Burning bright: laser physics and forest fires

“Keep one eye on the details and the other on the big picture. Only when both are correct can the best results be achieved.” 

Lewis Arnold

Lewis Arnold

  • Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
  • Grad year: 2023
  • Program:
  • Campus: Vancouver

I’m a recent graduate of Engineering Physics with a minor in Commerce. At UBC, I’ve been focused on developing rigorous scientific skills and applying them to environmental, social and business situations. In Engineering Physics, I’ve learned engineering and science fundamentals and succeeded academically, winning both of the program’s robotics competitions and the UBC Wesbrook Scholar designation. I’ve applied these skills in a variety of projects, including laser research at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, an internship at Intel and the development of a wildfire monitoring system at the UBC Okanagan campus.

"I’ve found that an eye for social, political and economic forces is essential to the success of all projects and so I completed the Minor in Commerce and took courses in economics, political science and philosophy."

Engineering Physics

Why did you choose to study Engineering Physics?  

I chose Engineering Physics because of its focus on both the fundamentals and the results of engineering projects (the details and the big picture). The academic rigor of the program encourages deep thinking and mastery of engineering and science. On the other hand, the program’s culture encourages big thinking about the power of engineering and how it can be used. It was ultimately the program’s explicit encouragement of creativity and innovation, especially in entrepreneurial settings, that drew me in. 

What has made your time at UBC memorable?   

The many academic and extracurricular programs available at UBC are what made my experience memorable. Throughout my degree, I was involved in many activities, including design teams, clubs and intramural sports. It was enriching to try so many new things, such as salsa dancing, the Formula UBC design team and intramural hockey. 

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2019-2020 Formula UBC team photo

UBC Design Teams

How are you applying the skills you learned through your studies at UBC? 

I’ve sought out projects where I can apply the technical skills I learn in class to important problems in our community. One such project was working on a remote wildfire monitoring system at the UBCO campus. The research uses Internet of Things devices to monitor forest conditions and assess the fire risk in real time. It was fulfilling to see how technical engineering skills, such as designing circuits and writing firmware, could be used to make a tangible impact on an important problem in our community. 

Where do you find your inspiration for using your degree to make an impact on our world?

At UBC there are many inspiring stories of researchers using their technical expertise to work on important issues in our community. For our capstone project, my teammates and I assisted Dr. Dan Bizzotto and Dr. Glenn Sammis who are developing a device to rapidly quantify the amount of fentanyl in drug samples. Such a device would enable drug testing in non-laboratory settings, such as harm-reduction sites, with the goal of preventing drug overdoses. My teammates and I developed a prototype device that demonstrated the underlying chemical techniques to enable demonstration to stakeholders and refinement of the process.

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UBC Engineering student Lewis Arnold working on his Capstone project

What advice would you give an incoming engineering student?  

I encourage incoming students to think broadly about how their degrees can be used. The same degree can open up opportunities in many countries, industries and career paths. Graduates from Engineering Physics, for example, have succeeded in many fields, including entrepreneurship, law, education and numerous technical disciplines. Make sure to keep an open mind and look broadly for interesting opportunities you didn’t even know existed! 

How do you feel your degree has benefitted you compared to a different field of study? 

I think the special part of Engineering Physics is the simultaneous breadth and depth of study it permits. A key factor enabling this is that each course is taught by an expert in that subject. For example, the math courses are taught by math experts and the computer engineering courses by expert computer scientists. This means that instead of getting a simplified or sanitized version of the material, you get genuine instruction starting from the fundamentals in many different subjects. The technical electives and the option to complete a minor add additional flexibility to the degree and make it possible to explore other interests too. 

How did your studies in the Faculty of Applied Science prepare you for the future of work? 

The co-op program has been phenomenal for gaining professional work experience and learning to adapt to a changing work environment. Since some of my co-op terms occurred during the pandemic, I gained experience adapting quickly to a changing work environment and using new tools. The opportunities to work in research environments and large companies and in Vancouver and abroad helped me experience many different work environments.

Applied Science Co-op

Two UBC Engineering Physics students preparing for the annual summer robot competition.

Engineering Physics

EngPhys students build a solid foundation in applied physics and a blend of electrical and mechanical engineering, while gaining extensive engineering design experience.

Engineering Physics

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