APS News

Career Corner

This is a regular feature describing diverse employment opportunities and career advice for physicists, appearing as space permits. If you are a physicist employed in a nontraditional career and would like to contribute to future columns, send a letter describing your background, how and why you changed careers, and any advice you might have for physicists seeking to do the same to APS News, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3844; fax: (301) 209-0865; email: letters@aps.org.

Jeffrey Marque (right), Beckman Instruments

Jeffrey Marque is a staff physicist with Beckman Instruments in Palo Alto, California, where he works primarily on problems that require both experimental and computational fluid dynamics and structural dynamics analysis. While much of his present work is in engineering, over the past 25 years he has worked in areas ranging from physics, cell biology, cardiology, anesthesiology, and biophysical chemistry.

Marque received a B.S. in biology and physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1971, then worked for a year as a hospital technician in a cardiac catheterization laboratory and also as the first violinist in a pofessional string quartet. Since he had a strong interest in neuroscience, he subsequently took a position as a staff research associate at the University of California, San Francisco's School of Medicine's Cardiovascular Research Institute, where he worked on a study of anesthetic effect on cerebral blood flow, ischemia and edema. He was also able to combine his interest in mountaineering with his research director's interest in high altitude physiology by offering a course in medicine for mountaineers, coordinated with the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.

In 1975, Marque was awarded a scholarship to study chamber music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and he concurrently entered the M.S. program in physics at San Francisco State University. Upon completion of the master's program, he moved to the University of Illinois. He received his Ph.D. in experimental physics there in 1983, with a dissertation on thermodynamic and kinetic studies of the bacterial protein bacteriorhodopsin. His first post-doctoral position was at RIKEN in Japan, where he worked on steady-state and time-resolved fluorescence anistropy decay studies of tagged bacteriorhodopsin. He also collaborated with a colleague at Ochanomizu University in Tokyo on a dynamic light scattering study of membranes formed from a mutant of the protein.

Marque accepted another post-doctoral position with Cornell University in 1985, where he developed an instrument for the study of the kinetics of a receptor protein in nerve cell membranes. Although he received offers for two assistant professor positions while at Cornell, he was unable to accept because the salary was insufficient to support his family.

In 1988 Marque was hired as a physicist in the Engineering Department of Beckman Instrument's Spinco Division, where he has worked ever since. Although the engineer who hired him was looking for a "hot shot theoretical physicist" to help engineers with concepts and calculations, Marque convinced the engineer that his broad background in instrumentation and physical chemistry would also be useful to the department and company. Within six months of joining Beckman, he invented algorithms for automating the optimization of certain kinds of centrifugal separations, and for using physical chemical theory to enable local solute concentration control during centrifugation, resulting in two U.S. patents and several pending international patents. He began work in mechanical engineering in 1990, when two mechanical engineers with expertise in structural dynamics left Beckman.

Marque challenges the assumption that academic research is somehow more sophisticated and demanding than industrial research, claiming that he has found much more satisfaction solving problems connected to useful products than he did in deriving scientific information of either remote, indirect, or no utility, although the work in both areas was comparable in quality and difficulty. "With the exception of the most brilliant scientists who can truly exploit open-ended research to make great breakthroughs, I think that the idea that satisfying scientific work can only be had in academia is wrong," he said. "I think that many young scientists are misguided and made unnecessarily miserable because of this serious error in outlook."

The breadth of his background and knowledge has unquestionably been a valuable asset in his work with Beckman. He believes that a physics background allows job seekers entrance to interesting and challenging work in technical field both in and outside of physics, and urges young Ph.D.s planning their careers to exploit the fact that their physics training gives them flexibility. He is currently a participant in an APS/AAPT program in which industrial physicists give career advice to community college students who are interested in physics and engineering.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin