Queen’s University Engineering Physics Graduate Student Making An Impact One Nanocantilever At A Time


In the Engineering Physics PhD program at the Queen’s University School of Graduate Studies, Jennifer Campbell is working with tiny, futuristic devices that have the potential to make a huge impact in the field of medicine – and her career.

“I am hoping to become an expert in my research area, which is the fabrication and measurement of nano-mechanical devices,” Jennifer says.

“Everything about my experience at Queen’s has been excellent, from the application process to classes to extra-curricular activities.” —Jennifer Campbell, Engineering Physics PhD student, Queen’s University School of Graduate Studies

For her thesis project, she is making nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS), which are very small devices that combine even tinier mechanical and electrical components.

“I am working on making nanocantilever beams, which are like tiny diving boards that are about 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair,” she says. “Since these nanocantilevers are so small and light, just the weight of a single molecule could make them bend, so these nanocantilevers have enormous potential as very sensitive molecule detectors for futuristic medical instruments.”

If you’ve ever seen Star Trek, the medical tricorder immediately comes to mind – a fictional handheld scanner that diagnoses diseases and collects information about a patient with a quick swipe through the air. Maybe that device or something like it will one day become a reality through Jennifer’s research at Queen’s!

Why Queen’s?

Jennifer started the program in September 2008 after completing Bachelor of Science in Physics at the University of Prince Edward Island, a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of New Brunswick, and a Masters of Engineering Physics at Queen’s.

While she says the best thing about being a grad student at Queen’s University is being involved in cutting-edge research every day, she chose and has stayed at the Kingston, Ont., school for a number of other reasons as well.

Queen’s is one of the few universities in Canada with an engineering physics program, for one, but she also loved the atmosphere of the campus, the physics department and the city. “And coming from my home province of Prince Edward Island, Kingston was very attractive with its small population and gorgeous waterfront.”

The school also supports graduate students by guaranteeing a minimum level of funding and providing a variety of services and resources specifically for grad students, such as workshops to help you become a better Teaching Assistant, manage your time, develop effective study skills and learn how to use new technologies, and resources to help you write your dissertation or thesis, or start your career.

“Everything about my experience at Queen’s has been excellent, from the application process to classes to extra-curricular activities,” Jennifer says.

The grad student experience at Queen’s

“You’ll find that grad school is very different from undergrad and, in my opinion, a lot more fun!” Jennifer says.

In a typical week, she will attend a group meeting, a department colloquium and any classes she’s taking (which might include Mesoscopic Measurements or Quantum Mechanics, to name just a few). All of her classes are small, ranging in size from six to 20 students, and the professors know all the students by name.

“I love my classes! They are all lecture based as we get plenty of hands-on lab experience in the research portion of our program.”

Jennifer also works as a Teaching Assistant for an undergraduate laboratory and spends the rest of her time working in the lab on her own research project, but it’s not all work all the time. “There is usually time in the evenings to go to the gym, play an intramural sport, hang out with friends or relax,” she says.

She’s had some pretty interesting experiences outside the lecture halls and labs as well. So far, she’s attended nano-electromechanical systems summer school at the California Institute of Technology (better known as Caltech) in Pasadena, California; taken a three-day backpacking trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire with the Queen’s Outdoors Club; and participated in the Queen’s Three Minute Thesis competition.

Jennifer’s advice for future grad students

“If you want to do grad school, I would say to go ahead and jump right in!” she says. “There are fewer classes and you get to study topics that you are really interested in.  The bulk of your time, at least in my field, is spent working on your research project.  This part is the most fun as you get to learn new skills, do lots of problem solving and become an expert in one area of your field.”

Queen's UniversityOne idea really can change the world. Maybe it will be yours! Learn more about how you can make an impact at the Queen’s University School of Graduate Studies.

About the author

Cassandra Jowett is TalentEgg's Content Manager. She joined the team as a student intern in the summer of 2008, and since then her heart has never really left the Egg Carton. Cassandra is a recent graduate of the Ryerson University School of Journalism, where she earned a Bachelor of Journalism with a focus in writing and editing for newspapers. She has also written and edited for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, t.o.night newspaper and other publications.