Where Are They Now?
Turning a Hobby into a Career by: Camilla Stimpson
When Jazmin Myres started at BYU in 2010, she came with a love of music and a plan to major in math. However, after taking a few physics classes, she found that physics incorporated the best of both worlds–her skills at math and her interest in music.
“I ended up in the acoustics research group,” Myres said. “I worked with jet noise primarily, but they do a lot of music-related acoustics. That's what really got me interested in physics–the combination of math solving musical problems.”
Since then, Myres has been able to turn her hobby into a career. After graduating from BYU in 2014 with a degree in applied physics, she landed a job in Maryland with the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). Her time is divided between two projects. One is defense-related sonar systems design. The other is related to the acoustics of military jet noise.
“I was drawn to NAVAIR because the work related directly to my research and interest in acoustics. They work on aero-acoustics
and underwater acoustics, both fields which I am very interested in,” said Myres. “It is also a pleasure to work for the Department of Defense and serve our country as a civilian.” As a Sonar Systems Design Physicist,
Myres develops signal processing algorithms and code to identify underwater targets, which is anything that threatens National Security. This work directly protects American troops, coasts, and interests.
“It is extremely important to maintain military dominance of the seas, and sonar systems is one tool that our military uses to do that,” Myres said.
In her other role, she works as a team leader alongside three other young engineers to solve problems such as converting acoustical energy from jet noise into usable electric power. The work Myres does is hands-on and allows her to engage with problem solving. “It's really fun to have a problem and be able to find a solution,” Myres said. “There's often more than one right solution, but it's really exciting when you have a challenge . . . and you can find an answer. It's super rewarding for me.”
During her time at BYU, Myres was able to get unique hands-on opportunities alongside her professors, even as an undergraduate. She was able to work with many professors she loved and gain experience that proved valuable in the field.
“At BYU, they are really unique in allowing undergraduates to do significant research. I haven't really seen that in any other universities,”
Myres said. “Everyone is really impressed that undergraduates at BYU have such an opportunity to work directly with professors.”
Because of her research experience and the internships she did, she was able to graduate in April 2014 with the job at NAVAIR already lined up and was able to start working the following August.
“Physics can take you a lot of different places,” said Myres. “You'll always be able to find a job.”
BYU Physics and Astronomy was a great place for Myers to start her career. Like many graduates of the department, she deeply appreciates the investment the professors, the department, and the university made in her education.
Nobody loves the noise that fighter jets make. That's what Alan Wall is attempting to reduce.
As an undergraduate at Utah State, Wall overheard a professor mention that 3-D holograms could be constructed from anything made of waves, including light and sound. “I was intrigued by the idea, so I did some online searching and found ‘sound images’ of vehicles and machinery,” Wall said. He went on to receive a bachelor's in physics at Utah State University (2008) and a PhD in physics at BYU (2013). While at BYU, Wall made acoustical holograms of jets with Dr. Kent Gee.
“We measured the sound field in two dim- ensions near a fighter jet,” Wall said. “Then we used a knowledge of the physics of sound waves to reconstruct or visualize the sound field in three dimensions.”
His experience has led him to his current job at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) near Dayton, Ohio in the Battlespace Acoustics Branch.
“I now support the Air Force mission to protect the hearing of its personnel and reduce community noise problems that arise near air bases,” Wall said. “I am also working to turn my acoustical holography capability into an engineering tool in order to measure and reduce noise on the next generation of aircraft engines.”
Wall is thankful for the time he got to spend studying acoustics and physics at BYU, and attributes that education to much of his success. “The classes I took prepared me with the understanding of physical principles and the ability to apply them,” Wall said. “Most every day I am using the equations I derived and memorized during my acoustics courses, as well as the data analysis techniques I learned in my PhD research.”
Wall still studies the physics of sound and reads articles on jet noise, but he also gets to see physics in action.
“I apply my understanding of sound wave phenomena to investigate how various sound sources produce sound waves, how those waves travel through the air, and how they affect the people listening to them,” he said.
Even though he has worked with acoustics for many years, Wall still gets a thrill every time he works with an actual fighter aircraft. “No description can convey the overwhelming feeling of standing 75 feet from an F-22 as it revs its engines from idle up through full afterburner while tied down to a thrust pad,” Wall said. “The physical effect of the sound waves blasting through your body is something I wish everyone could experience at least once, while wearing double hearing protection, of course.”
Wall also finds it rewarding when he discovers a new way to solve a problem or investigate a physical principle of jet noise.
“I get on my computer and try something, struggle with the programming a bit, and then finally it works, and I have learned something new,” Wall said. “In these moments I can't wait to show to someone else, and share in some new physical insight.”
Physics extends far beyond the lab; it plays a key role into protecting our troops and our freedom.
Ben Pratt-Ferguson, who graduated in physics with a math minor from BYU in 1992 and then a master's degree from Vanderbilt University in 1997, has worked at Raytheon Company for 16 years.
Raytheon is a technology and innovation leader specializing in defense, civil government, and cybersecurity markets throughout the world. Raytheon supports U.S. and allied troops by providing state-of-t .
“We build the structure for testing and per- formance evaluation of the system at the software level,” Pratt-Ferguson said. “We have to build the aerodynamics and the environment around the missile. In other words, we put the missile virtually into a virtual world.”
Huge g-forces, massive acceleration, high speeds, viscous drag, and frictional heating make up this world. The use of aerospace technology in the workplace was what drew Pratt-Ferguson to Raytheon.
Pratt-Ferguson learned about defense-related aerospace technology at BYU. He earned an Air Force ROTC scholarship and was able to take some classes to learn about missile technology in the armed services.
“I've been interested in aerospace and defense- related items since I was young,” Pratt- Ferguson said. “So in that sense, I had already been interested in some of the technologies that the Air Force uses.”
Much of the work Pratt-Ferguson does involves technology based problem solving. With his background in physics, he is able to work through these problems.
“Solving technical problems is what I enjoy most,” Pratt-Ferguson said. “What keeps me motivated is . . . first, the challenge of solving the problem. The second is understanding the bigger picture. Why am I solving this problem? Who am I helping? The answer always points back to our war fighters.”
Pratt-Ferguson received his master's degree at Vanderbilt University in 1997 and received a job right after graduation. He is currently living in Tucson, Arizona.
While the nation fixated on John Glenn orbiting the earth in 1962, 11-year old Gary Stradling discovered his passion for science and a desire to make a change in the world. “I was a farm boy who was not academically inclined,” Stradling said. “Going to BYU and experiencing the faculty and other students in a challenging environment that required me to study, to work hard, and to produce competent work was really important.”
The connections he made and the education he earned at BYU led him along an adventurous path to his current job. Stradling currently works as the chief of the Monitoring and Verification Technologies Office in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), which focuses on compliance with international agreements, specifically in arms control.
Stradling's interest in working with the DTRA was stemmed when he reread college level geology. “It was interesting and exciting. Much of that science was developed since I got my doctorate,”” Stradling said. “I am as active in learning new stuff now as I ever was. It's necessary in order to do this work.”
Stradling received his bachelor's and master's degrees in physics at BYU. He went on to get another master's and a PhD in applied science and plasma physics from the University of California, Davis, while working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Before Stradling's current job at DTRA, he served 31 years at Los Alamos National Lab, which included two tours in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
Although running a government office involves dealing with numerous levels of bureau- cracy, Stradling still relies on his knowledge of physics to get the job done.
“There is the scientific aspect of understanding the technical problems that need to be solved, finding people who have the capacity to solve the problem, and working with them to de- velop the solution,” Stradling said. “The way that I approach a problem is to say ‘what is the right way to do this based on my physics understanding and development experience?'”
While he may not be the world expert in any single topic, Stradling loves where his career has taken him. He loves the diversity of science he works with, and is glad for the opportunity to make the world better.
“I get to make meaningful contributions to national security, do things that make a difference, and have opportunities to affect the nation's approach to some really difficult problems,” he said.