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James Douglas

BSc (Hons) (Mathematics), MSc (Physics)

CTO, MEETOPTICS

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As a child I had always been interested in understanding how and why things happened in the world around me. Growing up under the clear skies of Central Otago, I loved to look at the stars and marvel at the sheer scale of the universe. As I got older I learned that physics and mathematics give us a great channel through which to understand how all those stars got there and how they work. I studied both subjects in high school and was keen to keep developing my knowledge at university, choosing Otago for its reputation for academic excellence as well as great student life.

At Otago I enjoyed the freedom to study whatever interested me, and in my first year tried Physics, Maths, Philosophy and Computer Science. I really loved pure mathematics, along with physics, and took as many courses from those programmes as I could in the following years. I was a pretty self-motivated student, so I really enjoyed the ability to go to the science library at whatever hour of the day and find books covering all the abstract topics I loved. As my studies went on, I came to know many of the Maths and Physics staff, and my knowledge really accelerated through being able to go to their offices and chat with them about what I was studying.

One thing I particularly enjoyed during my time at Otago was the opportunity, in my later years, to assist in teaching tutorials and lab sessions. I found it very rewarding to help the younger students learn and understand new concepts. It's always great to see that flash of understanding in someone, and teaching also pushed my own understanding to another level.

After leaving Otago, I went to work at the New Zealand Treasury. There I joined a team analysing global policy issues for the New Zealand economy, where the problem solving skills and analytic thinking developed during my degree helped me bring new insights to a number of research projects, ranging from bird flu to productivity.

While at the Treasury, I received a scholarship to begin a PhD at the University of Oxford. There I joined a research group focusing on the quantum physics of ultracold atoms – something I had previously studied for my MSc at Otago. Having completed my doctorate, I moved to Barcelona to research quantum optics at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO). After five years at ICFO, together with a colleague I founded a company, MEETOPTICS, where I am currently the CTO. The company is an online platform that provides tools to researchers and engineers in the field of photonics to do their research and build cutting edge technologies.