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Emeritus Professor Ian McArthur

School of Physics, Mathematics and Computing

"Believe in yourself and go for it."

After Honours in Physics at UWA, Ian McArthur completed a PhD at Harvard University in supersymmetric quantum field theory. His first postdoctoral fellowship was in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) at the University of Cambridge. This was followed by a postdoctoral position in the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Karlsruhe with one of the founders of supersymmetric quantum field theory, and an Assistant Professorship at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Hamburg University. After returning to Australia on an ARC Australian Research Fellowship, Ian McArthur served as the Head of the School of Physics at UWA for 18 years beginning in 2000. He was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship whilst at UWA, undertaken at the University of Munich. In 2021, Ian was awarded a Chancellor’s Medal from UWA, in recognition of his sustained and outstanding service to the University over many decades.

Most interesting aspect of my career

The most interesting aspect of my career was the opportunity to conduct research in high quality theoretical physics research institutes in the US, Britain and Germany.

Most important experiences at UWA

The first was the high-quality education I received as an undergraduate in the Department of Physics that made me competitive for PhD studies in theoretical physics at Harvard University. The second was to be given the privilege to lead the School of Physics to become research intensive while maintaining a high-quality undergraduate teaching program. The third was to be able to teach and interact with very high quality undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Where did you think you would end up when you began your career?

I had no idea where I would end up, I just tried my hardest and kept my fingers crossed. My research field has not changed – every paper I have ever written is on supersymmetric quantum field theory and associated topics including string theory.

What do you consider to be your most significant achievements?

Probably my most significant research achievement was the development of a special coordinate system called “superspace normal coordinates” in supergravity theories (precursors to superstring theories) which allowed me to calculate for the first time some important quantum aspects of these theories. In relation to teaching, I am proud of the three Excellence in Teaching awards I received at UWA.

Where to from here?

I am enjoying having time to “smell the roses” with my partner Judy Berman, rather than thinking and talking about work all the time. In my youth, I learned to fly at Pearce air force base on a Flying Scholarship awarded under the RAAF Air Cadet scheme and gained my pilot’s licence the day I turned 17 – I have been flying since then, and in retirement plan to continue flying my favourite aircraft, a Tiger Moth. I am also dabbling in gliding and taking guitar lessons.

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