OP 1. University of Queensland. Rhodes Scholar PhD. Astronaut. ⁠ These were Emerald Gaydon's four goals as an MBC student, written on a piece of paper and glued to the wall above her desk.⁠ As she heads to Oxford University in England to continue her PhD, that makes it three goals down, one to go.⁠

What have you been up to since you graduated from MBC?

I graduated in 2017, which is scary, because it doesn't feel like 7 years ago! Right off the bat in 2018, I took a gap year, spending half the year saving up money, and the other half travelling. I really encourage a gap year - I know a lot of people take them because they don’t know what they want to do after school, which is a good reason, but, for me, I knew that I wanted to study physics, but I never felt the need to complete tasks in my life right after the other, as if I were on some kind of conveyor belt. So, I decided I wanted to learn more about the world before I spent more time specialising. I gained from that gap year a real curiosity about how other people live around the world, their cultures and their routines. I also gained a real sense of resilience, because solo-travelling at 18 years old was a tough and sometimes lonely experience, but, I grew a lot intellectually and personally, so I have no regrets about it, only lessons.

I won the UQ Excellence Scholarship, and started my Bachelor of Science (Physics) at the University of Queensland in 2019, completing it at the end of 2022. I also won the Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship, and went on to study at the National University of Singapore (NSU) for a semester on exchange. While I was in Singapore, I joined the NUS Mountaineering Team - we trained as a team for months, and then, during a 20-day winter expedition, we summitted Tsorku Peak, a 5479m high peak in the Nepalese Himalayas.

In 2023, I began my Honours Degree in Physics at UQ, where I also had the opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia’s KAUST University for a month-long, fully-funded research internship, where I worked with a world-leading team on the production of micro-LEDs!

During my Bachelor's Degree, I got involved with the UQ Science Demo Troupe, which is a science outreach organisation from running interactive science demonstration presentations and workshops, aiming to engage the public in science. I started as a presenter with them in 2020, and then became the troupe leader in 2022. With them, I’ve engaged over 20,000 people in science and have, on my own initiative, raised over $40,000 in funding to organise and run science outreach trips to regional and remote Australian communities. I’ve presented shows across Queensland with the Demo Troupe, and am very excited that this year I have my very own solo shows in the Brisbane World Science Festival event!

You were recently awarded an Australia-At-Large Rhodes Scholarship, what made you want to apply?

The obvious answer would be to say "because it is considered the world’s oldest and most prestigious scholarship", but, honestly that is not why – I am interested in what that implies about it. It has a network of amazing people at all stages in their career, in all types of fields, from all over the world – it really is an incredible network. I also knew that I wanted to go to Oxford because Professor Harish Bhaskaran’s research group is doing amazing research in neuromorphic computing (which is my field), and also because Oxford offers not just academic learning, but through the college-system, the chance to learn about countless other disciplines from other students and fellows. It also feels amazing to follow in the footsteps of some of the most influential people throughout history, not just science and physics (although they have their superstars there too!). I’ve also grown up hearing about the Rhodes Scholarship from family and at school, and with the number of Australian Prime Ministers (Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott, Malcom Turnbull) that seem to have come out of the scholarship, it would be difficult not to hear!

What does the Scholarship involved, and what are you most excited about? 

The Scholarship pays for you to live and study at the University of Oxford, in Oxford, UK, which, by the World University Rankings for 2024, is the world’s top university. You undertake your degree and live at an Oxford College, just like all Oxford students, but you get to be part of an incredible extra community. I'm really excited to be a part of the Rhodes Scholar community, not just at Oxford, but for the rest of my life. At Oxford specifically, that means being a part of a special community within Oxford, centred around Rhodes House, where you meet and learn with incredible young scholars from all around the world (just over 100 each year).

I’m excited for my research, to live in a College (and feel like I’m at Hogwarts), and generally to experience the academic traditions at Oxford that have been around for hundreds of years. I think the most exciting thing, however, is the people I will get to be around for the years of my doctorate. I’m really excited to be around people with a similar mindset, drive and curiosity to me, but also to be around people who potentially think in a profoundly different way, and for the opportunity to learn from them!

What do you want to get out of the experience?

I want to learn from everyone around me! I think that is the beauty of a university like Oxford and a scholarship like the Rhodes; the people are just top notch. I want to learn everything that I can from as many people as I can, not just in my field, but in all sorts of fields. As well as learning about how my field of study fits in to the broader context of the world, I simply want to learn more about the world!

How did your time at MBC set you up for success?

MBC taught and encouraged my curiosity, resilience, and courage (especially the courage to dream big!). There are two specific moments which I think highlight the way that MBC educated me not just in academic facts, but as a person. In a French Class in Grade 10, our teacher Madame Barnett asked us what we wanted to do when we were older. I said I wanted to be an astronaut, and she looked me in the eye, and, after a moment’s pause, she said “yes, you will be.” Having people that believe in you makes a huge difference – especially when you head out into the wide world and you come across people who may try to discourage you/discouraging circumstances. That doesn’t matter to you, when people you care about do believe in you.

As a younger child I was really quite shy, and I felt really anxious about putting up my hand and answering questions in class. My science teacher through Years 8, 9 and 10, Mr Cooper, took the time to speak to me personally and encourage me to be courageous and answer questions, and that unlocked all of this curiosity that was piling up inside my brain, but that I didn’t have the courage to express. Honestly, that skill of asking questions (both when you don’t understand, but also when you want to engage further with a topic) is something that has remained invaluable to me throughout my career so far - even more valuable though, is the curiosity that that skill nurtured. I never really got a chance to thank him for teaching me to ask question, and at that stage in my life I didn’t realise what a valuable tool I had been given, I credit much of my success up to this point to that ability to ask questions. So, overall, it was the fact that my teachers at MBC cared about more than grades in classes – they cared about me, the person I was growing up to be and the goals I had for the future.

Have you kept in touch with MBC since you graduated?

Yes! I’m happy to say I’ve kept in touch with a number of friends and teachers from my time at the College. I was even lucky enough last year to come and run some science demonstration workshops for students, organised by Mr Anderson for the International Women in Mathematics day! It was fantastic, and honestly I would love to be more involved! I also took the Moreton Bay College flag to the summit of Tsorku Peak. Every little bit of weight counts in mountaineering, so you can see what the school means to me!

    What's next for Emerald Gaydon?

    First thing's first, finish my PhD at Oxford! I have 3 strong passions for the future – my research, my science outreach and being an astronaut. For research, I’m really fascinated by the idea of using my research in physics to create biomedical devices, like bionic eyes for those who have lost an eye. For science outreach, my dream is to work as a documentary presenter, and to share science with people around the world. As for going to space, I think the goal of wanting to be an astronaut is fairly self explanatory!

    I suppose I can summarise by saying that my goal is to make my life both an intellectual and a literal and physical adventure, and to inspire and invite others to join me in that along the way – that’s what science is for me!

    Do you have any advice for the next generation of Bay Girls who want to follow in your footsteps?

    Think deeply about what you want, then set clear goals. Work hard towards those goals, take initiative to seek out opportunity (don’t wait for it to find you), and actively learn from the people around you. Then (and here is the most important bit) persevere when it gets tough and tiring!

    Mountaineering taught me that the process of summiting a mountain is getting back up one more time than you fall down. The beauty of this cycle is that it is your goals that help you persevere. My success has been a result of repeating this process again and again! But, (and this is something I’m definitely still learning how to do), make sure you take time out to enjoy your life and build memories with the people who matter – looking back on it, that is what you really remember.

    A fun fact is that I had a little piece of paper that was glued to the wall above my desk during school, and it said four things on it: OP1, University of Queensland, Rhodes Scholar PhD, and Astronaut. Those were my goals at that age (and still are), and I had decided on them, written them down and put them somewhere that I saw them constantly.