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30 under 30: Pushing Physics forward in Service of Biology

Meet Andrew McCulloch, 25, one of the up-and-coming physicists attending this year's Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
Australian physicist Andrew McCulloch



Courtesy Andrew McCulloch

The annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting brings a wealth of scientific minds to the shores of Germany’s Lake Constance. Every summer at Lindau, dozens of Nobel Prize winners exchange ideas with hundreds of young researchers from around the world. Whereas the Nobelists are the marquee names, the younger contingent is an accomplished group in its own right. In advance of this year’s meeting, which focuses on physics, we are profiling several promising attendees under the age of 30. The profile below is the second in a series of 30.

Name: Andrew McCulloch
Age: 25
Born: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Nationality: Australian

Current position: Completing Ph.D. student at the University of Melbourne
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Honours degree from the University of Melbourne

What is your field of research?
I work at the intersection of cold atom physics and electron optics. Our work aims to develop a tabletop electron source capable of performing ultrafast electron diffraction on biological samples.

What drew you to physics, and to that research area in particular?
Application-based physics is so exciting because it sits on the forefront of technology; the objective is to exploit physics to produce new technologies. What drew me to physics as a whole were the people. Physicists are notoriously eccentric, and in general this is due to the love they have for their research, and their desire to communicate it. It is a really positive work environment.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My current area of research is still in its infancy, and the outlook is really positive. As such, I am planning to continue working in this field. The ultimate aim is to realize ultrafast diffraction from biological nanocrystals. These small crystals are usually discarded by crystallographers, as typical microscopes are not bright enough to extract information from them. However, new sources provide a way to spatially image these samples and, in addition, provide temporal information on the femtosecond timescale.

Who are your scientific heroes?
The understated heroes of the science world. People that do amazing work, not for the recognition, but for the love of science. From days past: Nikola Tesla and Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi. In current-day research, I find the work of Tim Flannery truly inspiring.

If you had unlimited resources, what kind of research would you conduct?
As corny as it sounds, I would continue in the field I am in. I see such tangible outcomes that it is hard not to be excited about the potential applications of the research.

What activities outside of physics do you most enjoy?
I am an avid music lover—both playing instruments and listening to music. I enjoy the outdoors, hiking and just exploring. I am also a keen photographer.

What do you hope to gain from this year’s Lindau meeting?
As I fast approach the end of my Ph.D. research, my knowledge in both experimental and theoretical atom and electron optics should allow for meaningful discussions, both on key areas of the field in the past, but more importantly, on the direction for the progression of the field. Additionally, I look forward to discussing physics outside my research area, which is important for both providing increased awareness of other research that is out there, but also for firmly establishing the context of my own research within the community. The networking aspect of the meeting also provides an excellent opportunity to meet with like-minded peers from around the world and to form collaborations; current peers are future colleagues.

Are there any Nobelists whom you are particularly excited to meet or learn from at Lindau?
Theodor Hänsch, John Hall and Roy Glauber, because of their work in precision spectroscopy and the development of the frequency comb. This work is a great example of good ideas and good work that have had a huge impact on research and commercial applications, few of which could have been predicted.

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1. Letícia Palhares
30 Under 30:
Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
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3. Sabrina Pasterski

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