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Matin Durrani: November 2011 Archives

By Matin Durrani

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One of the big advantages of a physics degree is that it opens the door to a wide range of different careers.

In fact, relatively few physicists stay within the confines of academic research, with plenty heading off into IT, finance, industry and teaching.

And, of course, there are lots of other unusual jobs that physicists end up doing, from opera singing to beach-animal sculpture-making, some of which appear in our regular “Once a physicist” column, a selection of which can be read via this link.

Plenty of physicists also end up working in the environmental sector and it was pleasing to see that the new head of the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is a physicist too.

Appointed today by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the new NERC boss is Duncan Wingham, who graduated with a BSc in physics from the University of Leeds in 1979 and obtained a PhD from the University of Bath, also in physics, in 1984.

Most of Wingham’s career since then has been at University College London (UCL), where he was chair of space and climate physics and later head of Earth sciences from 2005 to 2010.

Wingham was also founding director of the NERC’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling from 2000 to 2005, which, among other things, discovered the widespread mass loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and its origin in accelerated ocean melting.

He is also currently chairman of the NERC’s science and innovation board and has been lead investigator of the European Space Agency’s CryoSat and CryoSat-2 satellite missions.

Wingham replaces Alan Thorpe, who was also a physicist.

We’ll be publishiing a special issue of Physics World magazine next March on Earth sciences and we’re filming some videos at the American Geophysical Union’s meeting next month – so stay tuned for more Earth-sciences coverage.