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Photonics: The next generation | Part two: Hamza Farah

What inspires and drives young engineers?

For the photonics industry to attract – and retain – the best talent, answering this question is critical.

That’s why, ahead of the Day of Photonics on 21 October, Electro Optics spoke with people at the start of their careers.

We're looking to find out what’s important to them in their work – and how photonics organisations can meet their needs.

Second up in this series is Hamza Farah, Photonics Intern at the UK’s Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult

What is your educational background and why did you apply for an internship in photonics?

I'm currently studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Manchester. I’ve completed my second year, and before starting my third year I’m undertaking a one-year internship in photonics at the Compound Semiconductor Applications (CSA) Catapult. 

In my first and second year at university, a good amount of time was spent on photonics concepts, which really interested me and made me pursue photonics internships. I especially liked learning about the various phenomena of light waves and how they’re implemented in areas from optical data communications, to healthcare and security.

What activities have you been involved in during your internship so far?

I started at the beginning of September. As well as inductions and training, I've started taking part in a couple of internal research projects, with one of them involving the use of photonics equipment to measure how durable specific devices are. I'm hoping to build on concepts like these in the next few months.

What is important to you in a future career?

I’d like to work in optical communications or something involving healthcare. At the moment, I'm planning on using the experience gained at my internship to give me a straight direction on what I want to do when I graduate. 

I think it's important for the work that you've done to be able to make a difference to other people. If you're good at something, the least you could do is use that to make a difference to other people's lives. I don't know how good I’d be at studying medicine, but I've always enjoyed maths and physics, and have always wondered how I could use those concepts to benefit other people. 

So I feel like photonics is good in that sense, because it's involved in a lot of advancements in healthcare and security, as well as other applications that positively impact people. 

When did you first hear about photonics?

The first time I was introduced to light waves was during GCSE and A level [14-18 years], which is where I first learnt about the wave-particle duality concept. I really enjoyed these ideas – especially at A level because it went into more depth, particularly with quantum physics and the introduction of photons. So it was always at the back of my mind that if I ever came across an opportunity involving this topic in today's industry, I would take it straight away.

I remember learning about the photoelectric effect, during A level [17-18 years], which was really interesting. I think this was also due to my teacher, who explained things in a really engaging way - he made us realise that the concept behind it was actually really cool. That was one thing I remember as a reason for wanting to continue looking into this topic.

What motivates you in your job?

In terms of engineering, one motivator is the way in which technology is advancing so quickly, you can see how much of an impact it’s going to have in a few years on different applications. And that’s something that especially pushes me in certain projects. 

As I mentioned, helping other people is a huge motivator, and so the healthcare side of photonics, where there is so much scope for diagnosing and curing diseases, looks very exciting.

It’s also motivating when something that you’ve been interested in your whole life is part of your job. I think it goes without saying that, if you’re working in an area you’ve found really interesting since you were a kid, it tends to be very satisfying. 

Aside from engineering, what kind of skills are you hoping to gain from your internship?

I think developing teamwork and communication skills is something I will really benefit from. I’m already seeing a lot of benefits only five, six weeks in. Also, gaining experience in a general engineering environment is something I know will always be important.