At the start of modern science, physics addressed the problems of mechanics and motion. More than four centuries have passed, but if you work in robotics, satellites, rockets, GPS positioning… you will still use the same equations and notions. Then came the industrial revolution with the steam engine, and the need to understand the behaviour of gases and the concept of heat. Physics developed thermodynamics, and nowadays you find it everywhere, from the inner working of living cells to the cooling of the huge machines in data centres.
In the nineteenth century, physics tackled electromagnetism, which is still very much with us; and it’s fun to recall that the word “wireless” was first used for the radio. Then it appeared that physics had done its job — instead, the twentieth century witnessed an amazing expansion of its scope and predictions. The universe was recognised in its immensity and as a dynamical, rather than static, reality. The correct description of physics at the atomic level, through quantum theory, had even farther reaching consequences here on earth. You wouldn’t be able to use semiconductors or to think of magnetic memories without it. As for the wealth of subatomic particles discovered in accelerators, maybe you don’t find them in your everyday life, but the internet was invented in that context.
In the 21st century, physicists have to master programming and process large amount of data, like everyone else today — but we took the ideas of computing and communication to a completely new level thanks to our knowledge of quantum physics. At the other end, the discovery of exoplanets and the detection of gravitational waves are opening new windows on the universe. And a lot of new questions are being addressed at all sizes, from the very small to the very large.
Do you see the pattern? Physics is about solving interesting problems with the best available tools — or, more often than not, developing new tools. It’s about contributing both to knowledge and to technology. There is just one warning: problems at the forefront are complex and challenging. If your goal is to learn and repeat, there are other options: here, we explore.
My current role in National Cancer Centre involves assisting in the calibration of linear accelerators used for cancer treatment, performing patient specific quality assurance of treatment plans and occasionally treatment planning for patients according to the doctors’ requirements. This is a highly meaningful job which allows me to apply my love for physics to medicine to make a positive impact on people’s lives.
Being in the NUS physics programme has allowed me to gain a strong physics foundation which greatly aids me in catching onto the novel concepts used in clinical settings.
In addition to allowing me to understand the context of medical physics in Singapore, the medical physics minor programme has also further enhanced my understanding of the various physics concepts applied in relevant medical equipment and techniques through the lab experiments conducted. I would highly recommend students interested in the medical physics field to take up the minor.
In my current vocation as a medical physicist in radiation oncology at NCCS, it is my responsibility to ensure radiation safety and accurate dose delivery to cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy. This entails treatment planning, routine quality assurance of treatment units and commissioning of new radiotherapy equipment.
During my education in NUS Physics, I was constantly challenged to reach my potential with the support from committed teaching staff and motivated peers around me.
The Medical Physics minor programme prepared me well for my current job with its breadth of applied physics and life science modules that include hands-on experiments in the radiation and life science laboratories. I also had the opportunity to be attached to Chang Gung University Institute for Radiological Research in Taiwan under the Undergraduate Professional Internship Programme (UPIP).
My Science education equipped me with business acumen and the ability to communicate the value of business analytics to ‘C’-level executives. These skills facilitate commercial enterprises’ decision-making in areas like supply chain optimisation, fraud analysis, time-series forecasting and financial analysis.
My studies equipped me with the tenacity to understand difficult concepts. This is useful in my job of building Artificial Intelligence to improve the diagnostic accuracy of medical images. My dream is to eliminate misdiagnosis and bring high quality healthcare to every corner of the world.
Consulting requires diligent research, quick thinking and confidence to work with influential people to effect change. We frame problems, break them down and propose meaningful solutions. My Physics education trained me to think holistically and logically, to correlate evidence and develop methodologies for problem-solving.
NUS’s flexible Science curriculum allowed me to take experimental modules, which equipped me with useful skills such as laboratory management and organisational skills. In addition, my multidisciplinary research projects covering Physics, Chemistry and Material Science prepared me well for industry projects which involve solving technical problems and product development.
My combined knowledge of physics, mathematics and computing gives me a differentiating edge in seismic processing, which is important to reduce costs and risks in oil and gas exploration.
The analytical skills from a Physics degree are essential to understanding atmospheric science and climate processes. My numerical computation skills gave me a distinct advantage over my peers in deciphering vast amount of data.
In my humble opinion, Physics is about understanding the fundamental mechanisms and underlying principles. In my line of work, when it comes to resolving technical problems in the engineering world, instead of just focusing on identifying the solution, having a Physics background would prompt one to think more on the fundamental mechanism – how did the problem happen? Why did the solution work? What is the first principle mechanism behind it? Can the same mechanism explain other similar problems and is the mechanism consistent in that circumstance? I found that greater insight of the problem and robust solutions to a technical problem can be developed if one is able to establish a solid fundamental mechanism for the problem. Having a Physics background is a boon in adopting such an approach.
I believe Physics is the foundation to many technology disciplines. Instead of specialising in one area, it opens up the possibility and adaptability to go into many different technology/engineering fields – you build the specialised technological knowledge and know-how on the foundation of Physics. I think that helps the physicists in certain aspects of their jobs.
My Science training provided valuable skills which greatly helped my careers in academia, a start-up and in the corporate sector. I acquired the learning agility to figure out solutions to new challenges, be it a problem in genomics or leading a technology and business team. A Science degree is the best education to stay relevant, given the accelerating pace of technology in most industries.
When I was appointed a grassroots advisor, I had virtually no experience. My NUS Science training equipped me to swiftly adapt to new environments. My varied career paths in physics, mathematics, information science, public administration and consulting over the last 16 years is proof that the possibilities for Science graduates are limitless.
For more information and queries on our programmes, please contact:
Prof Valerio Scarani, Deputy Head (Education)
Sng Wee Lee (Manager)