Tim Newman

  • PhD student
  • EQUS
  • University of Sydney
  • Road-tripping Alice to Darwin (2024)

What do you do?

I shine really special light on very small, very cold things.  We’re trying to use that light to understand some of the smallest objects we can play with, so that we can one day build better computers, and better ways for those computers to talk to each other.

How did you get to where you are today?

I’ve always been really interested in understanding the world and how things work.  It was only natural that I’d go to uni to study engineering and physics, but as a younger student if you’d asked me I doubt I’d have said I’d get into experimental physics.  Over the years as I spent more time working on and learning about hardware, I became more and more interested by spending time in experimental contexts: designing, building, testing and breaking things.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying physics?

It can be frustrating sometimes in physics, as you seem to learn over and over again that the models you were previously taught turned out to be approximations, outright lies, or both.  I think that a profound experience I had was when I started to see these approximations and lies as ‘useful fictions’ rather than feeling down about not knowing the deeper truth—if some model you’ve got allows you to make useful predictions about the world, then use it, keep it, cherish it!  You may be able to use that lie to help develop some new piece of technology: think about how many bicycles we got on the roads before we truly understood angular momentum; think about all the transistors we made before we understood quantum mechanics; and think about all the neat things you might be able to make with our current understanding of physics.

There’s a longer point to be made here about the distinction between fundamental science and engineering, but I’ll save that for a later date.

What do you like doing besides physics?

I’m a cyclist, and a fairly obsessive music fan—if I’m not in the lab or the office, it’s most likely that I’m listening to music somewhere, riding my bike somewhere, or doing both of those things at the same time.

Which three people would you invite to dinner?

Miles Davis, J. S. Bach, and a very good translator.

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