For more than a decade, Penny Marriott (left) combined working as a physics lecturer at Alton College in Hampshire with work as a rocket scientist. Now, back as scientist-in-residence at the college, she is carrying out research into meteorites and spacecraft for the Ministry of Defence with the help of a team of seven students.
Ms Marriott, 63, who has worked for BAe, Nasa and the European Space Agency, is relishing the chance to get students working on cutting-edge science where no one holds all the answers. "It excites them that real science has grey areas," she said.
"I think it's important they are taught how to think. Unless we give them the idea there are still problems they can contribute to, we are not doing them any favours."
The students are testing computer-simulated models of the air flow around objects travelling about 50 miles above Earth, in the coldest part of the atmosphere, at more than 22,000mph.
Ms Marriott said she preferred to teach at a sixth form college rather than balance teaching and advanced research at university. "I just like that particular age group, just out of GCSEs: it's an exciting time to get them thinking."