A coffee with... Emma Bland

Published on December 4th, 2013 | by Stephanie

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Emma Bland

Position: PhD Candidate, La Trobe University

How do you introduce yourself at parties?
Nothing captures an audience like telling them you do ‘space plasma physics’. I study the Earth’s ionosphere, the region of the atmosphere at the edge of space (70km to 600km altitude) that is particularly important for long-distance radio communications. I know it’s a bit shallow, but I chose this field partly because it sounds cool. Also, because I get to play with radars.

Why mathematics?
Being a physicist makes me a user of mathematics and statistics. I really enjoyed maths in high school, so I was keen to continue with it at university both out of interest and to support my studies in physics. Had I known more about career opportunities in mathematics back in high school, I might have gone down that path, but I love what I do and I get to use maths every day. It can be hard to make informed career choices when you’re a teenager; we need to spread the word to students that mathematicians solve real-world problems in important areas like health, finance, energy and ecology. Or you can join me on the dark side.

Do you think that mathematicians deserve the “geek” tag?
Probably, but many people who label me as a nerd or a geek don’t seem to understand the appeal of being a researcher. I enjoy problem-solving, and yes, I’m a bit quirky, but that’s a good thing, right? Of course I’m not a stereotypical geek – I’m a female physicist after all – so I love watching how people react when I tell them what I do.

What area of mathematics and why?
In undergraduate physics we used a lot of vector calculus, particularly in electrodynamics which is central to my research area. Thankfully, James Clerk Maxwell condensed most of electrodynamics into just 4 equations, but solving them isn’t always easy! There are lots of other things in my mathematical toolbox as well: linear algebra, differential equations, complex numbers, and a bit of statistics, for example.

What has maths done for you lately?
Maybe it’s not maths per se, but I’m one of those annoying people who counts cards when I play trick-taking card games. Sometimes it helps me win, but more often than not it just allows me to predict my own demise long before it happens.

Do you have a favourite application or theory of maths?
The matrix mechanics formalism of quantum physics is simply wonderful.[subscribe2]

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