From E&M to Promoting Innovation in Developing Communities

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Singularities - Profiles in Physics

From E&M to Promoting Innovation in Developing Communities


Megan Yamoah, SPS member, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Yamoah (standing) and a fellow researcher adjust controls on instruments connected to the dilution refrigerator in which they conduct experiments on qubit devices. Photo courtesy of Nathan Fiske.In just a couple months, I will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physics and electrical engineering from MIT. Next year, I will be pursuing an MPhil in Economics at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Still, at heart, I am a physicist.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved physics. My first passion was particle physics and the search for the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. Eventually, my interests moved to quantum materials and, finally, quantum computing.

To me, physics has always been a way of looking at the world, of studying not necessarily what to think about the world but how to think about it—about the way each constituent part functions. That our physical reality can be described so fundamentally by equations on a page continues to astound me.

Studying physics at MIT has been a markedly formative experience. I still remember the shock of my first physics class, Electricity and Magnetism, which suddenly forced me to use tools in vector calculus in ways I had never done before. Then came quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. Those classes taught me, beyond the practicalities of different areas of physics, how to solve problems. They gave me the tools and the willpower to put my mind to questions and find answers. They taught me that I can solve problems on my own—even very complex problems.

Even more impactful than the classes was the community of insightful peers and wonderful friends in the physics department. With the goal of improving life in the department, I became president of the MIT chapter of the Society of Physics Students and a board member of our Undergraduate Women in Physics group. That opened up an opportunity to work with department leadership on a physics department Statement of Values, the first of its kind for an MIT department.

The Statement of Values aims to outline the values of the department, emphasizing an inclusive, supportive community. The statement was drafted over a span of three years through a series of meetings with department leadership, staff, and fellow students. Through this experience, I learned how to communicate across differences in perspective, as well as to express my concerns and understand the concerns of others.

Studying physics also opened up a variety of opportunities to put my knowledge into practice through research projects. Beginning in my freshman year, I dived into research under Professor William Oliver, investigating various aspects of superconducting qubits and finally focusing on the role of two-dimensional materials in new qubit designs. I also had the opportunity to work with Professor Vladan Vuletic at MIT on atomic physics and Professor Benjamin Huard at ENS de Lyon in France on quantum information.

Research allowed me to tackle questions in physics firsthand. But it also led to a new question: What if more students from around the world had the same opportunities to study physics and engineering in groundbreaking areas? I realized, then, that my true passion is combining science and engineering with action that has broad, cross-cultural impact. I want to take an interdisciplinary approach—combining economics, development studies, and engineering—to drive research and innovation in developing communities.

As I look forward to my new path, I know that I’ll rely on the technical skills I gained through physics classes and research to study economics, innovation, and institutions. Looking back, I realize that not only does physics teach you how to think, but it also opens up pathways for applying your technical skills to whatever passion you choose to pursue.

About the Author

Megan Yamoah. Photo courtesy of Ian MacLellan.Megan Yamoah is a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) majoring in physics and electrical engineering. Her research expertise is in the application of novel materials in quantum computing, for which she has received the Barry Goldwater Award. During her time at MIT, she served on the Executive Board of MIT Undergraduate Women in Physics and as the president of the MIT Society of Physics Students. The daughter of immigrants, she is passionate about designing innovation initiatives to drive economic growth in emerging markets. Next, she will pursue an MPhil in Economics at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar to forward her interests related to how innovation can positively affect emerging economies. She hopes to combine technological innovation, developmental economics, and cultural understanding to drive growth in cities around the world.

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