11 January 2014

How to be a quantum physicist

Everything you need to know about becoming a quantum physicist

How to be a quantum physicist

If you quite like science and you’d like to have a job that makes people go WOW! Then look no further. We’ve only gone and met real life Quantum Physicist Michael who told us exactly what it’s like to be a mega scientist. Lab coats at the ready, goggles on, this is about to get experimental…

Hello Michael! What’s your job?

I'm a Quantum Physicist at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

WOW! Can you just tell us what quantum physics actually is?

It’s a branch of science that explains how matter (materials) behave and interact with energy (like movement or radiation). Scientists use this knowledge to make links from science to help in everyday life.

What does your job entail?

I investigate newly discovered materials using quantum physics – looking at whether the materials have any unusual electrical or magnetic properties. We might be studying some of these materials so we can use them in the future, such as in computing or energy storage.

What is a typical day at work?

I work in a laboratory a lot doing science experiments and spend my mornings checking my ongoing experiments and talking to students. In the afternoon I might write up recent findings into a journal paper, which is how scientists communicate their discoveries. I do a lot of travelling to meet other scientists and exchange ideas – so sometimes I’m writing my paper in a café in Paris. C’est la vie!

What’s the best thing about your job?

I get to decide what I want to research based on what I’m interested in. There’s not many other jobs like that!

What’s the worst thing about your job?

There can be a lot of paperwork. But listening to loud music while I tackle it helps keep me entertained!

What did you do at school/ university?

I went to high school in Canada, but the UK equivalent of my course would have been A levels in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. I then went to university for a BSc. in Physics, followed by a Ph.D.

That’s an impressive list of qualifications! Did you do any work experience?

I volunteered to work in as many labs as I could. Now I sometimes take school students on as interns in my own lab during the summer. This is a good thing to do if you’re interested in science.

Have you always been into science?

I spent a lot of time as a kid reading science fiction, and messing about with simple chemistry experiments. I’ve always been interested in why things are the way they are, which led me to physics as a career.

What advice would you give to anyone who was interested in doing what you do?

Get into maths! In order to understand science you need to understand maths. It can be tough at first, but once you start to crack it it makes everything else easy. And you start to see the world in a whole new way!

The biggest misconception about your job is...

…that Physicists are boring! During the day we work in labs, but outside work we have all kinds of hobbies like playing in bands, playing sport, even acting in plays.

If you weren’t doing this you’d love to be a...

I’m doing my dream job! I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

How about a Quantum Physicist squared?? If I was anywhere near as mathematical as Michael I’d know if that was even possible, but sadly I’m not so I’ll have to leave that theory to him...!

Thank you Michael!

If you’re interested in doing a job like Michael’s he recommends I Want To Study Engineering, Rutherford Physics and the Cambridge Maths Educational Project.

Here at Whatever after we recommend watching The Big Bang Theory (obvs).

 

Michael was interviewed by Isla Gray


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