, 311-321.
  • Chifor, C., Young, P. R., Isobe, H., Mason, H. E., Tripathi, D., Hara, H., Yokoyama, T., 2008, An active region jet observed with Hinode Astron. Astrophys., 481, L57-60.
  • Tripathi, D., Mason, H. E., Young, P. R. and Del Zanna, G., 2008, Density structure of an active region and associated moss using Hinode/EIS Astron. Astrophys., 481, L53-56.
  • Dzifkov, E. and Mason, H.E., 2008, Computation of Non-Maxwellian Electron Excitation Rates for Ions of Astrophysical Interest: Fe xv A Test Case Solar Physics, 247, 301-320.
  • Young, P. R., Del Zanna, G., Mason, H. E., Dere, K. P., Li, E., Lini, M., Doschek, G. A., Brown, C. M., Culhane, L., Harra, L. K. et al, 2007, EUV Emission Lines and Diagnostics Observed with Hinode/EIS Public. Astron. Soc. Japan, 59, 857-864.
  • Young, P. R., Del Zanna, G., Mason, H. E., Doschek, G. A., Culhane, L. and Hara, H., 2007, Solar Transition Region Features Observed with Hinode/EIS Public. Astron. Soc. Japan, 59, 727-733
  • Doschek, G. A., Mariska, J. T., Warren, H. P., Culhane, L., Watanabe, T., Young, P. R., Mason, H. E. and Dere, K. P., 2007, The Temperature and Density Structure of an Active Region Observed with the Extreme-Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer on Hinode Public. Astron. Soc. Japan, 59, 707-712.
  • Doschek, G. A., Mariska, J. T., Warren, H. P., Brown, C. M., Culhane, J. L., Hara, H., Watanabe, T., Young, P. R. and Mason, H. E., 2007, Nonthermal Velocities in Solar Active Regions Observed with the Extreme-Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer on Hinode Astrophys. J., 667, L109-112
  • Chifor, C., Tripathi, D., Mason, H. E. and Dennis, B. R., 2007, X-ray precursors to flares and filament eruptions Astron. Astrophys., 472, 967-979.
  • Chifor, C., Del Zanna, G., Mason, H. E., Sylwester, J., Sylwester, B. and Phillips, K. J. H., 2007, A benchmark study for CHIANTI based on RESIK solar flare spectra Astron. Astrophys., 464, 323-330.