Sophie Calabretto

Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, Macquarie University


Everyone should pursue what they're interested in!

What do you do?

As a senior lecturer, my time is split between lecturing, research, and 'service'.
In terms of lecturing, I usually teach our first-year mainstream maths unit that all science/engineering/maths students are required to take, as well as more specialised third-year units such as Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, for those undertaking a maths major at university.
My research area is fluid dynamics, and I'm interested in understanding why fluid (air/water/blood ... anything that 'flows'!) goes from being 'nicely behaved' before it transitions to a messy, turbulent (chaotic) state. The reason that is interesting is because chaotic fluid flow exists in a lot of places (for example, weather systems, flow around ships and planes, flow through pipes and arteries ... even turning on a tap) but we do not really understand the process, and if we do not understand the process, we cannot design objects in the best way possible (to make plane fly faster, using less fuel, for example).
My service role involves doing a lot of outreach -- speaking to students, parents, members of the community, or anyone, about why studying mathematics is so important and how it can be found almost everywhere in our daily lives.

Why did you choose this field?

I think I've always enjoyed learning new things and understanding how things work, so I ended up going to university to study astrophysics (because I thought space was sort of cool too). When I got to university, however, I realised it wasn't necessarily the physics I enjoyed but, rather, it was applying mathematics to solve problems in physics that I Liked. Applied mathematics is the field of mathematics in which you use maths to solve any and all real-world problems. My research is in fluid mechanics now but I've previously worked on a project that looked at mathematical models of neuron firing, for example. There are few fields where you can go from looking at problems in neurophysiology one year, to trying to understand supersonic aircraft in the next.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

In 2017 I was named one of the ABC's (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) 'Top 5 Under 40', which is a program designed to find Australia's next generation of science communicators and give them a voice. Because of this program, I've ended up talking about maths on national radio and primetime television, and I even met the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they visited Australia ... all because I studied mathematics!

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love what I do because the problems I work on are challenging. In a field such as fluid mechanics, with a long and proud tradition, there is not really any low-hanging fruit left. To discover something new, or to unlock new understanding, is special.
I also enjoy changing people's perception of mathematics, from potentially thinking it's dull and irrelevant, to understanding that maths is everywhere and incredibly important to technology and understanding the world around us.

Best advice for next generation?

I think everyone should pursue what they're interested in! We know that the people who are useful (in the workforce, society, everywhere!) are those who have the ability and training to do what they need to do (or the capacity to learn those skills), and gender does not actually come into that at all. As more people become aware of this fact, the more the culture will change, and change is already happening. The more people who pursue the things they want to pursue, the more diversity we'll have across every sector, and the power those minorities have will increase as the numbers start to even out.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.

NOMINATE a woman in STEM

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