Steven Large

I am a 2nd year PhD student in Physics

Tell us about yourself

My academic career so far has taken me from my hometown of Victoria B.C., to Guelph Ontario, and back to Vancouver B.C. where I am currently a PhD student at Simon Fraser University. I like the west coast weather and hiking in the mountains when I get the time.

What is your research about?

The research I work on currently has to do with the way small stuff moves around. Generally, objects of microscopic size interact with the thermal energy in their environment and move around in wildly unpredictable ways. As it turns out, at the cellular level, biological systems have found remarkable ways to achieve particular tasks by taking advantage of this unpredictable motion in ways that we can't understand by looking at our macroscopic world. My work is related to understanding, from a theoretical standpoint, how something can operate efficiently in this type of environment.

What have you enjoyed the most about your research?

The aspect of research that I most enjoy is being actively involved with the forefront of knowledge in your field. It is fun to work on problems that have not been solved before, thinking of the next questions to ask, and figuring out how you can find the answers. This process is the most rewarding thing I find in my own research.

What have you found most challenging about your research?

The aspect of research that I find most challenging is very much related to what I like the best. Unfortunately, trying to figure our answers to questions which are not yet known, means you often run into unforeseen roadblocks. This means a lot of time spent double-checking and testing your results, which, on a practical level, usually involves a lot of programming and code debugging. This is a less entertaining aspect of everyday research.

How has your research experience influenced your career path?

So far in my scientific career, I have had a very positive experience with research. Ultimately, my choice to go to graduate school was fueled by my experience with research at the undergraduate level through one of my summer breaks. As for the future, I know I enjoy problem solving, and I hope to pursue a career, whatever it may be, that gives me the same intellectual freedom as I have found in the research world.

How has your research impacted the world?

Ultimately, I hope to elucidate the design principles of efficient microscopic machines. Aside from the fundamental hope of better understanding how biology works, this may provide a general set of rules for building our own microscopic machines. These tiny machines, or molecular motors, could be engineered for a number or cellular-level tasks. One prospect which is very tantalizing is to use these synthetic machines for targeted drug delivery.

What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?

The field I work in is still in a developmental stage and, as a result, it is very hard to predict what the next big breakthrough will be. There have been, however, a number of somewhat recent results which tell us about the far-from-equilibrium world, providing generalizations to well founded physical laws, such as the second law of thermodynamics. Discovering how exactly these far-from-equilibrium results put constraints on how biological systems work is a general area of great promise for future research.

What motivates you to do research?

When I was just starting out in University I would not have seen myself going into research, however, after I gained some experience immersing myself into a research project for a few months I saw the appeal. I have always been interested in problem solving and once I was exposed to a real question in theoretical research, I realized how much I enjoyed taking part in the process. While there are a number of ups-and-downs along the way, in the end I think the appeal to satisfy my curiosity and discover answers to the problems I find interesting keeps me motivated to do research everyday.

Tell us about your 'Eureka' moment

A research project I worked on as an undergraduate was concerned with a question relating to how you can transmit an atom from one point to another with perfect probability. As it turns out, due to quantum effects this can only occur in special circumstances. My eureka moment was when I figured out how to solve the equation I had been working on for a few months. The result of this calculations ended up being the final piece to my project and led to a better understanding of how quantum particles move in 1 dimensional systems.

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