Harry Warring

A grounding in physics at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington set Harry Warring up for a career solving the world's most pressing problems.

Portrait of Harry Warring standing in front of his workplace, Rocket Lab

Breaking apart household appliances to figure out how they worked was a pretty clear indicator to Harry Warring’s frustrated (but supportive) parents that he was destined for a career that was going places. Little did anyone realise then that those places would include the furthest reaches of space.

Harry is a development engineer at New Zealand-based space company Rocket Lab. For him, studying Physics at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington was a natural choice.

“If you’re interested in the world around you, Physics provides a really good framework for tinkering with anything in the universe and understanding what makes it tick.”

During his undergraduate and Honours years, Harry got an internship working in Physics lecturer Dr Ben Ruck’s novel materials laboratory, where he helped maintain the equipment and prepare samples for other people.

“That’s what led to me doing my PhD—it evolved into directing my own research over the course of a couple of summer projects. Getting hands-on with research really made me want to continue further.”

Under Dr Ruck’s supervision, Harry’s PhD focused on producing thin films of various nitrides.

“I was trying to produce those in a structured way so that they could be used for different types of new electronic devices. We’d prepare the raw materials and pattern them into device structures, then study those devices in extreme conditions such as high magnetic fields and really low temperatures to understand how they worked. There was some interesting fundamental physics at play,” Harry explains.

As he was finishing up his PhD thesis, Harry applied for a job at Rocket Lab, which delivers launch services, spacecraft, and satellite components. Within a week of being interviewed, he was hired.

“They were really keen to get me on board—I submitted my thesis on a Thursday and the following Monday I moved up to Auckland,” he says. “Officially, my job is a development engineer, but it is rocket science. We’re the leading edge of developing new hardware and testing it so that we fully understand it before we put it on the rocket.”

Harry says, growing up, he could never have dreamed he’d be able to do world-leading work building rockets in New Zealand.

“Rocket Lab has a couple of new exciting projects at the moment—we’ve got a mission to the Moon coming up for NASA where we’re sending up a very small rocket. It’s the early stages of NASA’s Artemis project—they’re building a massive rocket as well with the aim of eventually setting up a lunar base that will serve as a kind of stepping stone to Mars.”

He says space travel is a very important tool for humanity to have up its sleeve.

“There are a few ways venturing out can benefit humanity directly,” Harry explains. “Obviously, if we can establish a sustainable off-world colony, then it protects us as a species from cataclysmic events like an asteroid colliding with Earth. Also, if we can figure out how to efficiently mine asteroids and collect resources from them, that means we don’t need to screw up our own planet by mining terrestrially.”

They’re huge issues to be thinking about, but Harry says his grounding in Physics at Te Herenga Waka has set him up well to attempt to tackle them.

“There’s a lot of specific knowledge to do with the physics of material that has been directly useful to what I do now,” he says. “But probably more useful are the transferable skills you get—you can have any kind of hard problem thrown at you, and you know you’re able to break it down into solvable chunks and figure it out. Having that ability to develop the framework for how you’re going to tackle figuring a problem out is invaluable.”

Harry says Physics graduates will be instrumental to solving the world’s most pressing problems.

“These big issues we’re collectively facing all involve some pretty hard technological problems—things like climate change, medicine, computer technology, and space flight all rely on physics to come up with solutions to them,” he says.

“A lot of technological progress is only facilitated by having breakthroughs in the hard physics and materials science developments, so it’s really important we have our brightest minds working on these things.”