From Townsville to Canberra to Cambridge: Science grad to follow footsteps of Stephen Hawking

13 December 2016

... it's been less than 100 years since the discovery of quantum mechanics. I think I am very lucky to live at a time where we can ask and seek to answer fundamental questions.

Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Honours) student Damon Binder has won a major Australian scholarship that will see him follow in the footsteps of Stephen Hawking when he studies his PhD at Cambridge University next year.

19-year-old Damon is one of the 2017 Sir John Monash Scholars, a scholarship that means he'll be able to go to continue studying a subject that fascinates him - theoretical physics.

"I'm really interested in why the universe is the way it is, why the universe follows simple rules and what these rules are, fundamentally. Using these rules, how can we then predict all of the complex phenomena that we see experimentally, and in everyday life?

"But the mathematical tools we use in fundamental physics, quantum field theories, are really difficult to understand. In my PhD, I will be studying particular types of quantum field theories, trying to deduce their properties, and hopefully this will help us understand problems in the real world."

Damon, who is also an alumnus of Townsville Grammar School, says he's attracted to studying at Cambridge for a few reasons.

"The first is it's the best in the world for theoretical physics. Most famously, Stephen Hawking is from Cambridge. He is the most famous of a large group working on cosmology and general relativity, on quantum field theory and particle physics. It is a very strong department, with a history of important discoveries. I think it would be a great environment to in which to study and research," he said.

"Cambridge itself I think is an amazing place to study. It has a long history and has fascinating research not just in physics, but across the board. Moving to Cambridge would allow me to try life at a different institution in a different, and so broaden my horizons."

At the end of his studies, the budding physicist says he would also like to continue the cycle of giving back and help teach the next generation of physics students.

"Our modern understanding of the world is very young - it's been less than 100 years since the discovery of quantum mechanics. I think I am very lucky to live at a time where we can ask and seek to answer fundamental questions. I find it exciting to work on this challenge with like-minded people, to have students to teach, to engage with the public. I think all of those aspects of the job are very important."

The young alumnus, who graduated from ANU on Tuesday 13 December, stayed on campus at Bruce Hall for the entire three years of his undergraduate degree. He says he'd highly recommend the experience of living on campus to new students.

"It's very different to anything I've experienced before - the newfound freedom, you get to live by yourself, of being surrounded by like-minded peers. Every meal you'd go to the dining hall, you'd sit down with seven other 'Brucies'. Some might be your best friends, or they might be someone you've barely talked to before. Regardless of who you are, you're all Brucies, you all sit down and talk and pretty much have conversations about everything and anything."

"You spend so much time with such a great group of people. It becomes your home."

"It is a great environment to share ideas and meet new people. There's the diversity of students as well. Some of my best friends study law, politics or finance. We engage with a really broad range of issues because we are all passionate about a broad range of subjects."