Graduate Profile

James Boon, MSci 1995


Dr James Boon

Dr Boon is currently a solicitor at Bristows,
a London based law firm servicing
businesses with interests in
intellectual property and technology.

He says:-

Four years of studying laser physics and optoelectronics at St Andrews did not satisfy my appetite for physics, so I followed up my degree with a PhD under the stewardship of Professor Malcolm Dunn. For three years I worked in a group supervised by Malcolm studying an effect called Electromagnetically Induced transparency (EIT). EIT uses lasers tuned to specific frequencies corresponding to selected transitions in a medium to “switch off” absorption on a linked transition. This transparency is achieved by quantum interference. We studied the effect using continuous wave lasers in a gaseous medium and investigated the application of EIT to inversionless lasers.

To understand why anyone would be interested in an inversionless laser it may be helpful to consider briefly what lasers are all about. A laser is a light amplifier in which amplification is achieved by stimulated emission. Stimulated emission occurs on a transition within a medium when an incident photon of light causes an atom to move from the higher energy state to the lower energy state, releasing energy in the form of an additional photon. Absorption occurs in the opposite sense, whereby an incident photon is absorbed and an atom moves from the lower to the higher energy state. A laser requires net gain, i.e. one must ensure that the probability of stimulated emission exceeds that of absorption on the desired transition. This is achieved in practice by setting up a population inversion. The gain medium is pumped with energy so that the majority of the population of atoms exists in the higher energy state.

Creating a population inversion can be hard work, particularly if you want to create a high frequency laser. The idea of an inversionless laser is to make use of the transparency created by EIT to achieve lasing (net gain) without having to create a population inversion. We demonstrated EIT in a blue 422nm transition of rubidium vapour and theoretically predicted the level of inversionless gain that may be obtained.

After submitting my thesis I changed tack and enrolled at the College of Law in York for a conversion course called the Common Professional Examination (CPE). The CPE offers a route into the legal profession for graduates with a non-law degree and is an intensive one year programme covering all aspects of law. At this stage, entering my eighth year of further education, I was fortunate to have secured sponsorship from a London law firm and the promise of a training contract at the end of my legal studies. The CPE was followed by a one year Legal Practice Course, which is also taken by law graduates.

Having been a student for 9 years it was finally time to get a job. I embarked on a two year training contract at the London office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. There I gained a wide range of experience in different areas of legal practice. I also got my first taste of patent litigation. The case involved a broadcast encryption system and on perusing the file I was pleasantly surprised to discover a lot of material that was familiar from Dr Jim Lesurf’s Information and Measurement undergraduate course. On qualifying as a solicitor in 2002 I moved to Bristows to practice in the field of intellectual property. Bristows is highly regarded in the intellectual property sector and in patent litigation in particular. One of the firm’s strengths is that many of its lawyers have scientific backgrounds. Amazingly, in a firm of approximately 130 lawyers, I am not the only one with a PhD in optoelectronics.

Since joining Bristows I have worked on cases involving, for example, computer architecture, optoelectronics, automotive engineering, aeronautical engineering and genetics. The scientific education I received at St Andrews is put to good use on a daily basis. One of the most exciting aspects of my work is that each new case brings a new field of study and I am afforded the opportunity to interact with brilliant scientists at the cutting edge of high-tech business. Patent litigation also involves working closely with an expert witness such as an academic in the relevant field. Working with the expert as a case progresses brings back memories of working with Professor Malcolm Dunn during my PhD. In fact, being a patent litigator has a lot in common with being a PhD student. I feel extremely fortunate that I continue to have the opportunity to learn from people like Professor Dunn.

I was sorry to leave St Andrews and I miss it enormously, but I am happy to say that physics is still with me.