Monkwearmouth Comprehensive school (Sunderland) 1987-1992, St. Aidan’s sixth form (Sunderland) 1992-1994, Oxford University 1994-1998, University of Sussex 1998-2001
9 GCSEs, 4 A-levels, M. Phys, D. Phil (or in plain english, a masters degree in physics, and a doctorate in physics)
University of Sussex, Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics (in Munich, Germany), Imperial College London
Lecturer and researcher at Imperial College London
Favourite thing to do in my job: I like it when I’ve got the results of a new experiment to analyse. It’s really exciting when you uncover something new in the results, a bit like cracking a code.
I’ve built a machine that measured the shape of the electron and showed that it’s very, very, very round.
The electron is one of the tiny building blocks that all matter is made from. The current theory of physics predicts that it will be almost perfectly round. But there’s a problem with the current theory of physics: according to it all of the stuff in the universe should have all been destroyed by antimatter millions of years ago! So there’s obviously something wrong with the current theory, because I’m pretty sure I haven’t been evaporated by antimatter. I’m pretty sure you haven’t either, otherwise you wouldn’t be there reading my profile!
One thing that could solve the mystery is if the electron wasn’t round, but was in fact egg-shaped. The reason is that if the electron is egg-shaped then matter and antimatter would have to behave differently. And this could be just the thing that stopped the disaster of everything being annihilated from happening.
So, what me and my team are doing is building a machine that measures the shape of electrons. So far we’ve made the most precise measurement anyone in the world has ever made. We’ve showed that the electron is so round, that if you blew it up to be the size of the solar system then any wobbles in it would be smaller than the width of a hair. That’s really, really round.
This means that we haven’t solved the mystery of the antimatter – but we’re keeping on trying, to make the machine better, so that we can look even closer. Maybe then we’ll see that the electron is just a little bit egg-shaped. And that might just help us figure out why it is that we’re even here.
My Typical Day
Always different: sometimes in front of the computer analysing data, sometimes in the lab building stuff or soldering, sometimes giving lectures or at meetings.
One of the nice things about my job is that my days aren’t all the same. Some days I’m in the lab building new equipment. This often involves a lot of hands on work like: wiring up electronics, figuring out how to connect new pieces of equipment together, plumbing in the water supply for the equipment etc.
Another part of my job is analysing the data that the experiment produces. This mainly involves writing computer programs that scan through the data, working out the answers. This involves a lot of sitting at the computer, a lot of thinking, and a lot of reading of books to learn new techniques.
I also teach students by giving lectures, tutorials, and running lab sessions. This is a lot of fun, but it’s really tiring being a teacher!
Other things that I get to do are: go to meetings to decide what we’re going to do next; travel to conferences around the world to tell people about our results; and go and visit people at other universities to see what they are doing and see if I can learn anything from them.
Every day has some of these things in it, but every day is different. It’s great because it stops you getting bored!
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d make a short film that describes a day in the life of an experiment, showing how all the different people who work on it work as a team.
I often get asked a lot of questions about my experiments and my work. Lots of people ask questions about the science of the experiment, but actually more people want to know what it’s like working as a scientist.
I’d like to make a short film about my experiment, showing a day in its life. The main aim of the film would not be to explain how the experiment works, but to show how all of the different people in the team work together to make progress. I’d like it so that after watching the film people have a better idea of what it’s like to work in a lab, with a team of scientists.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious, determined, silly.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Definitely measuring the shape of the electron better than it’s been done before. It was really exciting thinking that we’ve found out something that no-one has ever known before.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Never – I was super well-behaved at school. It’s got worse as I’ve grown up though. I’m always getting in to trouble these days :-)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Changes a lot. Listening to a lot of Hadouken! at the minute.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Dunno, hard to say. I try to do something that’s a bit fun every day!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Man, these questions are impossible. I suppose that me and my friends stay healthy and happy. Does that count as one or two? I guess winning the lottery wouldn’t be bad either, because then I could buy an aeroplane to fly around in.
Tell us a joke.
So, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are sitting around the family christmas tree. Darth says to Luke, “Luke, shhh-coooh, shh-coooh, I know what you’re getting for christmas”. Luke asks “But how can you know?!”. Darth replies, “Luke! shh-coooh, I felt your presents.” Wah wah waaah.