This month's guest blogger, Sophie Hutchins, explains a bit about her passion for physics and how it led to her becoming an engineer.
I love physics! I’ve always been curious of the world around me from the moment I could talk, and physics is the fundamentals of how the world around us works. It explains both the biggest and smallest things imaginable: from the universe itself to the particles that make it up.
The other awesome thing about physics is that by understanding it, we can also do some really cool and weird stuff. Hopefully I can convince you how cool physics is with this video…
Yes you saw right, that frog is floating quite happily and unharmed in mid-air. But how? The first thing to understand is that quantum physics is at work here. The frog is made up of lots of atoms, including quite a lot of water molecules. It turns out that water molecules have a special property; if you apply a magnetic field to them they create a small magnetic field pushing in the opposite direction. Imagine it like lots of little bar magnets, one for every water molecule, opposing the larger magnetic field.
Ok, so now we know an interesting piece of physics theory. How can we use this to make the frog levitate? Now imagine the frog is sitting on the ground, and we apply a big magnetic force upwards. All the water molecules will react with their opposing force downwards. If we make the magnetic force big enough, the sum of all the forces from the water molecules will be large enough to overcome the force of gravity keeping the frog on the ground; the frog will levitate!
So we made a frog levitate, what was the point? Well as you probably know humans are also made mostly of water, so perhaps with a big enough magnetic field we could use this same piece of physics to allow humans to levitate too. This could be really useful for astronauts training to work in zero gravity conditions.
By understanding the physics, and engineering the machines to create the right environment, we’ve taken a theory and turned it into something useful for the benefit of humans. This is what engineering is all about.
So was engineering a natural career choice for me? To be honest, I had never considered engineering as being something for me. I remember there was a girl at my school going to study mechanical engineering at degree level, and I was perplexed. I thought she was going to learn how to fix cars. Engineering didn’t seem like an option for me then, but I loved doing physics at A level and so naturally decided to pursue the subject to degree level. I did a 4-year degree in Physics (called an integrated masters) at Durham University. I imagined that I would go on to a PhD in physics, but by the end of my degree I found myself wanting to use all this knowledge of physics I now had for something practical.
During my time at university I made friends with engineers, and found out that engineering is basically taking the theories developed and tested in physics, and using them to create useful products that can help humans in some way. I discovered that doing a physics degree is a great way to get into the field, so thought I’d apply for jobs in engineering. Having applied for graduate jobs in a few different engineering sectors I settled on a job in electronic engineering with Leonardo, one of the world’s leading Aerospace, Defence & security companies.
I’ve actually had jobs in a few different engineering disciplines within my sector, all in the same company. It takes lots of different specialised engineers working together to create a final product. I’ve been an Antenna Engineer, where I ran computer models of antenna designs on huge supercomputers. Think of the TV aerials on top of your house but more sophisticated. I’m now a Systems Engineer, where I make computer models that simulate how our electronics will work on an aircraft.
I love making computer models to discover how things could work. Something as simple as writing a few lines of code can allow you to animate an equation so it’s no longer a mystical piece of maths, but a graph, or an animation that reveals what is happening.
I love working in engineering because I feel challenged every day, and it is so satisfying to solve a problem when you’ve been working hard on it. So I hope my story has helped you to understand that there are different routes into engineering and that it’s not about fixing cars!