Name: Alex Jenkins
Current position: Postdoc
Affiliation: University College London (UCL)
Field of research: Gravitational wave astronomy
What is your career trajectory to date?
I did my BA and MSci in Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge (2013-2017), before moving to King's College London for a PhD in Theoretical Physics (2017-2021), supervised by Mairi Sakellariadou. Last September, I joined the Astrophysics group at UCL for my first postdoc position.
What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?
Too many to list! How did the Universe begin, and how did it end up the way it is now? How do we unify gravity with the other fundamental forces? What is the true nature of dark matter and dark energy?
What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?
I love having the freedom to pursue what I find interesting, being able to think creatively, ask questions, and learn new things. I also love the opportunities to travel and to interact with lots of interesting and intelligent people. The main downsides are the competition for jobs, the lack of job security, and the expectation that you'll relocate every few years.
Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?
I think I'm pretty good at explaining scientific ideas in an accessible way - whether that's in teaching, in public outreach, or in giving talks to other scientists.
In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about?
I will always remember LIGO's announcement of the first gravitational-wave detection in 2016 as an incredibly exciting moment. I was in the final year of my undergrad degree, trying to figure out what scientific direction I wanted to take. From that day, watching the announcement live-streamed in a packed lecture theatre, I knew that I wanted to work on gravitational waves.
What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?
I'd love to develop my skills as a supervisor. I'm working with an excellent master's student at the moment, and am learning a lot about how to guide his research and give useful feedback.
What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?
I'm currently very excited about a consortium I'm involved in, QSimFP, which is aiming to test our understanding of false vacuum decay using quantum analogue experiments in the lab. As a cosmologist, the idea of being able to tune parameters and repeat an experiment many times is very novel and exciting! Trying to understand these analogue systems is throwing up all kinds of deep and interesting questions, and I'm looking forward to trying to answer some of those questions once the experiment is up and running. (If you're interested, you can find out more on our website: https://www.qsimfp.org/)
What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?
I think organisations like EuCAPT are incredibly important, particularly in giving early-career researchers opportunities to expand their networks and share their work.
Have you lived in a different European country than you do now? If so, would you like to tell us something about it, e.g. a fond memory or something you found surprising?
I'm British, but I spent my teenage years living in the Netherlands. It's a great place to grow up. The thing I probably miss most is how easy and safe it is to get around by bike - much more so than here in the UK!
Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share?
When I'm not doing physics, I enjoy running around the parks, canals, and marshes of East London. I'm also a huge music nerd and occasional guitar player.
If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?
For a while I thought about becoming a teacher. I think helping young people achieve their potential and getting them excited about maths and science would have been very rewarding. Luckily I still get to do that now, in a slightly different way.
What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?
Detecting gravitational waves from the early Universe would be a huge accomplishment, whether that's with interferometers, pulsar timing arrays, or B-modes in the CMB (or even all of the above). I also really hope we can figure out sustainable nuclear fusion - but that's somebody else's job!