The University of Newcastle, Australia

Earth’s magnetic field strong pull for UON physics student

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Opting out of high school early on, teenaged Rhea Barnett did not foresee physics in her future.

"I actually didn't do a lot of high school so I don't even have my school certificate. I left quite young and I came to the University of Newcastle through Open Foundation when I was 24," recalled Rhea.

"In school I hated science – really didn't enjoy it. Later in life I did Maths and Chemistry when I was doing Open Foundation and I really enjoyed it… I ended up doing Physics and I was like 'yeah, this is really cool I'm going to give it a go'."


'Giving it a go' effectively changed the course of Rhea's life. So alluring the world of science has become, she will sacrifice Birthday, Christmas and New Year celebrations with loved ones for a 20 day boat ride destined for Casey Base, Antarctica.

Rhea will spend eight days on the Base helping to calibrate magnetometers – devices used to measure microscale changes in the Earth's magnetic field.

A reflection from her first days of University is a heartening example of a journey coming full circle.

"I actually remember seeing photos at an orientation day of a student down in Antarctica, and I was like 'Wow, that's really, really cool.' I never thought I would get the chance to do it, and now it's happening!" she said.

Rhea is undertaking her Honours project in collaboration with the University of Newcastle's Centre for Space Physics, which owns and coordinates the magnetometers she will be working on.

The Centre's Professor Fred Menk said the opportunity is a wonderful one for Rhea, who is more than deserving of the experience.

"Our instruments at the Antarctic bases provide vital information on space weather processes which affect modern technological systems. Many students have contributed to this work, which also provides wonderful life experience," Professor Menk said.

Her new found love for Physics is pushing her in a great direction and while Rhea hopes to pursue her work in physics through academia, she is philosophical about what the future holds…"I feel like whenever you try and plan stuff like this, it doesn't work out, so I just roll with the punches and see what happens."

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