Barbara Nelson, Contributor
Lisa Borland - Contributed
Jamaican-born Dr. Lisa Borland has "an absolutely great job" working with Evnine & Associates, Inc. in San Francisco, California. There, she uses theoretical concepts from physics to understand certain patterns and dynamics in financial systems.
Econo-physics is a relatively new field. It is the application of physical principles to economic problems. Lisa, who has always "loved physics dearly", says the work she is doing now is "pretty new stuff, but it has been well-received in the financial community". She is one of the first physicists to work in the world of finance and she is delighted that "it's taking off!"
Her work is well known in scientific circles. In 2003, she was a contributor to the pre-conference summit at ICBI Global Derivatives and Risk management and presented a paper 'Non-Gaussian option pricing'. In 2005, her article, 'Long-range memory and nonextensivity in financial markets', was published in the November/Decemberissue of Europhysics News.
This year, Lisa was invited to give a presentation to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) symposium that was part of the Kavli German-American Frontiers of Sciences 2007. At these symposia, speakers are urged to focus their talks on current cutting edge research in their disciplines. Her presentation was 'Fat Tails and the Physics of Finance'.
She has come a long way from the frightened, distraught little 12-year-old girl who looked out the window of an aeroplane in 1977 and saw her beautiful island Jamaica shrinking as the plane lifted higher into the skies.
"I loved Jamaica so much," she says. "But we were leaving and I was almost hysterical."
It was the 1970s and the political unrest in Jamaica was raging. Lisa's family was caught up in the maelstrom. Her father, a Jamaican, had met and married her Swedish/Russian mother in Liberia in the 1950s and they had returned to Jamaica where Lisa and her sister were born.
Life was wonderful for the young girl. She had a 'privileged' lifestyle, attended St. Andrew High School and later Priory, lived close to nature and loved the creativity she saw in her fellow Jamaicans.
But suddenly things changed. Her mother, sister and herself had to go to Sweden, without their lovely home and facing a bleak and very uncertain future.
"We had nothing!" Lisa recalled. "My mother had a few friends in Sweden and we stayed with them until we could find a place to live, but the first six months in that country was very traumatic. I felt lost and unhappy."
The family lived in Stockholm in what she calls "concrete slums" until they got back on their feet again. The first three years were really bad, she said. The physical living conditions, coupled with the uncertainty the family faced, the unfamiliar language and the different educational system, together created a cloud of unhappiness in Lisa's life. She lost her self-confidence and for a while teetered on the brink of discouragement.
But, just when she felt like giving up, she became ill, and while in that state, she felt within herself that she could make it if she tried and that she could use her mind to overcome the myriad problems that she faced.
That was her turning point. She realised then that "the one thing that you can't lose is what you have inside." She literally turned her life around, started learning the Swedish language, made new friends and got into one of the best high schools in Stockholm.
Fortunately, her mother was able to go back to work (with the same company she worked for nearly 20 years previously) and that made life for the family much better.
Lisa went on to the University of Stockholm where she earned her bachelor's degree with distinction in physics. She recalled that at one of the graduation parties the dean of the faculty mentioned that it was good that things had gone so well "for a refugee child". But by that time, she had overcome most of her doubts and fears about herself and had set her sights on achieving more.
She moved on from Stockholm to Berlin, Germany. "Stockholm was nice and cosy, but Berlin was charged with energy and creativity. I was in Berlin when the wall came down in 1989. It was exciting!" she recalled.
Meanwhile, she yearned to reconnect with family and friends in Jamaica. She did not see her father again until 1990. He passed away in 1999.
She earned her diploma with highest honours at the Freie Universitat in Berlin, and then her doctoral degree at the Max Planck Institute, also in Berlin where she graduated summa cum laude in 1992.
At the institute, Lisa worked with Hermann Haken, who is famous for his work in the field of synergetics, a field of statistical physics that aims to understand how order can arise from chaos. Lisa created a bit of history by becoming Haken's first female student in his 30-year career.
On July 12, 2002, the Centre for Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (CAMTP) University of Maribor, Slovenia, celebrated Professor Haken's 75th birthday.
Then Lisa moved halfway across the world to theUniversity of Berkeley, California in the United States (U.S.), where she received the President's Postdoctoral award, met her future husband, who is also a physicist, and gave birth to their first child. Then she received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that allowed her to work as an academic in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The NSF is a U.S. government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering.
Two years later, with another baby added to the family, the couple returned to the U.S. Once again Lisa made a dramatic change in her life - this time from academia to the private sector. Now as a researcher at Iris, she is discovering more and more how close the fields of finance and physics are.
She bubbles with enthusiasm at what she is accomplishing in her work and her research - "students from all over the world want to work with me," she said. "I was one of the early practitioners in this field and it's taking off so well!' she said excitedly.
Looking back at her amazing life, she says she appreciates the challenges that she had to meet because they made her look within herself and find the strength to grow and be strong. "I wish some challenges for my children," she said. She is grateful that she "always knew right from wrong" and that kept her out of serious trouble.
What is more, she has reconnected with Jamaica and visits as often as possible. Out of the early chaos in her life, everything has now come together beautifully and in order.