Environment

Meet Jayaka Campbell:

data analyst for climate change supercomputer — SPARKS

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

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Jayaka Campbell firmly believes there is no problem that science is unable to solve, “because in truth and in fact, science seeks to understand the facts of nature from discovering something or figuring out why society works the way it does”.

With a BSc in Electronics and an MSc in Physics, 35-year-old Campbell is currently pursuing a PhD in Computational Physics. He is also a member of the Climate Studies Group at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), Mona, and the data analyst with SPARKS — Scientific Platform for Applied Research and Knowledge Sharing — a high-performance computer system at the university, working to provide regional and country-level climate projections and high-resolution maps in the Caribbean in order to improve the region's climate information.

SPARKS is part of the work of the regional track of the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience in the Caribbean, funded by the Climate Investment Funds through the Inter-American Development Bank. And, as Campbell asserts, it demonstrates the power of science to tackle problems — in this case the social, economic and environmental problems which climate change poses to the Caribbean.

Even before SPARK's launch in November 2016, Campbell was on the job inputting and crunching vast amounts of data into the super computing system that would boggle the minds of most people. He got bitten by the computer bug at Camperdown High School and credits former Principal Cynthia Cooke for introducing him to the field. She recognised his knack for computers and hired him to work one summer at the school's computer lab to prepare it for the new year.

“That did it for me,” he said.

His love for and determination to pursue the sciences did not go unchallenged. There were initial objections from his mother: “She wanted me to do business subjects. We argued for four nights until my father intervened and said, 'That's his calling' and my mother said 'Well …Good luck!'”

His mother, he adds, has been very supportive of his choice since. He does, however, understand the misgivings she had then.

“When you do science, people still feel you will not be able to feed yourself. There is a misconception that all you can do is teach. But the prospects are wide and varied…I have been a part of a cohort that has gone on to do many things. Some are entrepreneurs, because physicists are problem solvers. If you want to figure out how devices work, if you have manual processes that can be automated, an electronics or physics degree can provide the solution…in software and hardware development, even in banking, because these sectors use the same language physicists use — math and numbers.”

But his choice of study is more than a viable career to Campbell. He loves his field and is excited about it. It is more than a profession or a calling, it is a passion.

“I really like figuring out how things work. I build things. I have been a part of teams that have developed a few apps that are actually in use… [and] I have automated my home with a system that turns off the power at a particular time and the refrigerator is set to cycle off at night.”

And for relaxation? He plays chess with his wife, Shaunna, a fellow physicist who was a member of her high school's championship-winning chess team, and who frequently beats him at that game.

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