Simon Bambey, BASc '20, Engineering Physics
"Nothing beats seeing the sparkle of curiosity in a young person’s eyes and being able to show them the power that we as humans have to create, build and discover."
Growing up, I had always been interested in science and engineering, and I was especially interested in the aerospace field. This initially led me on the path of becoming a pilot. I received my glider and power pilot license, as well as an instructor’s rating, and have spent five summers teaching young students how to fly. At the same time, I was studying computer science at a local college and pursuing a career as an airline pilot. During my studies, I realized that I also wanted to gain a better understanding of the underlying physics and engineering principles of aerospace technology. Because of this, I made a significant change in my life’s direction by enrolling in engineering at UBC and studying Engineering Physics. Shortly after starting at UBC, I founded the UBC Rocket engineering design team and have worked with them for the past four years. Without a doubt, being part of UBC Rocket has been the highlight of my time here. It has allowed me to make life-long friends and witness ambitious projects turn from an idea into reality. Because of the experience gained at UBC Rocket, I was able to intern in the propulsion engineering team at Rocket Lab, a small satellite launch provider, and in the systems engineering team at Urthecast, a local earth observation company, during my work terms.
Why did you choose to go into your field of study at UBC?
I moved to Vancouver only shortly before starting the search for a university and loved the city, so I was keen to attend a university here. I had seen some of the UBC Engineering Physics program highlights, like the summer robot competition, and they strongly resonated with my interest. I entered UBC engineering with second year standing, after completing a year of studies at a local college. While at the college, I was already at UBC working with an engineering design team on weekends and heard from teammates about the facilities, resources and support that were made available to them in the Engineering Physics program. This made the program choice simple for me and I was lucky to be accepted. Looking back, the choice to do Engineering Physics was the right one for me. I especially appreciated the support from the engaged and caring program staff who have made my experience exceptional.
What has made your time at UBC memorable?
The most memorable aspect has been my involvement with the UBC Rocket engineering design team. When I started at UBC, there was no outlet for students who were interested in pursuing rocket engineering. For this reason, I started the team with a good friend and fellow engineering student. My years on UBC Rocket have been a true adventure, and the team has accomplished more than I could have ever imagined. The highlights for me were the successful launch and first-place finish of our first rocket at the Spaceport America Cup, and more recently, our achievement of being the first Canadian student group to hot fire a liquid-propellant rocket engine. It takes grit, dedication and countless late nights to bring projects like these off the ground, and to build this work ethic alongside close friends has been incredible. I am very fortunate and honoured to have met so many amazing people during my time here, both staff and students. The support I have received has allowed me to grow immensely as a person and as a leader and I am optimistic about all that lies ahead for the next generations of students at UBC.
What has been your most valuable non-academic experience studying at UBC?
I have been fortunate to have taken part in many excellent experiences throughout my time here. I am very passionate about inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. I attended many events at high schools, Air Cadet squadrons and local community centres. Nothing beats seeing the sparkle of curiosity in a young person’s eyes and being able to show them the power that we as humans have to create, build and discover. I know how important this is because I, myself, was inspired by the entrepreneurs building modern space companies. Their vision that what most deem impossible can be made possible in just a short amount of time through concerted effort is eye-opening. To see humanity land and reuse rockets, to build rockets bigger than the Saturn V moon rocket, to bring permanent human settlements to other planets and to know that all this is possible within a lifetime is incredible. I hope to always be able to pass on this passion and excitement.
Tell us about your experience in your program. What have you learned that is most valuable?
Engineering Physics has truly been excellent. I had heard many great things going into the program, but looking back the program was an even better fit than I thought. The core curriculum is diligently chosen but student feedback is always considered and used to make it better. There are sufficient electives that allowed me to explore more upper-level mechanical engineering courses which was fantastic. Most importantly though, the Engineering Physics and Physics & Astronomy staff are some of the best people I’ve met. They spend a lot of time and energy on students and go above and beyond to help them. One of the best examples of this are the time they commit to providing and maintaining resources for students such as prototyping components, tools and fabrication machines, all of which students can access 24/7 and are maintained by the program. Having access to all this equipment and the expertise of the staff has allowed me to physically realize designs that otherwise would only have existed on paper. This has been invaluable for me to become a better design engineer and has already paid off significantly during my internships.
How are you applying the skills you learned through your studies at UBC?
Having been on two internships where I was lucky to have an employer that trusted interns just as much as they trusted regular employees gave me an excellent opportunity to apply and grow the skills that I learned at UBC. Most importantly, I realized that all engineers are just human beings and that good communication is key. At UBC, group work and team projects gave me many opportunities to learn the basics on how to be an effective member in an engineering team. I was really glad that once I started working in a large team where we had to solve tough technical challenges that I had already built some confidence and had practice in effectively sharing my technical insights with others.
What advice would you give a student entering your degree program?
Engineering Physics requires a lot of time and energy and it is important to realize that you are never alone. The program is relatively small which means you will make close friends in your cohort. Don't be shy to ask for help. All or almost all students in the program are going to have a tough time at one point or another and you will all grow stronger if you allow others to help you and you help others when you can. The staff are also excellent and have always had an open door when I required help or advice.
How do you feel your degree has benefitted you compared to a different field of study?
Prior to studying engineering, I was studying computer science. Computer science remains a big interest of mine, but my current degree has allowed me to take it one step further and has taught me proper engineering processes for developing mechanical systems from first principles. My interests lie in aerospace where hardware and software are closely integrated, and I am glad that I took the step to learn both software development and mechanical engineering.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find my inspiration and motivation in my friends at UBC. Many of us have ambitious goals and seeing hard work and enthusiasm is invigorating. At the end of the day there is nothing better than to see hard work pay off. For example, I have had the chance to witness this multiple times at UBC Rocket with the successful launches of our rockets and the liquid-propellant rocket engine tests we conducted.
What are your future plans to make a difference in our world?
After graduation, I am keen to make a meaningful contribution to the exploration of space. There are many challenges that remain to be solved to give humanity a chance to truly explore the planets and moons in our solar system on a large scale and I would be ecstatic if I played a small part in it. Space exploration has been a field that has often united countries and cultures at odds and if we all do it right, I am hoping that we can all find that we have more in common than we think and that setting collective goals makes us stronger.
View more 2020 Student Stars at apsc.ubc.ca/students/stars/2020.