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Physics Fueled Curiosity
From early on, Aaron asked lots of questions. He says that his “childhood wonder of the unknown never stopped.” That curiosity about the world around him carried over into his education, where he decided to study physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Curiosity Shot Through the Roof
Studying physics only fueled Aaron's curiosity. “When I started to grasp how complex and diverse our world can be, things started clicking, and my curiosity shot through the roof,” he says.
Aaron was always interested in nearly every scientific field, so he kept his options opening after graduation. He soon found his way to a small hardware company. “It was a scrappy group of engineers cooking circuit boards on hotplates in a tiny room with no ventilation. Bingo… [they were] pioneering open source hardware and I fell in love with building electronics and haven’t stopped since.”
Aaron ran the electrical engineering portion of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) lab. ATAP self-identifies as a ‘band of pirates’ with the tagline “The future is what we choose to make. We make what we believe in.” The group is a sort of skunkworks lab, aimed at pushing highly innovative technology through in only 2 years.
Some of the publicized projects from ATAP include Project Tango and Project Ara. Project Tango aims to allow mobile devices to map and relate to space and surroundings in real-time, using only cameras and motion sensors - no GPS. Project Ara is creating a fully modular smartphone. Just imagine, upgrading the camera of your phone without buying an entirely new device!
Aaron's work at ATAP was the picture of a fast-faced, rapidly changing environment. “My lab works closely with a machine shop and 3D printer lab to create prototypes at breakneck speeds.Everyday we do something different, whether it is paper engineering or inventing a new piece of electronic hardware, we do anything and everything very quickly.”
Now, Aaron works at X, a research and development facility founded by Google in January 2010, which works on many exciting new technologies including space-based projects and self-driving cars. Aaron is part of the machine learning team in the robotics division.
Aaron has also founded his own company, a design outfit called Bitsmashed. With Bitsmashed, Aaron has created a variety of power sensing and GPS tracking systems - such as Hawkpack, a solar powered cellular enabled backpack worn by large birds of prey that can track their motion.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Aaron keeps busy on projects at work and in his free time. He says to “do stuff, build stuff, get dirty, hang out with people that like the same [things], have fun, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes or take chances.” He stresses the importance of learning to work with your hands, saying that you can “combine that with low level physics knowledge and you become an extremely valuable asset [to your employer].”
Use Physics as Your Framework
Aaron emphasizes how important a background in physics can be as a foundation for your outlook and career. He says, “My physics training has framed how I think about everything. Technically I have the foundation to, at least, participate in discussions that span many fields of scientific study.”
Aaron says to use physics to learn how to think about complex problems.”Underneath all of the math, proofs, derivations, problems, and experiments [is the] ability to think effectively.”