Research Scientist with the Canadian Hazards Information Service, part of Natural Resources Canada, Specializing in Nuclear Explosion Monitoring
What is a typical day like for you?
Roll into work in the morning, check my email and respond to any messages left from day before. Use my computer to locate and investigate earthquakes and blasts in Canada and around the world. Lunch, then work on research on improving Canada’s use of its seismic and infrasonic network of seismographs and microbarometers.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
Always something new and unusual to work on. Plus, travelling around the world to work and discuss how we can improve our instruments and monitoring capabilities has been pretty cool. I’ve gone to some very interesting places, from the arctic, to arid deserts to tropical islands.
What is the least enjoyable part of your job?
Dealing with the political side of nuclear monitoring. While I work with the resulting data and provide others with information regarding suspect events, I cannot make other countries/politicians agree to work together to stop the development and testing of these weapons.
Explain the path you took to get to this job (education, internships, etc.).
In High School, math and calculus, physics and chemistry with art and drafting and woodworking for fun. Bachelor’s degree in University working in Physics and the Earth Sciences with some Astronomy, still lots of math and problem solving. Master’s degree in Geophysics working on locating “airbusts” of meteors in the atmosphere using seismic recordings of the blast waves. Doctorate in Geophysics specializing in low frequency sound (infrasound) generated from meteors around the world and recorded by sensitive microphones called microbarometers. Post-doctorate using video data from a camera network to triangulate the positions and calculate speeds of meteors, and using this to identify hypersonic booms on seismic/infrasound records on the ground.
Who or what was the greatest influence that set you on this path?
Science fiction TV shows and movies and books, like Star Wars, Star Trek, Buck Rogers and numerous others, along with watching the neat stuff astronauts were doing on the Space Shuttle. These got me interested in space and astronomy, which in turn made me more interested in the Earth and its place in the solar system.
What advice would you give others seeking a similar job?
Work hard (at everything you do), and don’t give up on math. Yes at times it’s hard and not all of it you may use, BUT it exercises the mind and it’s the language that you need to speak to really understand some of the details as to why some things are the way they are and act the way they do. Plus, you don’t need a calculator to figure out if someone jipped you on your change, when you buy something!
How does your job make a difference?
It provides the basic information that calls attention to countries who are developing and testing very very VERY dangerous weapons. This lets our country, and all other countries make informed decisions regarding how to proceed with the offending country. Which in turn will hopefully one day make the world a little safer to live in for everyone.
How do you use science, math and technology in your job?
I use the scientific method everyday to investigate and make decisions. When these decisions lead to looking at scientific data, I must know how to interpret this data to determine what physically occurred. Math is required all the time, not always complicated math, but all the time. And technology is how we do our job, from the computers on our desktops, to the instruments in the field, to the communications technology that gets the data to us from around the world and lets us communicate with colleagues in Canada and on the other side of the world.
Is there one course you wish you had taken in high school but didn’t? Why?
French class. Communication is always something you need and not everyone speaks the same language. Knowing another, or multiple languages makes things a lot easier. Plus, you don’t feel like a dope when you can’t understand what everyone else is saying.
What makes this job right for you?
I like problem solving, enjoy travelling and meeting and seeing new people and places. I like the idea that not every day will be the same as every other day, and I like the challenge of being one of the first people to see and understand something new. As well, I like helping people and this lets me help people I haven’t even met or may never ever meet.
What's the most bizarre or silliest thing you’ve ever done in this job?
Once my, office manager gave me a piece of very salty liquorice (bleh!) and said it was his favourite candy ever! As a joke I gave him in return a large 20kg block of salt (the kind farm animals use) with a black Twizzler on top.
The next morning I found that my office was invaded with a dozen stuffed cows! Asking what they were for, he commented that they were looking for their missing salt-lick!
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
I like building things so I have lots of creative hobbies like woodworking, soapstone carving, and gardening. I play recreational hockey and skate in the winter. Hike and cycle in the summer.
You just won $10 million! What’s the first thing you’d do?
Blow a million dollars on every type of ice cream I can find and treat everyone I meet to their favourite flavour!