Pamela Johnston’s grandfather was a watch maker.
“I was always fascinated by the small watch pieces that would lie around, wondering how they could be used to tell the time,” she said.
When she was younger, Pamela liked taking things apart to see how they worked. She was always helping her dad fix things.
When she began her schooling, she loved mathematics.
“Once I realized you could use mathematics to describe the physical world, I was hooked,” she said.
Pamela is a software developer at Horiba Glasgow, and specializes in instrumentation.
She said when she was about 10-years-old, she had a great teacher. One who allowed her to work at her own pace, explore, and learn about the things that interested her.
“This is where my interest in mathematics and computer programming was developed,” she said. “Our class housed the only computer in the school, and I used to get the chance to program it using BBC BASIC.”
Pamela was born in Scotland in the city of Glasgow. Glasgow means “Dear Green Place” in Gaelic, the Celtic language of Scotland.
The city lives up to its name. It has lots of green spaces for people to enjoy. Now, Pamela lives in a town on the outskirts of the city with her family. It gives them easy access to the scenic Scottish countryside.
She studied physics as an undergraduate at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. There were more girls studying physics than boys, so she was a bit surprised to find so few girls on the advanced degree course. That didn’t bother her.
She enjoyed her time at Strathclyde so much that she stayed on to study for her Ph.D. there, developing a theory describing superradiant (intense - several hundreds of kilowatts - subnanosecond coherent microwave radiation) effects in cyclotron resonance masers.
Pamela joined HORIBA and works with time correlated single photon counting (TCSPC). It is a technique to record low level light signals with picosecond time resolution, and is primarily used for measuring fluorescence lifetimes. Pamela works within a small software team. Her role is to develop the data analysis techniques that customers use to model their data.
“Our main software package is called EzTime and is the first HORIBA Scientific software package to be designed with a touchscreen user interface,” she said. “It allows users to both control their instrumentation and analyze their data within one program.”
More recently, Pamela has been involved in supporting a research project where the underlying Time of Flight (TOF) technology of HORIBA’s instruments were used for research into real-time computational 3D imaging and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). This work has applications in autonomous vehicles, machine learning, security and surveying.
“At present, we are working on Fluorescence-lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM), a technique for producing an image based on lifetimes. This has the challenge of producing a lot of data that needs to be stored, accessed and analyzed quickly.”
As a young scientist, Pamela did encounter barriers and actually left science for a brief period. However, since returning to work after having a career break to look after her young children, she was surprised at the opportunities available. She worked part time as a researcher in academia on short-term contracts for a few years before coming to work for HORIBA.
What advice would she give young girls who have an interest in science?
“My advice to both girls and boys would be the same,” she said. “If you find something that interests you, then pursue it. Don’t be put off by other people.”
Do you have any questions or requests? Use this form to contact our specialists.