Dr Gail N Iles is a former astronaut trainer who, given the chance, would venture into space in a heartbeat. Until that day comes, she is passionate about teaching physics and mechanics at RMIT.
“Before my life as a physics teacher in the School of Science at RMIT, I trained astronauts.
I was living in Europe when I responded to a call-out for potential astronauts to live and work on the International Space Station (ISS).
Around 10,000 people from across the continent had the same dream, but after extensive medical and psychological testing, as well as pilot tests at the Lufthansa Flight Centre in Hamburg, I got down to the last 200.
Sadly I didn’t make it to the final interview stage, however with my PhD in physics; my qualification as a teacher; and my flying, sky-diving and zero-gravity experience, I was selected to be an astronaut instructor instead.
I ended up at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany where I taught the world’s astronauts how to operate the Columbus Laboratory, which is the European module of the ISS.
I also trained at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Houston and learned how to dock the Soyuz onto the ISS using the full flight-model simulator.
Training astronauts was very cool. A particular highlight was when respected Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield said I’d done an ‘outstanding job’ taking him through some off-nominal communications scenarios in Columbus.
The personal challenge for me was dealing with the disappointment of not fulfilling my dream of actually going into space. Given the chance now, I’d jump on whichever rocket would take me – the dream lives on!
My thirst for knowledge and curiosity for how things work has always drawn me to physics.
Physics answers the ‘why?’ questions. Why does the earth not spiral into the sun? Why do these magnets attract each other? Why is the sky blue?
As a lecturer at RMIT I teach physics undergraduates about neutron scattering and teach civil engineers about mechanics.
One of the subjects we look at is the phenomenon of superconductivity. This occurrence is closely related to the mechanisms that drive magnetism and having studied this field for over 10 years, I enjoy sharing my knowledge with students.
For my research, I am working on a plan to build a nanoparticle agglomeration device to grow magnetic nanoparticles. Staying with the space theme, we also plan to launch a CubeSat (a miniature satellite) into space – which would be a first for RMIT!
With so many questions still unanswered, physics continues to be a stimulating and fascinating field to work in.
Analytical thinking, logical problem-solving and a methodological approach are all skills that physicists possess, so it’s the naturally inquisitive and questioning students that succeed in physics.
The best part about teaching at RMIT is knowing that many of the students will stay on to complete higher degrees. It feels like a proper investment – providing a solid foundation for our future scientists.”