About to have my first live chat with the students. Looking forward to it!
Douglas Community School and University College Cork
I've a degree in maths and physics, and I'm working on a PhD in physics.
Musician and PhD student
PhD student in optical communications
I'm Brian, a PhD student from Cork. When I'm not doing science, I'm happiest watching sports, reading books or playing music music!
My favourite type of books are fantasy (if it’s got a magic sword or a dragon in it, I’m buying it!). For sports, I’m big into running, though I prefer downhills rather than uphills… Oh, and I’m also a violinist – I play in a string trio at weddings, where we cover rock and pop songs on two violins and a cello. 🤘
My Typical Day
I'm not a scientist who has to wear a white coat - my lab doesn't have any chemicals! My lab is a photonics lab, which means our research is all about light. I work with tiny, high-power lasers, and really fast electronics to try and send data over long distances (up to 100 kilometres). Somedays I have to use microscopes to see if the lasers are connected correctly, and other days I have to write computer code to analyse the data and see if it's coming out correctly at the other end.
What I'd do with the prize money
I'd make a demo of an optical communication link that could be turned into a classroom kit for students. It would let you plug your phone into a laser with a standard headphone cable, send a song from your phone along a beam of light over an optical fibre, and play it on the other side when it reaches a speaker!
This is a pretty cool idea I’ve done in the past for students using a cheap laser pointer, plastic optical fibre, batteries, a photodiode, and a speaker. It’s a simple amplitude modulation (AM) system, where the information in the song is encoded into a waveform and transmitted.
There’s so many teaching opportunities with this, and teachers could pick and choose what to use, depending on the level of the students:
- Light travels in straight lines, unless we confine it to a nice medium like an optical fibre.
- We can use optical fibre to send information from the internet to your home.
- A song is just a waveform, with its own characteristic amplitudes and frequencies.
- Information can be changed from an electrical signal to an optical signal and back again using a laser/photodiode.
- You can even send multiple songs at once if you use two different colour lasers. With a coloured filter at the other end, you can block one or the other. For really interested students, that’s an overview of wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), which is used in real optical links today!
Creating a template for a standard kit would be absolutely brilliant, and I’d love to use this as a starting point to create more and make them widely available for schools.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Happy, chilled, hungry?
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to be a maths teacher, but then I started liking physics more and more as I went through college.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Nothing serious, but they ALWAYS gave out to me for running in the yard...
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Shepherd's pie with loads of coleslaw on top. Don't knock it till you've tried it!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Drove to the middle of nowhere in Iceland late at night to see the Northern Lights!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I wish to be fluent in every language. I wish to know the Euromillions numbers for the next few weeks. And I wish for three more wishes!
Tell us a joke.
So there's this circus, and it's looking for a new act to join them. This girl comes up to the ringmaster, and says "Pick me, pick me! I can do a really good bird impression!". The ringmaster is like, "Nah, that doesn't sound impressive enough." So the girl gets angry and flies away...