Karen Lomas
May 3, 2015

Diamonds and the Physicist

A really good discussion with a physicist took place on the radio on Tuesday morning. No, I’m not pulling your leg! The female prize-winning expert explained the connection between a diamonds and a physicist, something about which I knew absolutely nothing! In my defense I dropped physics in year 10, due to being truly terrified of my science teacher, Mr Borodin. Even his name conjures up an image of someone with metal teeth!

Dr Amanda Barnard, is the first Australian and first female winner of the prestigious Feynman Prize in Nano-thechnology. Dr Barnard is a Computational Physicist at the CSIRO and in her recent interview she describes her pioneering work studying diamonds at nano scale and the ways in which benign metals (such as gold and silver) and other pieces of matter (eg diamonds) reconstruct in such a way as to interact with other chemicals. For example, in the case of diamond particles, these can interact with chemotherapy drugs such that the doses a released slowly over months. This allows longer periods between treatments and a less aggressive impact on healthy cells.

Dr Barnard explains how she was “seduced by mathematics” (clearly didn’t have Mr Borodin in year 11), and says that “science is reinventing itself all the time”. She goes on to say that not only does she love playing with super computers, but that more broadly a degree in science  “teaches you more than about scientific careers…gives you an advantage in other domains as well”.

This resonates with the Australian Government initiative to restore the focus, and increase student uptake of, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in primary and secondary schools across the country. Indeed, it is particularly exciting that this year the award has gone to a female recipient, as women are still under-represented in these traditionally male dominated areas of work and study.

Listen to the conversation by clicking on the link. Mr B would be impressed by the title of my blog: Diamonds and the Physicist, and that I’d be expounding the virtues of science as a field of study. Progress indeed. Now to find me a diamond!



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