From an early age, Sophie Calabretto was interested in just about everything “When I was really little, I wanted to be an Olympic sprinter or marine biologist,” she laughs.
Sophie settled on the idea of being an astrophysicist but discovered it wasn’t quite the right fit. “It wasn’t necessarily the physics I was interested in – it was the maths behind it,” she says.
She switched to a degree in mathematical sciences at The University of Adelaide and felt right at home.
Now, Sophie’s a fluid mechanist and lecturer in applied mathematics at Macquarie University. So, what does engineering fluid mechanics mean? In a nutshell, she spends her days understanding the way fluids (both gases and liquids) move and behave.
Creating the super-fast planes of the future relies on understanding how air moves around the aircraft. Unstable air flowing over the wings creates turbulence, increasing the drag on the plane. To overcome this, planes must burn more fuel. If this increased drag didn’t occur, that extra fuel could be used to make the plane fly faster or travel further. Engineering fluid mechanics helps us understand how to control this turbulence and so reduce drag.
But aerodynamics is just one of the unexpected areas you can impact with a career in maths. You can also use applied maths to understand and prevent infectious diseases or to predict weather patterns and the effects of climate change. “No one really knows what mathematicians do, because maths isn’t seen as a career option,” Sophie says.
When you get right down to it, maths equals problem-solving. That’s what Sophie loves.
“Do as much maths as possible,” she advises. “Because when you’re learning maths techniques, you’re learning so many other skills. Look at the information you have, assess it and problem-solve your way out of it.”
– Eliza Brockwell
Sophie’s path to engineering fluid mechanics and maths
> > Bachelor of Arts/Science, the University of Adelaide
> > Bachelor of Mathematical Sciences (Honours), the University of Adelaide
> > PhD, the University of Auckland, New Zealand
> > Postdoc Fellow, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
> > Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, Macquarie University
Author: Elise Roberts
Elise is a science, tech and business enthusiast, motivated to connect people with research that will propel their success. With over ten years’ experience working at the intersection of technology and communications across a wide range of industries, Elise enjoys jumping on the latest trends in digital media to share new knowledge with the Australian community.