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Written By

Mykala Wright


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

30 July 2022

From teen genius to Cambridge Scholar

When JCU Alumni Alex Myhill started studying Advanced Science at university, he was just 15 years old. Now, at 20 years old, Alex has been awarded a Gates Scholarship and will begin studying his PhD at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom later this year.

In 2017, Alex began his Bachelor of Science as one of the youngest students to ever attend JCU. He attributes much of his academic success to the encouragement and support he received from the people around him.

“I enjoyed school a lot and I knew I had talents in the sphere of science and physics from a fairly young age. But as with all things, Rome wasn’t built in a day; I was very privileged to have parents who facilitated my development and without them I would undoubtedly not be where I am now,” Alex says.

“I have also been extremely fortunate to have supportive friends, teachers, lecturers and mentors. Without them I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities to learn, and I would not be in this position.”

After acing two university maths subjects during his final year of high school, a desire to better understand the world inspired Alex to pursue science at JCU.

“I’ve always wanted to know what makes the universe ‘tick’ and studying science was a very natural outlet for this,” he says.

“At JCU, my interactions with my lecturers and supervisors made an incredible difference to my university experience and I learned a lot just through discussions and chatting with them about their research as well as other areas of science.”

Alex (right) and a fellow student.

Giving the gift of knowledge

A shared passion to pass on knowledge and contribute to society through research inspired Alex to apply for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship earlier this year.

The Scholarship is awarded to students based on outstanding intellectual ability and a commitment to improving the lives of others.

“I have always felt that giving back is incredibly important, and the Gates Trust has a strong belief in this as well. Not only does the Scholarship assist me financially, it also provides me with the nurturing and opportunities necessary to help others,” Alex says.

“The Gates community is incredible, with lots of students contributing in different ways to their fields. The chance to join a group of like-minded people and learn from and contribute to that group was another thing that inspired me to apply for the Scholarship.”

After graduating from his Honours degree at JCU in 2020, Alex moved to the UK at just 19 years old to study a Master of Advanced Study in Physics at the University of Cambridge. He completed his Master’s in June and will commence his PhD research in October.

“Moving overseas is never easy. There has been a lot to adjust to, especially with COVID-19 restrictions. But the people here are great and definitely make it easier to settle in,” he says.

“Cambridge is also far more similar to JCU in its teaching than I thought it would be. The one big difference is that the terms here are only eight weeks long, which means staying on top of work is seriously challenging and very intense. But that adds to the enjoyment and challenge!”

Cambridge university King's college street with lots of people.
A selfie of Alex on the Camridge campus.
Left: The University of Cambridge. Right: Alex Myhill. Supplied by Alex Myhill.

Earth’s quakes, beginnings and blobs

Although the move was daunting at first, Alex is now settled at Cambridge and excited to focus on his research in geophysics.

His project will look at the Earth’s free oscillations, which are waves generated by earthquakes that cause the Earth to vibrate or ‘ring.’ Within the Earth’s mantle there are two ‘blobs’ known as Large Low Shear Velocity Provinces (LLSVPs). Beyond knowing that these LLSVPs exist, they remain a rather mysterious feature of the Earth’s mantle.

“Because the free oscillations can be comparable to the magnitude of the Earth, it means they are sensitive to the density of structures within the Earth’s mantle. We know that the LLSVPs are different to the rest of the mantle, but we still don’t know exactly how different they are. My project seeks to investigate these areas,” Alex says.

With this research, Alex aims to improve our understanding of the Earth’s interior and evolution.

“We don’t know as much about the Earth as most people think. Properly understanding these parts of the Earth may significantly influence other areas of geophysics, including our understanding of topics such as mantle dynamics and crustal dynamics,” he says.

Alex also hopes to see increased equity and access to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) learning opportunities for people living in remote areas in the near future.

“Once I’ve completed my PhD research, I would like to contribute to teaching and mentoring younger people in physics and STEM. I would love to open up more opportunities for people from rural and regional areas to study STEM as I think there is a long way to go for equal opportunity in that respect. JCU provides a very important service in achieving that," he says.

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