Helen grew up in the North of England and went to secondary school in Keighley, West Yorkshire, where she lived from the age of 11. The school was a mixed comprehensive and she took a wide range of 'O' levels (now GCSEs) before concentrating on 'A' levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry and General Studies. Helen decided to study for a degree in Maths and Physics at Manchester, impressed both by the friendliness of the staff in the University and the city itself.
Helen graduated from the Victoria University of Manchester in 1983 with a 1st class degree in Maths and Physics. She continued her education there as an experimental physicist and gained a PhD in 1986. During the same year she took up post as Senior Development Scientist in the Wolfson Liquid Crystal Unit at the Victoria University of Manchester, a wholly industrially funded research unit within the University. It was there that she initiated many of her interactions with industry. Helen became a Lecturer in Physics and Astronomy in 1989, later being promoted to Reader and Professor of Physics and Astronomy. In 2002 she was appointed as Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and from 2008-2010 was Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester. Helen moved to the University of Leeds in 2015 to take up the Cavendish Chair of Physics and Head of School of Physics and Astronomy (2016).
Helen's research involves experimental studies of liquid crystals. She has an active research group, working with several PhD students and a couple of postdoctoral researchers. Although much of her work involves 'bench-top' experiments in the lab, she also uses international synchrotron facilities for her studies. This means that travel features quite highly in the research itinerary (usually to places such as Long Island, New York and Grenoble, France). Although the synchrotron work involves long hours, Helen particularly enjoys the technical challenge of getting tough experiments to work.
She has held visiting professor positions at the Universities of Sydney, Case Western Reserve University and Griffith University in Brisbane. She was a member of the Interim Faculty Leadership Team and Interim Undergraduate Chair during Project Unity. She has published more than 150 articles and five patents and is an experienced public speaker, having given hundreds of research seminars and talks to schools and the public.
Helen is also a member of Woman in Science Engineering and Technology (WiSET).