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In the News - Jeremy Thomas

The deputy head of physics at Portsmouth Grammar School is not only renowned for wearing outlandish ties to work, he has also put Portsmouth on the space map. Mr Thomas, 48, (pictured, right) has arranged for the Space Shuttle Atlantis' crew, who have just returned from their last mission, to visit the city.

How did you land this?

"At Easter I took some kids to the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida, organised through the International Space School Educational Trust," says Mr Thomas. "It was so successful I asked to be kept posted on their plans. When they called to say they were going on tour, I invited the crew to Portsmouth."

Far out! What's the plan?

"Every year, Portsmouth has a two-week themed festival. Next year is Space City so the astronauts are coming over to launch it. They will do a public presentation of a film they made while in orbit. It will be the world premiere."

You must be over the moon?

"I am, but I'm looking forward to the inspiration the crew is going to bring to the city and the children. Hopefully, it will get people from different backgrounds interested in science and will encourage kids to believe they can become astronauts, scientists or engineers."

What put the subject in your orbit?

"I was brought up in the Apollo age and I really got into it. I was 16 when the Voyager pictures came out. I was so excited when we went to the centre. We went on the launch pad where the shuttle is kept - that's as close as you can get, we went beyond the security fencing. We also toured historic launch pads, including the one the first shuttle launched from."

Do the pupils get spaced out, too?

"They love it. Next year, I'm going to be more ambitious. Rather than just take pupils from our school, I'd like to take 40 to 50 Portsmouth kids. These astronauts are inspiring a new generation of pupils, encouraging them to aim high and achieve their dreams."

How do you tie it all together?

"I get the kids talking about it at school with my unusual ties. For the last few years I have worn space-themed ties. The kids love it - one went on a trip and wanted to buy me a tie but couldn't afford it, but the thought was there."

Zany neckwear for every planet?

"No, a tie for every day. I have enough to wear a different one every day for a fortnight. I wear them to prove you don't have to be geeky to be a scientist."

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