Bret Davis, Air Quality Specialist, Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Click on a topic to read Bret's answer to an individual question, or scroll down to read the entire career profile:
Work Description * Inspiration and Motivation * Graduate Experience and Professional Development * Other Advice and Media

Describe your current research or work assignment. What topics are you working on? What does a typical work day look like—what would a student expect to do if they followed your career path?

I am currently an air quality specialist with the state Dept. of Environmental Quality. I monitor and assess air quality across Montana, focusing on particulates and gases in the atmosphere. We have a network of gas and particulate analyzers throughout the state. I collect the data, interpret and report, and make the information available to the EPA and public. I also maintain the instrumentation, performing calibration, repairs, and maintenance.

What motivated or inspired you to pursue a career in Nanoscience?

I had a deep interest in science in general. As I advanced in my physics education in college, I saw nano-technology as a quickly emerging field that I wanted to ride on the wave of. There are so many applications in nano-technology, I figured whatever field I ultimately found myself in, that knowledge of it would be applicable. My real introduction to nano-technology was using electron, x-ray, and mass spectrometers to analyze biological systems in ICAL.

What graduate experiences/activities were essential for your professional development in Nanoscience? What experiences made a difference in your own career path (e.g., attended a conference, short course, had an opportunity to work in a lab, a key mentor in your life...)?

Working in a nano-technology lab in graduate school was the key experience in my life for developing my profession. I was able to explore my own thesis, as well as be exposed to the myriad of real-world applications that were constantly occurring around me. The lab was a focal point of activity, and greatly expanded my knowledge and network.

Any other advice to help an aspiring Nanoscience student?

Be curious and think outside the box. Take the advice of mentors, but continuously develop your own ideas. Understanding the working principles of analytical tools is extremely practical, and will help you from getting off course. Try to develop a big picture of the system you are examining by combining different methods of "seeing" the nano-system. Have a clear idea of the questions you are asking, what impact the sample preparation will have on your experiment, what is possible, and what is the best tool to answer your question. Every analytical tool looks at a system in a specific way, and there are many "ways to see" available. Pick the one that will answer your question. Try to establish this before beginning your experiment, but be flexible as your project develops. This will also help to keep you on track.