Guest post of Martin Arnold: My Journey as a Physicist (so far)

My name is Martin; I am a former MPhys student from Surrey currently studying a PhD in the Laser Consortium at Imperial College in London. I am mainly looking in to the synthesis, in the time and space domain, of femtosecond laser pulses.  I am helping build and design a new Hollow Core Photonic Crystal Fiber  (HCPCF) laser that will be used for High Harmonic Generation and Attosecond Spectroscopy of atoms and molecular systems. An femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second, and attoseccond is a thousdan times smaller still! So far I have been working in the labs and doing some computational modeling on the side as well as attending some additional postgrad lectures. So far I have been to Salamanca in Spain and will be going to Bordeaux for a month to take part in experiments there as well as others in Paris and Vienna later this year.

It was an unexpected journey that got me here and I can say that I have enjoyed every minute of it; it’s not what I thought I’d be doing when I applied toUCAS all those years ago!

I started out studying Physics at GCSE level and then went on to study it at A level. At the point of choosing a course to study for university, for me it wa s a hard decision. On the one hand I liked engineering and could see the applications of the degree all around. However I really enjoyed my physics course; but had doubts about what a physicist did. Anyway I trusted my gut instinct and applied for the BSc in Physics at Surrey.

After the second year at Surrey I was offered the choice to move on to the MPhys course, and at the same time I had an EPSRC summer research grant awarded to me. I worked in the ATI at Surrey with Prof. Stephen Sweeney over the summer and learnt a lot about optics and general lab work, building on the laboratory skills learnt on Monday mornings in the previous two years in undergrad lab sessions.

Part of the unique course Surrey offers is the chance to do a placement during a research year at another university or within a world leading company. I did mine in a company that develops tunable semiconductor lasers for telecommunications. This was one of the best parts of the degree, I got to practice and develop so many skills that I’d gained during the previous two and a half years. Some being: programming, laboratory techniques, presentations, lab report writing as well as using all of the knowledge I had gained in quantum mechanics, solid state physics, electromagnetism, mathematics etc. Most of the time in lectures I couldn’t see how learning to solve the Schrodinger equation or how to align lasers were going to be applicable in real life, and here I was doing it everyday – and still am today!