Steven Thomson

Favourite Thing: There’s nothing quite like the moment when you discover something and you realise that you’re the first person in the history of the entire universe to know and understand it!



Musselburgh Grammar School (2002-2008), University of St Andrews (2008-2012)


Masters in Physics (Honours): Theoretical Physics, First Class

Work History:

University of St Andrews as a tutor, demonstrator and tour guide (2010 – present)

Current Job:

PhD Research Student (Theoretical Physics)


University of St Andrews & ISIS Neutron Scattering Facility

Me and my work

I help unravel the secrets of the weirdest forces in nature by thinking about the coldest things in the universe!

My Typical Day

Every day is different! Sometimes I sit and think about stuff, sometimes I teach, sometimes I give talks and go to conferences – every day is exciting and different from the last!

What I'd do with the money

I’d use it to make some videos showing how science is done and who it’s done by, with videos of real scientists in their labs and interviews with them explaining what they research and how they do it – a ‘virtual tour’, if you like!

I’d like to do something that can benefit everyone who’s taken part in “I’m a Scientist” and everyone with an interest in learning more about science. I think the fairest way to do this is to create some online materials so that everyone, no matter where they are, can use them.

For some time now I’ve wanted to create a series of videos dealing with questions like “What is science?”, “How is science done?” and “Who are scientists?”. I’d particularly like to use the money to make a series of short videos showing researchers at work, in their labs and offices. I want people at home and in schools to be able to watch the videos and take a step into the lives of real researchers, see what our labs look like, see who we are, how we think and what we’re working on.

Specifically, I’d spend the money on video editing software, any equipment and/or expertise I’d need (though I have produced basic videos before – like this one), and I’d expect the bulk of it would go on travelling to any scientists who would be willing to play host and allow me to film and talk to them. If this went well, there would be scope to try for more funding from other sources and to expand the project, which would be my ideal outcome.

Anyone can be a scientist, and we scientists are just ordinary people. I’d like to share that and show everyone out there that there are no barriers to being a scientist – all you need is the willingness to learn, and that’s enough to propel you into the frontiers of human knowledge. We don’t do science because we’re all super-smart geniuses – we do it because it’s FUN!


[Update 11/06/15: It looks like approximately £100 of the money will go on video-editing software, better microphone(s) for conducting the interviews, a .com or .org domain name and basic web hosting. Until the first few videos are made, I’ll keep another £100 in reserve in case there are other bits and pieces I need to buy that haven’t occurred to me yet. If I can secure more funding from elsewhere, I’ll hire a professional web designer, but otherwise I’ll aim to make a simple website myself and use the remaining money for travel and sundries.]

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Enthusiastic, friendly, inquisitive!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Any band with a really good guitarist!

What's your favourite food?

These days, anything vegetarian – especially veggie burgers, they’re awesome.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

The first time I travelled to Italy by myself – I couldn’t even speak Italian! I went wandering around beautiful Italian towns with my camera and talking with the locals. It was great!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be a researcher – and now I am!

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not very often!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Technological studies! I loved learning how things worked.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I’ve discovered a few new types of matter that no one ever knew about before me!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always wanted to know how and why everything worked – science seemed like the best way to answer that question.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

I’d be a musician – I’m a keen guitarist and I love writing songs. Or maybe a writer – I’m writing a sci-fi novel too!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I wish there were more hours in the day, I wish I didn’t have to sometimes do boring admin work and I wish I could do science forever…basically I want a time machine. (I’m working on it!)

Tell us a joke.

I’m reading a great book on anti-gravity. I can’t put it down.

Other stuff

Work photos:

This was my desk when I moved into the office – see how clean and tidy it is? Clearly not working hard enough!


After I’d gotten settled in and started working, it got a bit messier. That’s a bit better, isn’t it?


My most important tool of the trade is coffee! I got this mug as a souvenir from the Max Planck Institute for the Chemical Physics of Solids when I visited Germany a few years ago to present my research.


I’m a theoretical physicist, which means I don’t do experiments, I solve problems by sitting and thinking about them, and sometimes doing a little maths. That means the second most important things for my work are my whiteboards so I can write the equations I need to solve!


I don’t use my lab much, but my colleagues do – right now the lab is full of brand new equipment that’s going to build an ultra-sensitive microscope used to see things as small as a single atom! There are only a few places in the world that can do that, and soon we’ll be one of them.


A lot of my work looks like this – it’s not even maths, it’s just pictures! The maths comes after I understand what the pictures mean.


I do some of my work at the ISIS Neutron Scattering Facility in Oxfordshire – it’s an amazing place where they shoot tiny particles around a circular track until they reach a speed of one hundred and sixty thousand miles per second! (That’s about a million times faster than a bullet from a gun!)