Philip Dolan

Favourite Thing: Getting results that you just know are going to end up published in a journal.



Austin Friars School, Carlisle ’96 – ’03


Imperial College London – Physics

Work History:

Taught physics and maths at a secondary school in Beijing for a year after my undergraduate degree. I’m a tutor at Oxford now too.


Oxford University

Current Job:

DPhil Student

Me and my work

I shine lasers on diamonds with the hope of making a better computer (one day).

All computers nowadays work with binary data – things that are either a ‘0’ or a ‘1’. Quantum mechanics lets us put things into two states at the same time. If we could make a computer out of things that are in both a ‘0’ and a ‘1’ at the same time, then we could solve problems that scare even the most advanced super computer on the planet. It turns out that to keep something in this delicate ‘0’ and ‘1’ state (also called a superposition) you need to keep it away from anything that might alter it. So trapping something in diamond does this pretty effectively. We look at things which are trapped within some of the worlds purest diamonds, and try and get as much light out of them as possible.

My Typical Day

Each day is a little different, but often will involve pouring liquid nitrogen, shining a green or blue laser at diamonds, and drinking coffee.

Often my day will start with cooling our spectrometer (our ‘spec’ tells us what colour light we’re looking at). This means pushing our dewar (it’s just a really big silver thermos flask) over the road, filling it up with liquid nitrogen and pouring some of this into our ‘spec’. We work on optics in my lab, so this generally means keeping the lights out and the windows blacked out, but to make up for this we normally have the radio on. Then we focus a really bright green, or sometimes blue, laser onto some of our diamonds. We also try and do clever things to the diamond, like putting it in between two really reflective mirrors, to try and get more light out of it. We then analyse what light is given out by the diamond (or rather, the impurities within the diamond). We normally manage to work in time for a couple of coffee breaks too. 

What I'd do with the money

I’d use it to pay for me to go to an international conference (hopefully somewhere nice like California or Japan).

One of the best ways I’ve found to learn about my field, and to try and tell others about what it is that I’ve done is by going to conferences. In this way I get to meet other people like me, just starting out in science and talk to them about my work, and also I get to see much older scientists talk about all the work that they’ve done in their labs. This is especially important, as lots of collaborations often come from meeting other scientists and figuring out that by working together, we can learn an awful lot more about particular topics. Often the biggest conferences happen overseas, and it can cost quite a lot to get plane tickets, and also pay to go to the conference itself. This money would make it possible for me to go and hopefully, form some collaborations that will bring us closer to making a ‘quantum computer’.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

nerdy, calm and patient.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Brand New

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Bungee jump

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

The power to grant my own wishes! That’d do to be honest.

What did you want to be after you left school?

Genuinely had no real clue.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yeah, once or twice.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Forgotten to turn the liquid nitrogen off and made the lecture theatre down the corridor evacuate when the alarm went off.

Tell us a joke.

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?” [Apparently the funniest joke on the internet]