Promoting the role of Physics in research, education, industry and the community

Log in


#PhysicsGotMeHere 2023

“Physicists cannot be confined to a silo”

Benjamin Arrow

Where I work: I work at Calibration and Testing Services Pty Ltd, known as CATS, in Perth, WA.

What I do: I am the lead Metrologist and Quality Manager.

Day-to-day, I am responsible for ensuring that all our measurements are traceable to the SI units through an unbroken chain of calibrations of our reference equipment to primary standards. I ensure that all appropriate sources of measurement uncertainty are accounted for, because no measurement is meaningful without an understanding of the uncertainties involved.

I also handle odd and unique measurements and equipment that needs to be tested because I have a knack for breaking things down to fundamentals and seeing what is important and what is not.

 My Physics Background:

I completed my bachelor’s degree in physics and nanotechnology, with the majority of my studies done externally because I was a mature age student with a young family. Being the primary income earner meant cramming sessions at night, and much intake of coffee. I would have loved to go on to further studies and advance my physics knowledge by pursuing a doctorate, unfortunately doctorates don’t support young families, so that was not for me.

How physics has helped me get to where I am: 

Physics has supported the extension of my current role, although this role was not the reason for me pursuing physics. Originally, the reason for my studies was the amazing people at the SASR (Special Air Service Regiment) in Swanbourne. I worked as an electronics technician and wanted to contribute to the Australian Defence Force by working with the then, Defence Science and Technology Organisation or the Defence Intelligence Organisation. These organisations called specifically for physicists and mathematicians, so I enrolled.

I use my physics training to understand the requirements and factors involved in different types of measurements, breaking down seemingly-complex equipment to its fundamental levels. Physicists are strong mathematicians, and this has supported my ability to understand and apply statistical techniques for incorporating measurement uncertainties.

Physics opens doors like no other area of study, and physicists cannot be confined to a silo.  If you have anybody in your life that is considering studying physics, I say encourage them to do it.

Predicting Pandemics

“It turned out that the skills I had acquired in my Masters, such as describing real-world phenomena using equations, analysing data and coding, were applicable to mathematical modelling in other fields,”

Ada Yan

Where I work: I work as a virologist at Imperial College London.

What I do: I study how bird flu adapts to humans to better predict which bird flu strains might be likely to cause a pandemic.

My physics background:

I completed my Masters in theoretical condensed matter physics, improving phase retrieval algorithms for electron microscopy.

During my Masters, it became apparent that, while I enjoyed using mathematics to understand real-world phenomena, I would prefer other applications such as in biology.

I applied for a few PhD positions in biophysics, before stumbling upon an ad posted in the physics department, for a PhD position in mathematical modelling of infectious disease in the School of Public Health.

I was unaware that this field existed, but after meeting the team and doing some reading, I was hooked.

It turned out that the skills I had acquired in my Masters, such as describing real-world phenomena using equations, analysing data and coding, were applicable to mathematical modelling in other fields.

After my PhD, I took two postdoc positions in mathematical modelling of infectious disease and the immune response.  I became increasingly interested in how the experimental data I was analysing was generated.

I realised that if I were to one day lead projects and teams combining mathematics and biology, I would need to understand the world of biology more fully: which questions are at the cutting edge, what new technologies might help us understand them, and how experiments are designed and performed.

With support from my experimental collaborators, I applied for and received a fellowship, where I am performing my own experiments as well as analysing them using mathematical models.

How physics has helped me get to where I am:

In terms of technical skills, physics training gave me the analytic and computational tools required to analyse model equations and relate them to data.

The spread of infectious disease, whether between individuals or within a host, is ultimately a physical process, and the equations describing these processes can be analysed using the same methods as in physics.

But more importantly, physics training began my journey in learning the research process – planning a research project, forming hypotheses, designing and refining experiments (in the lab or in silico), reporting results and forming new research directions.

I have learnt to communicate new ideas with collaborators, form networks and develop resilience.

During the pandemic it became apparent that researchers from all disciplines were required to solve problems in infectious disease. The contribution of physicists was invaluable for understanding processes of aerosolisation, airflow and deposition to unravelling the structures of viral proteins.

Find me on LinkedIn and Twitter

Our customers like to break very expensive stuff and we like to fix it” 

“Physicists seem to have an open door into other disciplines due to the first principles approach that we all learn early on.”

Andrea Biondo

Where I work:

Galactic® Co-operative and Galactic® Scientific

What I do:

I work at Galactic® Co-operative and Galactic® Scientific on lasers, robots, spectrometers and other fun things found in labs, control rooms or wherever technology concentrations occur.

After graduating and working in academia and the corporate world, I discovered meaningful work and workplaces were in very short supply. So, I decided to create a place where like-minded people could find meaningful work without being hampered.

Endeavouring to do as much good as possible, with the skillset and drive that I had, ideas became plans, words became actions, Galactic® Scientific and finally, Galactic® Co-operative was born. Mission accomplished!

Galactic® Co-operative is the umbrella organisation for Galactic® Scientific where, as the Lead Physicist, I help our team of physicists and engineers to provide technical expertise and empower lab operators, physicists, chemists and laboratory managers to get the most out of their fleets of scientific instruments and associated devices.

In short, our customers like to break very expensive stuff and we like to fix it.

Our co-operative is also a worker-owned co-operative so the governance and planning of the day-to-day as well as future growth is a significant and rewarding part of what I do and share with our members.

My physics background: 

The nanotechnology degree was what initially attracted me to the discipline, which then morphed into a physics/chemistry double major. This led to the field of extraterrestrial mineralogy, cosmology, spectrometry and analytical chemistry.

How physics has helped me get to where I am: 

Building and running our business requires attention to evidence-based decision-making and a fearless approach to what may appear at first to be insurmountably complicated technology problems. With the proper mindset, these problems resolve into solvable puzzles custom-made for the enjoyment of the curious mind.

Physics, as the playground of the curious mind and tempered with the requirement of evidence, is the ideal prerequisite to running a technology business.

When confronted with the array of business methodologies, any physicist becomes immediately aware that the majority of businesses operate on opinion. Worse still, many businesses are steered by the opinions of the upper echelons of the hierarchy.

Deciding to operate as a worker-owned co-operative is an obvious improvement. More contributors bringing evidence to a decision will yield a better-quality result.

Consider the jar full of jellybeans. Ask one person, this could be the manager, how many jellybeans are in the jar, and a number will be forthcoming but ask many observers, and the average result will surely be an improvement on the manager's assessment.

What advice do you have for physicists contemplating their career trajectory? 

I encourage all Physicists and students to join the AIP and use it to remain connected to your physics community through events and participation on committees or taking office in the AIP. You will be glad you did. The rewards of service are manifold.

Also, I’d like to recommend existing AIP members take a good look at Fellowship. Becoming a Fellow opens previously unknown doors, and more importantly, helps you open doors for others.

Finally, if you have discovered a paucity of meaningful work and workplaces as I did, consider founding your own. Physicists are uniquely talented in what it takes to succeed, particularly when they cooperate.

Find me on LinkedIn

Back to the top

From semiconductors to Google

"The ability to ‘go deep’ on a complex, technical topic is extremely valuable and transferable, and that is a skill that physics training provides."

Wilson Pok – Data scientist at Google   

Where I work: Google

What I do: As a data scientist, I help businesses run and analyse large-scale experiments.

My physics background: Semiconductor physics. After I got my physics PhD, the field of data science started taking off, and the technical problem-solving skills that I had developed through physics set me up to be a good match for these roles.

How physics has helped me get to where I am: There are core skills that I use, like researching scientific papers on latest methodologies, and framing business problems as technical ones. Additionally, there are more specific skills, like statistics and programming, that I use every day.

When I started meeting other data scientists and found that many of them were also physics PhDs, I realised that this is actually a common career path.

Find me on LinkedIn

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software