Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Cardston, Alberta and from there up to completing high school, I lived in Vauxhall, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Bow Island, Stirling and Calgary. I completed a BSc in Engineering Physics at the University of Alberta (Sept. 1996 - April 1998, Sept. 2000 - April 2003), completed an eight-month co-op term in Ottawa, and lived in Jamaica as a missionary for two years. Following my PhD, I was hired by my external examiner and completed about four years as a post-doc at the Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy in Wales. My oldest child had her first birthday in Cardiff, and two of my children were born there.
How long have you been at ULethbridge and what do you do here?
I was at ULethbridge from 2003-2009 as a graduate student, and now from July 2013 to present as a Canada Research Chair and tenure track/tenured Assistant/Associate Professor. I teach astronomy, physics, and engineering, and my research is focused on instrumentation for astronomy and astrophysics in the far-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. I have worked on two European Space Agency space observatories (Herschel and Planck), and am involved in a variety of ground-based, balloon/rocket-based and space-based observatories and future observatory concepts. I deal with photons from the oldest light available to us (around 14-billion years old from the big bang) to those from newly forming stars and stellar systems (and even light from clouds of gas and dust at minus 250 Celsius that are just about to form stars). It can take over a decade for a project to go from an initial idea into something developed (and funded) and observing the cosmos. My research is involved in many of the life-cycle stages of astronomical instrumentation and observation from instrument design and simulation to characterization and calibration testing, to astronomical data processing and analysis. This work involves collaborations with several nations across the world and many different space agencies. I also train undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students on research projects in my laboratory, and within collaborations, and I am involved in a variety of committees and program initiatives across campus.
What's the best part of your job?
Broadly speaking, problem solving. Growing up, I loved mathematics, physics and science in general. Now, having landed at the interface between engineering, experimental instrumentation, and astronomy and cosmology is just fascinating. I enjoy thinking about all kinds of perspectives, both in and out of the box and devising experiments that help us fully understand our instrumentation. Some of the astronomical signals I deal with are part-per-million and part-per-billion level signals (think of it as finding a needle inside of a haystack inside of a field of haystacks). This requires very detailed understanding of how instrumentation works and what you need to know to fully understand the accuracy and precision of a measurement. Sometimes we need to average thousands of individual measurements together to see something that we can be confident in.
The continual peeling away of layers and layers to obtain deeper understanding of something just fascinates me.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
There are a variety of things I enjoy doing outside of work. If it involves the outdoors, there is a good chance I will be finding ways to do this with my family. We enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, hiking, biking, running and kayaking. We have managed several multi-night, back-country hiking/camping trips in recent years and have also done some back-country kayaking. I sing in a community choir and have recently played cornet and baritone with a community brass band. I am on the board that organizes the Lethbridge Regional Science Fair and Science Olympics. I also love cheering my kids and family on in the variety of activities they are exploring. Recently that has somehow turned itself into me emceeing for highland dance competitions in the community.