Drew Rae

Thanks for the support everyone. Let's have some hard questions to finish off the week!

Favourite Thing: I like to study the world by being part of it instead of sitting at my desk. If I want to help make a better train or aeroplane, I want to know what it is like to be a train driver or a pilot.



I went to a school in Brisbane, Australia between 1988 and 1992.


I went to the University of Queensland, where I studied Computer Systems Engineering

Work History:

I’ve worked for the military, at MIT, for railway and construction companies.


University of York

Current Job:

I’m a research and teaching fellow. That means I research and I teach.

Me and my work

I ask “why do big accidents happen” and “how do we stop big accidents from happening”.

If you die in a car crash or a nuclear meltdown, you are just as dead either way. Why are people more scared of one thing than another? Why do we pay so much attention to the nuclear power plant in Japan, and not as much attention to the trains and cars that crashed in the same earthquake?

These are hard questions, and they are somewhere between engineering science (how people build things, social science (how people act in groups), and psychology (how people think).

Experiments are hard, because people wouldn’t like it if you started crashing planes and blowing people up as part of your research.

My Typical Day

This week my twitter feed at @dioptre is following my daily activity for #IAS2011.

What I'd do with the money

I want to make an online game for students to design the safest machine with a fixed amount of virtual money to buy parts.

Most dangerous things only get built once. We don’t ask ten teams to build a nuclear power plant, and then pick the safest. This means that we need a lot of trust in the people doing the designing and building.

I’d like to teach people about the types of trade-offs that you make between money and safety. No one has infinite money, so you can’t have infinite safety. This means that you make lots of choices, and people could get hurt if you get the choices wrong.

If I gave you a problem to solve, and £1000,000 pounds worth of virtual parts, I’m sure you could solve the problem. Could you solve it with a safer machine than everyone else?

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

skeptic, left-handed, midfielder

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Black-Eyed Peas

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I think the honest answer might be reading the Harry Potter series. I didn’t start until Goblet of Fire came out – until then I thought they sounded silly.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I would write a book that would be read and loved by every generation, I would live to see humans colonise other solar-systems, I would have a lot of money.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be an honest hacker.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I once held a bully over a balcony.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Tell us a joke.

Swap a word for the word “pants” in lines from movies, particularly Star Wars. It’s the joke that keeps on giving.