Graduate Profile

Anna O'Neil, BSc Physics 1998, PhD 2002

Dr Anna O'NeilI have always enjoyed playing with gadgets and understanding how they work. One of the great things about being a Physicist is being able to do this and get paid for it! The Prinicpal of my Sixth form college and a family friend are to thank for nurturing my curiosity from an early age and channeling it towards the sciences.

First Degree

I studied at St Andrews University in the School of Physics & Astronomy. There all students were encouraged to take part in the life of the department — no matter what stage they were at. You had the opportunity to take part in outreach programmes for schools, attend the School's Colloquia, and generally expose yourself to as much Physics as you could take.

Postgraduate Study

As someone who loves the laboratory, being a PhD student was the best job in the world. I had two great supervisors who gave me all the support I could possibly need. They went to huge efforts to produce a working environment that was conducive to research, and were happy to support me in everything I did. I was very fortunate to be working on applications and fundamental research involving optical tweezers. These were invented by Arthur Ashkin and co-workers in 1986 at Bell Labs in the US. Since then,the subject has developed very quickly, and there are now many exciting applications of optical tweezers in all areas of science and medicine. The fast pace of research in the area meant that by the end of my three years I had written six papers, submitted my thesis and had also attended several conferences. I also took part in school outreach programmes and attended many IoP events. One of the highlights of my graduate studies was being sponsored by the IoP to attend the 50th Meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany, see http://nobelprize.org/physics/.

Industrial Experience


Since finishing my PhD, I've experienced working life in both large and small scientific companies— I started my industrial career at Marconi working in their modulator design team, and then worked in a SME consisting of just fifteen people that specialises in developing micro-optical films. I immensely enjoy working in a multidisciplinary team and the challenge of working on many different practical problems. Both jobs kept me doing research and I still spent most of my time in the lab!


During the five years at the SME I worked on many different projects within an inter-disciplinary team of physicists, engineers, chemists and material scientists. The experience I gained during this time has stood me in good stead in my current role as Technology Officer at AILU, the Association for Laser Users. At AILU I advise businesses on the use of lasers.

Posted BDS 1.7.05

updated 30.3.07