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Running and Quantum Physics

Louise Shanahan is a quantum physicist who also happens to be an elite athlete hoping to represent the Republic of Ireland in the Paris 2024 Olympics.

I quite like having both Physics and athletics because if things in the lab are going badly, I can tell myself ‘I’m a runner’ and if running isn’t going well, I tell myself ‘well, you’re a quantum physicist so the running is just an extra’.

Louise Shanahan. Photo: University of Cambridge

Trinity PhD student Louise is based in the Cavendish Laboratory where she is investigating the use of nano diamonds to measure the temperature inside human cells. She explains:

Diamonds can often have defects. If you look at a diamond ring, you can often see glimpses of different colours and these colours are actually due to small defects. For certain defects, these colours are actually temperature-dependent. So based on the colour that the defect emits you can work out what the temperature is.

This study looks to build an understanding of intracellular temperature. In particular, the temperature variations of mitochondria in human cancer cells.

And in her spare time Louise – the daughter of Ray, a solicitor, who was also an elite athlete and her coach from the age of 9 – is a middle-distance runner. Louise won the 800m in the European Youth Championships in Utrecht in 2013.

Having overcome a stress fracture in her left foot she went on to take her first national title, the 1500m, at the Irish Indoor Championships in March 2020. Ray won the same title in 1988 and 1989 making them the first father and daughter to achieve this feat. She also brought home gold at the 2020 British University Indoor Championships, this time over her preferred distance, the 800m.

Louise winning the 800m at the British University Championships Photo: PhotographybyJonty

Since arriving in Cambridge, Louise has trained with Cambridge University’s Hare and Hounds under the guidance of coach Phil O’Dell. She is also supported by UCAPP, the University’s sports scholarship programme.

Last weekend Louise achieved an indoor personal best and European Indoor qualification standard of 2:03.52 for 800m at the Bryggen Sports Invitational in Manchester. She says

This year my main focus is the World Student Games. Looking on from this I would like to represent Ireland at the Europeans, Worlds and the Paris 2024 Olympics.

The British University Championships. Photo: PhotographybyJonty

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