Physics on the front line

The original version of this interview features in the January 2014 issue of Soldier - the magazine of the British Army - and is reprinted with permission of the editor.

A former CMS physicist turned British Army officer is putting college science syllabuses under the microscope in Kabul.

Lieutenant James Jackson, of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, is serving as a force protection troop leader, defending the Afghan media operations cell and any journalists that visit the capital. Jackson is a former particle physicist with the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and CMS collaboration at CERN.

During his tour, Lieutenant Jackson has been finding out more about the sort of science courses that are available to Afghan students with a view to passing on some of his knowledge to colleges there. "Their rough syllabus looks decent for undergraduates," he said. "I don't know to what level the topics are taught, so I'll be finding out more during my time here."

Lieutenant Jackson appears to have taken the overall transition from the scientific world to the military comfortably in his stride: "Both fields actually require a very similar mind set, so there is significant overlap," he said. "On the whole, those in the armed forces and research science are dynamic, adaptable, driven, not scared of uncertainty and keen to solve problems. This is one of the reasons why the move from science to soldiering was not as vast as you might expect."

The officer's efforts to work with local universities in Kabul shows he will never be free of his passion for science, though, and he still closely follows the work at CERN: "I can only hope that the Higgs is just the tip of the iceberg and that when more data is analysed my friends and ex-colleagues can tease out more of the universe's secrets," he added. "I'll continue to watch with interest."