Simon Vedl

  • PhD student
  • EQUS
  • Macquarie University
  • Road-tripping around QLD

What do you do?

If you look at a beach, you can see water and land.  They seem very different: water is wet and flows, and land is solid and dry.  But if you zoom in you find out that they are made of similar stuff called atoms.  For some time people thought that this is it, things are made of atoms.  But then we started to build particle accelerators and colliders and found out that atoms also have an internal structure made of smaller particles.  But zooming even closer we found that those particles are less like small balls and more like ripples in a large sea permeating through the whole universe.  Physicists call this sea a vacuum of a field theory.  In my work I’m studying these fundamental fields and my goal is to find out whether they are truly continuous like water seems to us or made of discrete grains like sand on the beach.

How did you get to where you are today?

I originally wanted to be an architect but then I found out that I was really bad at drawing.  What I was good at was maths, so I decided that I’d study mathematics.  But my mum intervened because she was worried about my job security.  So she convinced me to study to be a nuclear engineer.  After the first semester I found out that I really do not want to be a nuclear engineer, but at this point I could not return to pure maths because I got a taste of physics and really liked it.  So I compromised and changed my major to theoretical physics.  Ever since I have been interested in studying the fundamental theories of physics, mostly because they usually go hand in hand with exotic and interesting mathematics.

What’s the best thing about your work?

The best thing about my work is that I get to think all day about intriguing questions and problems, and solving them feels really rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying physics?

If you love physics and can afford to study physics at university level, go for it.  Don’t worry about your future employment.  Do physics for the love of physics, don’t do physics for a fat pay check.  And tell those annoying relatives that the career of a physicist is not as clear cut as that of a law or medical student, but there are good-paying jobs for physics graduates.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In five years I will have hopefully obtained my PhD and I will be looking for the next thing to do, be it a position in industry or continuing down the academic path.

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