Professor Janice Barton, Professor of Experimental Mechanics
"I think of myself as a physicist, " says Prof Janice Barton, professor of experimental mechanics in the School of Engineering Sciences at the University of Southampton.
"Although I'm an engineer, my field of solid mechanics focuses on understanding the physics of structures and materials. One of the best examples is the jet engine which covers every single area of applied physics including fluid flow, thermodynamics - when you're looking at fuel combustion, and the strength and temperature resistance of the turbine materials."
"At school I never had much interest in science and wanted to take art and needlework for my 'O' Levels. But my teachers told me I should take physics and chemistry instead. Having said that, I'd always been very interested in astronomy and used to lay out in the garden with my binoculars and look up at the night sky as a child, so I had thought about doing an astronomy degree," recalls Janice. However at 16 she decided to leave school and get a job, and joined Thorn EMI Electronics as an engineering apprentice. She had been attracted into engineering after passing Thorn EMI's drawing office on the bus to school and realising that technical drawing would allow her to keep up her artistic side.
During her apprenticeship, Janice found that studying came easily to her. "I was encouraged by colleagues to take a degree, and so that's how I ended up in this career," says Janice, who followed her HNC in mechanical and production engineering with a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Salford from 1986-1988. Shortly after graduating, Janice saw an advertisement for a research assistant in the field of thermoelastic stress analysis at the University of Manchester. She got the job, and was able to study for a doctorate at the same time. "My PhD brought in many aspects of materials science and applied physics, and my supervisor was a founder member of the IOP Stress and Vibration Group so that's how I found out about the IOP," she says. In 1996 Janice, who is also a Chartered Engineer and Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, joined the IOP becoming a Member and Chartered Physicist. "I have been treasurer, secretary and then chairman of the Stress and Vibration Group," says Janice, who is currently sitting on the IOP council.
"I think the Institute of Physics is one of the best institutions that organises scientific conferences because it covers such a huge range of topics. It provides a voice for people in universities and cares what happens about funding. It also produces a fantastic range of journals, and offers lots of interesting things to help people with career development," enthuses Janice, who also praises the age range it encompasses. "The branches organise get-togethers for retired people so they can retain a community, while IOP groups can provide funds for students to go to conferences," she adds.
Janice says she is "really glad to have been forced into doing physics and chemistry at 'O' Level," and is clear about her plans for the future. "I'd like to carry on growing my research and making an impact internationally and in industry. I think it's very important to make university research useful in an industrial context," she says.