Director, Weather Radar NZ Ltd

Luke Sutherland-Stacey initially pursued a variety of the natural sciences at University (physics, chemistry, geology, environmental science, maths) before choosing to specialise in Physics.

Career: Director, Weather Radar NZ Ltd, Auckland.
Programme: Bachelor of Science majoring in Physics, Postgraduate Diploma in Science majoring in Physics, Master of Science majoring in Physics (with exchange to Bristol University, UK), Doctor of Philosophy majoring in Physics (with exchange to University of Colima, Mexico).

“I enjoyed learning about how physics can explain the world around us, and later understanding how deep insights have been attained in many other sciences thanks to physics” he says.

He went on to complete a Master of Science, supported by the predecessor of the Callaghan Innovation Scheme.  As part of his industry-supported research, he used absorption UV spectroscopy to measure hydrogen sulphide in sewer networks - working at the interface of engineering and physics.

“It was at this stage I realised there are opportunities to gain expertise in specialist areas and invent completely new science applications, which can be immediately useful to society,” he says.

Luke made the most of that opportunity by stepping into a role at the company he had been undertaking the research project for and working on commercialisation of the measurement technique. At the same time, he went on to complete his PhD in Physics.

After completing his doctoral studies, Luke found a job in his field of study. He worked in industry for a couple of years, developing new optical sensor methods to detect the dumping of industrial waste into the Auckland sewer network.

“Then in 2015, I reduced my full-time work commitment and started my own company, Weather Radar NZ, to explore using weather radar for urban hydrology applications,” Luke explains.

“The work involves the commercial applications of the technology I had been working with during my PhD.

“We provide operational short term [0-2 hour] rainfall forecasts for stormwater applications in Auckland and Wellington, and we’re working on a variety of commercial weather radar research and development contracts for national and international clients.”

Luke is delighted he has been able to develop a business around his specialisation, rather than taking the usual PhD to post-doctorate pathway where, he says, one can end up transferring general research skills to a new research subcategory.

“Instead I enjoy meeting and working with a range of clients on different problems. As a rainfall enthusiast, having access to my own rain radars is a plus!”

Luke appreciated all the opportunities he had while studying, including picking up a second language.

“The University has excellent language schools and learning another language can help with exchange programs, attending overseas conferences, or subsequent employment or business opportunities.

“I studied German; now my company is the New Zealand distributor for a German instrument manufacturer and I maintain links with a Hamburg university who undertake research in my company’s area of interest.”

He also received a University of Auckland doctoral scholarship, which meant he could pursue a PhD topic that he was interested in, rather than having to choose from ones which were already funded.

Luke believes that the most important skills you can develop during a PhD are self-reliance, a work-ethic, confidence, speaking and writing skills, and being able to analyse complex problems.

The best advice he received at the start of his PhD studies was from one of his Physics professors: “The time when you undertake a PhD is the one occasion in your life when you will have a sustained period of time to explore what is really, really, interesting to you. You will never have the freedom to do this again, so make the most of it!”