I'm a PhD student, researching Physics & cybersecurity analyst
Leeds University ’13-now (PhD), ’09-’13 (MPhys); McGill University, Canada, ’11-’12 (year abroad);
MPhys Physics with Nanotechnology
Leeds Uni – PhD, Leeds Uni – tour guide, summer researcher, mentor. Kings Head – Waitressing!
PhD student researcher in Physics & cybersecurity analyst
University of Leeds, School of Physics and Astronomy
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love that maybe I could have the smallest impact on the world with what I do.
I like being outdoors and camping - I'm a scout leader. I also love science and everything to do with it.
I am just finishing my PhD in cryptography. I’ve spent 3 and a bit years trying to figure out ways to send messages in secret, without anyone else being able to read them. In a few months I’ve got my exam and if I pass I will get to be Dr Freya!
In the mean time, I just started a job in ‘cybersecurity’, or ethical hacking as it is sometimes called. So I spend a lot of time trying to find ways to hack into computers, then working out how to fix it, before the bad guys get a chance to do it.
In my spare time I am a scout leader and love doing anything outdoors and I sing in my local Rock Choir.
I am making a new way of sending secret messages so that not even the best hackers could figure them out!
Phone calls, wi-fi, 3G, 4G, GPS, even bluetooth and the new ‘near field communication (NFC)’ (for those of you with fancy new phones) all have one thing in common. They use microwaves. Not like the machine in your kitchen though! Microwaves are made of the same stuff as light but with much less energy, so you can’t see them. You also don’t need special equipment to measure them with accuracy- they are quite big. This means that you can see something called ‘the uncertainty principle’ quite easily.
Ever heard of the uncertainty principle? It means that you can’t know absolutely everything about something. There is always a bit you don’t know. No matter how hard you try. Even if you are a super human hacker scientist.
How does this help? Well, If I send you something that is top secret, by microwaves, and an evil eavesdropper (let’s call her Eve) tries to examine it, there will always be bits of it she can’t know about. Sad Eve is sad. I hid the secret bit where she can’t find it! Sure, she knows a bit of what I’m trying to say, but she can’t know all of it. So I’m going to capitalise on that. Ta-da, we have a secret!
I spent a lot of time trying to see if we could make this work in satellites. It turns out we probably can!
I also now spend some time doing ethical hacking. That means looking for ways to break into computers and then how we can fix that before we let the bad guys have a chance.
My Typical Day
Tinkering with satellites, playing with our atomic clock, building model phones, teaching workshops, reading about new science.
I don’t like to sit at a desk. Desks are boring. I wear comfy jeans to work so I can crawl around in the lab and get my hands dirty playing with our machines and different bits of kit (the cryostat is my favourite- it cools things down to 0.01K. That’s pretty much the coldest you can get). I don’t just work on my own project too- there’s always other stuff to be doing- some of the projects going on in the lab include looking at lasers and how they work and seeing if quantum computers and teleportation are possible.
I spend some of my time playing with a satellite system and getting secret messages to work in that.
I usually have to spend a bit of time at my computer though. Coding a secret messages app, and coding the insides of the phone that I am building.
Sometimes I am off teaching students in the teaching labs. Other times I go out to schools to talk about physics careers. And sometimes I go to conferences to talk about my work with other scientists. I also have to go and meet up with other people that I am working with across the country which is always fun.
What I'd do with the prize money
Sci-fi to Sci-FACT roadshow with an accompanying app (and teacher resource pack) to show how some of the most exciting science fiction inventions are actually being made!
Did you know that the famous ‘tractor beams’ of sci-fi are actually starting to be a reality? How about that scientists have managed to teleport light over the river Danube? Did you know that some people are currently working on making invisibility cloaks? Have you ever wondered if time travel is possible? Or if a TARDIS is actually a physical possibility? Let your imagination go wild- this is what feeds science.
These types of questions inspire me to do my work and I want to share them. With the money I will create activities, videos, an app and a website (with a resource pack for teachers) to explore these questions and their answers, focussing on different popular sci-fi programmes. It will include some demo’s and experiments that you can try at home or school. I will also do a road-show and visit some local schools to do live talks there too, I can’t visit everyone but no one will miss out as it will all be on the internet! It will be fun, engaging and hopefully capturing imaginations everywhere.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Adventurous, curious, excitable.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
When my work gets published, that is pretty awesome.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I read hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and I realised that some of those technologies could be made real with a bit of imagination and physics knowledge.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Maths or drama.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Q from James Bond.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Often for being late and sometimes for forgetting homework too.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
A horse rider, a journalist, in the RAF, a political activist for women’s and lgbt rights, a vet, a travel writer, an explorer or a musician.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I’m a bit in love with George Ezra’s voice, but also Avicii.
What's your favourite food?
Yorkshire puddings, apple crumble, CHEESE, custard… I love lots of food.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I lived in Canada for a year as part of my degree, it was the biggest adventure ever.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) To be always happy and joyful 2) To have my family and friends safe and always around me 3) To travel the world.
Tell us a joke.
What do you call an alligator in a vest? An investigator.