My interests in physics and engineering started in my childhood. I was basically the child who couldn’t be trusted with any toy that had batteries in it. Unsupervised, given the first opportunity, I would have it upside-down with a screwdriver in the back.
After a brief obsession with weird and obscure 1980s 8-bit computers, I started my MPhys studies at Southampton University, though when Linux was invented I thought that all my birthdays had come at once and It almost made me lose my third year. I ultimately managed to graduate with a reasonable 2:1. My final-year project was a physical model of the geomagnetic dynamo, which loudly kept blowing its power transistors, but the experience galvanised my interests in simulation and electronics.
I knew that physics was my passion, but I didn’t know in which direction it should be pursued. In my final year, I was shown a PPLN-based optical parametric oscillator and an optical cryostat with a 12 tesla superconducting magnet and I knew that I was the person to get these two together. Four years later, I had a PhD in solid-state and laser physics and an interest in complex quantum systems.
At that time, stories of quantum cryptography and teleportation were popular in the scientific press. My curiosity drew me to the quantum optics group at KTH Stockholm, where we made some very interesting entangled photon sources. However, I missed solid state physics and moved to the University of Toronto, spending two years trying to perform an all-optical coherent control experiment which, to my knowledge, still hasn’t been performed successfully.
After 12 years in academia, I was restless. It seemed like time for a change. Many years of imaging and sensing at very low light levels in complex systems had given me the perfect background for imaging at extreme colour depth and at high resolution. I joined London’s motion picture industry designing machines for digitising professional camera negative.
From there I moved sideways, still in the scope of high-resolution imaging, to a large blue-chip corporate who were moving into an emerging part of the medtech industry making state-of-the art CMOS sensor X-ray panels for diagnostics and surgery.
Becoming a managing director in itself wasn’t a goal, but increasingly, doing work that interested me was, and so in 2014 I founded my own company, Unitive Design and Analysis, to provide specialist imaging and sensing know-how to the medtech and biotech sectors. Now a government-grant-awarded company, we specialise in imaging for oncology, in-vivo and spectral imaging in molecular biology.
It’s clearer than ever that physicists are needed in the commercial world and we need to work together with biologists, chemists and engineers to deliver breakthrough technology. Being a director is much harder work than being a nerd, but it’s definitely as rewarding – if not more.
- For more examples of where studying physics can take you, see our leaflets Expand: Physics at A-level and Expand: Physics at Higher