I studied a Bachelor of Sciences with the Open University between 1996 and 2003. This was a home study course which I combined with part-time jobs and raising my two small children alone. I studied physics, electronics and maths and in the final year gained a distinction in quantum mechanics. This awarded me a PhD position at the University of Leicester, UK where I spent just over three years in the Condensed Matter Physics group of the department of physics growing and measuring thin films of magnetic materials. My scientific field is rather diverse and evidence points mainly to instrumentation, however, I intend to focus more on strongly correlated electron systems in the future.
My first post-doc was at ILL/ESRF working within the IMPRESS project. For a short time I was co-responsible on D20, the high-flux neutron powder diffractometer of the ILL, then I was instrument responsible of FALCON an instrument I built for single-crystal Laue diffraction at HZB. Now I am an instrument scientist on EMU, the backscattering spectrometer and PELICAN, the time-of-flight spectrometer in the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering at ANSTO.
The Bachelor’s degree qualified me for the PhD. My passion is space travel so I wanted to find a post-doc that involved nanoparticles and space. Through attending conferences (often paid for by myself) I found the right people to talk to and found out about the brilliant IMPRESS project. Once at the ILL I became addicted to neutron scattering, having only used synchrotron X-rays during the PhD.
Two papers arose from my PhD work on the topic of nanoparticle fabrication and magnetic properties of thin films of nanoparticles. I am co-author on several papers from the IMPRESS project and I have also been a user at several other neutron facilities to continue magnetic studies on strongly correlated electron systems.
My children are now grown up and off making lives for themselves so my role as ‘Mum’ is not as involved as previously. These days I ensure that time is set aside for relaxation and the work/life balance is probably close to 50%-50%.
The life of Marie Curie has inspired me ever since I read her biography as a teenager. Jocelyn Bell is also an inspiration to me, especially as she is from Northern Ireland too. In ‘real life’ I was lucky to have some great mentors – my PhD supervisor, Chris Binns, was a great supervisor and continues to help me along my career path with helpful advice. Whilst at the ILL, my mentor was Garry McIntyre, and he too continues to be a great support and mentor.
The most challenging thing in my career was definitely the bachelor’s degree. The children were very small and needed lots of care and attention. I was working part-time and studying at college, and THEN, at the end of the day, taking out my degree materials and learning physics until late into the night. When I look back now, I am amazed at how much energy I had to juggle all these things. Being a superhuman works fine until you get ill and then things get really difficult. But I completed the degree and the rest is history.
Dr. Gail N. Iles
Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
New Illawarra Road
Tel: +61 (0)2 9717 9657