Promoting the role of Physics in research, education, industry and the community
Where I work: Macquarie Group
What I do: Senior quantitative analyst
I help to develop, derive, and maintain the models used by the organisation. This involves applying maths and programming to solve financial problems, along with interpersonal skills and technical writing.
Typical problems involve valuation of deals, capital and margin calculations, automated trading, or extracting information from observed market prices.
I researched computational quantum mechanics applied to problems involving atoms and short laser pulses.
I studied physics, maths, and computer science at Curtin University for a BSc, and then Honours and a PhD at the ANU. During my studies, I was fortunate to undertake an internship with the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and shadow a senior tech leader at Westpac by applying to their STEM PhD program.
During my PhD I spent two months at the Max Born Institute in Berlin and was later offered a Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue work at this institution. I was able to present my work across Australia, China, Germany, France, the US, and the UK.
After submitting my thesis, I spent a further four months on completing a paper on a problem of relevance to nuclear structure before being accepted into my current role. For this thesis I was awarded the AIP Bragg Medal.
My current role was advertised as seeking recent PhD graduates in quantitative disciplines. From Day 1, the technical and mathematical skills I had developed set me off to a flying start.
If understanding the world through maths is interesting to you, I highly recommend studying physics. You will develop the skills to tackle some of the world’s most complex problems and the confidence to take them on. Any quality employer, academic or otherwise, should recognise these abilities - along with being equally suitable for entrepreneurship.
The world needs more physicists!
Where I work: Victorian Parliament
What I do: Ambassador for STEM Education and Member of the Legislative Council (South-Eastern Metropolitan Region)
In 2018, after a long career in academia and research, I took up an opportunity to run for the Victorian Parliament and was successfully elected to the Legislative Council.
At this stage of my life, I believed that I could contribute to the community at large on a different platform. Even though politics had not featured prominently in my life, having undergone the experience of growing up in a war-torn country, I was able to witness firsthand how important politics was, and how it could influence and determine the population’s standard of life, and even death.
For this reason, I have been heavily involved in many human rights causes, volunteering and community activities throughout my life - from my academia days until now.
Since entering Parliament, I have focused on multiculturalism, STEM and STEM education among other priorities. I formed Parliamentarians for STEM and was also appointed as the inaugural Victorian Government Ambassador for STEM Education.
Beyond these roles, I also serve as the Deputy Chair of the Legal and Social Issues Committee for the Legislative Council.
In 1980, following the Vietnam War, I arrived in Australia on a humanitarian visa as a refugee after a perilous journey on sea and a restless stay in a refugee camp in Malaysia.
Upon settlement, I worked as a factory labourer before enrolling at the University of Queensland, where I commenced my academic career in theoretical physics.
My academic journey took me to the University of Edinburgh, Oxford University, the University of Melbourne, and Swinburne University; and my research in theoretical and computational physics extended to the fields of Lattice Gauge Theory, Quantum Field Theory, Fundamental Quantum Physics, Quantum Computation, and Econophysics.
I have also held visiting positions at MIT, the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, and a Fulbright Fellowship at Columbia University.
My additional interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence also led to my engagement in consulting work for McKinsey & Co, and in quantitative and algorithmic financial trading for some private hedge funds.
In 2020, despite my demanding parliamentary duties, I managed to publish four papers in international journals on topics of fundamental quantum physics and adiabatic quantum algorithms.This year, I submitted a paper on a quantum version of the central limit theorem, and its implications on time-dependent macroscopic entropies and on an emergence pathway for classicality from quantum mechanics.
In addition to my life experience, I have found that my training in science, particularly in the area of problem solving, analytical thinking, collaboration and communication has assisted me greatly in performing my parliamentary duties to the best extent that I can.
Maintaining some level of interest in physics in my parliamentary role is undoubtedly challenging; however, to engage in both sides simultaneously is extremely rewarding.
Where I work: Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne
What I do: Communications Advisor
I support the Communications Lead to deliver communications, advice, and support to the Faculty on how best to engage with their stakeholders (staff/academics/public/business/government).
I plan, develop, coordinate, and deliver a broad range of communications to enhance and protect the University’s profile across internal and external channels, including news outlets, events, social media, and other digital platforms.
My university life started with a Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment, majoring in Animation from QANTM College, followed by a Bachelor of Science from the Queensland University of Technology, majoring in Physics and Science Communication. I completed Honours in Physics at QUT and then a Masters in Science Communication from the Australian National University.
I have worked also as a freelance Graphic Artist, Marketing Advisor, and Podcast Producer.
My academic background in both science and communication enabled me to understand and translate complicated scientific topics to be more easily understood by a wider audience.
My first major role was as a Science Communicator for Science in Public. As part of this role, I wrote the monthly newsletter and managed the social media accounts for the Australian Institute of Physics. I learned to write short, lively, and accurate copy for social media, newsletters, and media releases.
My current role allows me to further develop the ability to communicate with academics and bridge the gap between academic and non-academic ways of communicating.
I have frequently found myself facing datasets that need analysis and I feel my physics training has enabled me to tackle these challenges without concern or hesitation. Recently I also found myself explaining the basics of quantum computing to a colleague, so it seems a solid grasp of physics has value in many unexpected places.
Research isn’t truly complete until you’ve told people about it, so I encourage you to reach out to the communication team in your organisation and tell them about your research, because people want to hear about it, including me!
I also produce an academia meets fantasy podcast with three other science communicators. Dungeons & Doctorates is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast following the adventures of three postgraduates in a fantasy university dealing with supervisors, monsters, and peer-reviewers. Physicists may be interested with one of the main characters, whose thesis is looking at the mystery of “wandering stars”, as he pushes against thousands of years of belief and superstition to spread the truth about planets.
“As physicists, we can see this extra layer of existence that others don’t: photons interacting with electrons, cosmic rays travelling through the air, atoms being mostly empty space… Other people might be curious about this quantum world too, which is why I put together a comedy show.”
Where I work: I work for myself and at CSIRO
What I do: Science Communicator
At CSIRO I am the Communications Advisor for the ASKAP radio telescope. I support and create opportunities for the researchers to share their work around the world through news articles and interviews, while also producing informative content on the ASKAP radio telescope and radio astronomy.
Outside of that, I am a performer, working under the title “Rachel Rayner Science Explainer”; it’s a mouthful, but it rhymes!
I currently have a one-woman comedy show called A Flying Photon, which will be the first of three shows that explore our Universe on the very small scale (photons, protons and electrons). I wrote and produced the show. It has sold out at various venues, so I’m looking forward to taking it on the road more regularly.
I have an undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies, which required studying a science major and an arts major. So, I studied Physics and Art History & Theory. In the course, we didn’t specialise too deeply in any particular type of physics, but I did lean into quantum mechanics and high energy particle physics much, much more than fluid dynamics or solid-state matter.
One of the most useful things in the work I do is being able to understand scientific papers and know what questions to ask the researchers.
Many of us here may take for granted the ability to sift through a scientific paper to understand the concepts, relevance, and research process. However, this is something that not a lot of people can do! I can quickly get to the heart of a story because my background knowledge in the science is already there.
Physics covers a lot of everyday experiences. When I was working in science centres, most of the exhibits we built, and most of the shows we wrote, were to do with physics concepts. I’ve always found it useful. Without my understanding of physics, I would never have been able to write my show!
I realised that, as physicists, we can see this extra layer of existence that others cannot: photons interacting with electrons, cosmic rays travelling through the air, atoms being mostly empty space. I love being able to ‘see’ this, and know what is happening around us on a subatomic level.
Then I realised that other people outside of physics might be curious about this quantum world too, which is why I put together the comedy show.
My idea seemed justified when one reviewer said, “The next day I found myself remembering what she talked about and looking at the world differently. Could the show really be more successful in its goal than that? I think not.”
“Physics research throws a lot of really hard problems at us. Knowing that we have solved some of these gives me great confidence that we can do anything.”
Where I work: Liquid Instruments (LI)
What I do: CEO and co-founder of LI
We make a new type of software-defined, hardware-enabled test instruments for the laboratory. The platforms we develop combine reconfigurable hardware, advanced digital signal processing, and a revolutionary user interface to improve workflow and productivity.
My background is in laser metrology for gravitational wave detection. I started off trying to design the 5 degree-of-freedom control system for the advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observation (LIGO) project before moving to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). At NASA-JPL I worked on the planned space-based gravitational wave detector, Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA).
While I was a Professor in Physics at the Australian National University (ANU), my team and I developed a lot of techniques and know-how to make precision measurements, mostly using quantum/laser sensors with fancy signal processing. After our technology was launched into orbit on the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) Follow-on mission, we decided to start Liquid Instruments to share our measurement technology with others.
Physics gives you a great basis to analyse problems from first principles. A career in physics set me up to be able to break down complex problems and solve them piece by piece. If you do this a lot, you get a pretty good intuition about which bits are going to be hard and which bits are probably easy. This lets you know in advance where you need to push, where you can phone it in, and even when you should run away.
I was really surprised that being a CEO of a start-up company required a lot of the skills that I had built up over the years as a researcher and Professor in Physics. You have to be able to come up with ideas, get funding, build (and keep) a team, and then execute on your plans to make something work.
Physics research throws a lot of really hard problems at us. Knowing that we have solved some of these gives me great confidence that we can do anything. “Hey, if we detected gravitational waves, surely we can figure out how to pass CE (European Conformity) certification, understand GST and maybe even navigate the R&D tax incentive application form?”
“As a radio astronomer, I learned to be a team member in the scientific environment of today—one that is contingent on individuals with diverse abilities and experiences.”
Where I work: Echoview Software
What I do: Technical writer
Echoview Software specialises in developing software for hydroacoustic data analysis. The software is used globally by governments, scientists, commercial fisheries, and NGOs to support the understanding and sustainable use of aquatic resources.
As the Technical Writer, I create documentation for users of our software and for our staff.
After completing my undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Tasmania, I commenced my PhD there and trained as a radio astronomer.As a radio astronomer, I acquired a mix of practical skills in using computer software and digital signal processing. I also learned to be a team member in the scientific environment of today—one that is contingent on individuals with diverse abilities and experiences.
My background in physics is invaluable for grasping technical matters from a fundamental standpoint.
On one occasion, I was collaborating with a software developer to model the slew of the MeerKAT interferometer. We succeeded by combining her programming talents with my understanding of the underlying principles in mechanics.
In my current role, I provide support for scientists who utilise our software. To do this, it is imperative for me to understand the physical phenomena in question, the mathematical tools we are using to model them, and the programming techniques employed to implement the algorithms.
It may be a cliché to express that my training in physics has endowed me with analytical and problem-solving acuity. However, this aptitude for troubleshooting is what I rely on regularly.
Find me on LinkedIn.