Nicolas Angelides didn’t intend to be a physicist. It was art that first captured his attention. These days, however, he sees very little distinction between the two disciplines.
Nicolas studied an MPhys in Theoretical Physics at the University of Edinburgh and is currently working towards a PhD at University College London.
Where does your story begin?
I was born and raised in Cyprus. My parents were robbed of the opportunity to go to university because of military disputes that were happening on the island. So growing up, I was encouraged to pursue a university education.
As a child and a teenager, my main goal was to become a sculptor. My parents weren’t entirely delighted by that, but they trusted me—to a degree. Being born gay in a very religious culture also meant that I wasn’t very close to my family. Because of that, the first community I really took to was the artist community. I joined a studio in Cyprus, and there I found a home. This gave me my first opportunity to embrace art, and for the first time, I saw the philosophical, questioning side coming out of me.
I was doing both sciences and art in school, but to improve my chances of getting into institutions in the UK, I began taking qualifications and site exams (in the afternoons and evenings). I picked up math, physics, chemistry and other subjects, but at the end of the day, I wanted to be an artist.
However, everything changed when I started seeing physics as more of an art than a science.
An artist doing physics
In the studio, I tried to isolate and represent elements of nature in materials. Let’s say I take something that isn’t material, like a movement or an emotion, and I try to put it in a material like clay or charcoal—I tried to communicate in a way that people can visualize what I am trying to tell them.
In the same way, that’s what physics does. Using numbers and computer code, it puts together beautiful models that isolate and represent elements of nature.
Over the course of a few weeks, I had this change. Suddenly, I wanted to be an artist doing physics. And I think that’s exactly what I ended up doing.
LZ dark matter team at Edinburgh
During my time at the University of Edinburgh, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the LZ (LUX-ZEPLIN) dark matter group. During the summer, I would stay in Edinburgh, doing part-time receptionist work to support myself financially and then doing research at the university. I made great connections and managed to be part of LZ at a very early time as an undergraduate.
Postgraduate studies in particle physics and cosmology
I knew I wanted to be a Ph.D. student, so I applied to a few universities, both within the UK and the EU. My position as PhD student at UCL is interesting because my time is split: 50 percent is spent studying particle physics (what LZ is doing), and 50 percent is spent studying cosmology (studies of the history of the universe using astrophysical observations). The idea of the project is to bridge the worlds of cosmology and particle physics together.
At present, I am currently undertaking an internship as cleanliness monitor at the LZ dark matter experiment at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, USA as part of my research studies.
A passion for outreach
I have two main drives for my passion for outreach. The main one is that, to be part of the physics community is to be really excited about physics. I want to show people that we can study the universe, break it down, characterize it, understand what it’s made of and still maintain, if not enhance, the universe’s beauty.
The second reason I love outreach is more selfish. I came into science from a weird angle. I came in inspired by the beauty and the artistry that goes into science. I want to show people that if you can’t imagine yourself sitting down over a desk solving equations all day, that’s okay.
One of the reasons I chose London for my Ph.D. is because I am in the center of it all. In a collaboration with students from the Royal College of Art in London, an exhibition was put together, highlighting the beauty of topics in physics. I worked on a piece in that collection that was called Instance. I’ve also given loads of talks. It’s really where we allow physics to be the inspiration for other things that I’ve had the most fun, like the exhibition or outreach events.
This article was condensed from an original interview by Erin Broberg, Sanford Underground Research Facility.
Photo by Nick Hubbard.