Helen Sharman – British scientist and astronaut 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Helen Sharman

Helen, a scientist and astronaut, is renowned for being the first British person in space and the first woman to visit the Mir space station. She excelled at science, being the only girl in her class to take physics and chemistry and was awarded a PhD in chemistry at Birkbeck in 1987.  

Two years after completing her studies at Birkbeck, Helen responded to a radio advert asking for applicants to be the first British space explorer. She was selected on the basis of her strong scientific background and capacity for learning foreign languages. Her eight-day mission to the Mir space station, in 1991 at the age of just twenty-seven, involved medical and agricultural experiments, photographing the British Isles and a radio hookup with British schoolchildren.  

She has served as a role model for many young people, which has resulted in numerous schools naming houses and buildings after her as well as holding annual Sharman science events. 

Helen is now president of the Institute of Science and Technology and has written two books, including a children’s book, The Space Place. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), the year following her space mission. 


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