David Horsley has just completed his PhD in Maths and Physics. And if that isn’t achievement enough, he is soon setting off to the US to take up a job at NASA.

David will be working at the Goddard Space Flight Centre, a NASA facility just outside Washington DC.

“I will be working on the hardware and software for telescopes. I’m looking forward to it- it seems like a really interesting place. 

We use the same software here at UTAS to run our 12 and 26 metre telescopes, so I have a fair bit of experience working on that from an observer’s point of view.

“It wasn’t something I was particularly aiming for, but it popped up and it sounded exactly like what I wanted.

There’s lots of big projects coming up at NASA over the next 10 years. They’re building a whole heap of radio telescopes around the world and I will be working on this next generation. I am excited about contributing to geodesy. It’s going to be an interesting career.

David’s PhD research is in applied mathematics.

“I look at these very idealised problems. I try and focus on phenomena called Faraday waves independently of the complications of physics.”

“Imagine you have a full coffee cup and you shake the coffee cup vertically and you start to get these resonant surface waves on top of your coffee. These can get quite violent, but they also make quite interesting patterns. If you shake it quite fast, you get different oscillations.

“These ripples are Faraday waves. I look at these, but on the surface of stars. Instead of shaking a coffee cup and gravity, you have a sphere of fluid and that’s moving in and out. You have a similar process with gravity going inwards but then instead it can oscillate in different ways, making resonate waves on the surface of a star.”

While he’s clearly got his head in the stars now, David wasn’t always so focused on maths and physics.

I wasn’t that into physics until I started Uni and I hadn’t studied any physics before. I did the bridging course to get into physics here. Then I liked Physics all the way through.

“I’d always been reasonable at maths, but at Uni I actually developed a passion for it. Because I enjoyed it so much, it was just easy to do the work because it was fun.

“I got to the end of Honours and really enjoyed doing research. It was the next logical step to go towards the PhD.

“Physics definitely has interesting applications for maths. Physics for me is more driven by a motivation to understand things and get a different perspective on the world. You look at coffee cups and see that they can do Faraday waves. Whereas maths to me is intrinsically quite interesting. I don’t see maths as just a tool for physics. I like it in its own right. 

All of the staff here are friendly and collegial. We have morning teas, everyone knows everyone. There are lots of great teachers, he said.

“There’s so many places maths can take you. There’s lots of interesting careers."