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Kate Lawes

University of York

MPhys Physics with Astrophysics
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The Big Picture

Kate took part in a Year in Industry from August 2020 to July 2021 as a Neutral Imaging Improvement Placement Student at the STFC. Her main focus was to develop a piece of software to complement existing analysis software that would work with bragg dip transition data to calculate the orientation of single crystals. 

“There’s a pulse neutron beam and an MCB detector and if you place a single crystal sample in that you’ll end up with a transmission spectrum which has multiple bragg dips at specific wavelengths, and this is where the bragg conditions have been met and those wavelengths of neutrons have been reflected off. So from that you can work out the orientation that the crystal is at compared to where the beam is based on the angle between each crystal plane.”

The end goal for this project was to have a reliable piece of software that would produce a colour map of the crystals with each different orientation shown when an image file is loaded up.

The Learning Curve

To create the software, Kate used Python 3 and PyQT packages, the latter of which she had never used before. Kate remarked that she picked it up as she went along and was given help by the STFC to become more familiar with the languages. 

“I’ve not done coding a lot but I’ve enjoyed it whenever I have so thought I’d take the opportunity to learn some more.”

The biggest challenge for Kate was trying to understand how a lot of the realisation algorithms worked.

“Lots of research, lots of trial and error, and just, you know, trying things out and constantly comparing them to see what worked best.”

Kate’s Impact

The software that Kate has started to create will remain in development for the foreseeable future.

“There’s something to work off so new students can do that. I helped with the software as it stands implementing the method for other plugins, so future students can all add to that as well.”

The Physics Connection

Given the nature of Kate’s placement revolving around crystals, all of her solid state modules from university massively benefited her throughout the year despite the fact that her role was mainly programming. Having the background knowledge from her degree in physics at the University of York helped Kate to understand what she was doing from a physics perspective as well as producing software to the given requirements.

The Professional Skills Stuff

Kate worked on her project as part of a group and she touched base with her line managers every week about her progress and what she would be tackling next. Towards the end of the placement, the STFC hosted a Crystallography Student Day where all the students, PhD and placement, gave a presentation on what they had been working on throughout the year. Kate is not the biggest fan of presentations..

“I struggle a lot with them, get very nervous.”

…but recognises that her Year in Industry has definitely helped her to get more confident with delivering them, and with conducting herself in meetings.


Before starting her placement, Kate was worried that she just wasn’t ready to go into industry and that she lacked the skills to do a good job. She was able to overcome this feeling thanks to having a very supportive line manager:

“They let me take things at my own pace and develop the skills I needed and I had time to play around with things and learn how it worked, so that I was more confident moving on.”

The Company

STFC is a UK government agency that carries out and funds research in the physical sciences and engineering. It focuses on supporting the development of young scientists and on research that will benefit UK citizens.

“I knew I wanted to go into some kind of research and the idea of working on a big campus with lots of different areas and meeting other students doing a variety of things seemed really useful.”

Kate applied to the STFC via their website by filling out a form and attaching her CV. She was then invited for an interview day where she was given tours and presentations about the STFC and then was interviewed. Kate said that the interview itself was very relaxed and that the mock interviews she did within her department were extremely helpful for the real thing.

The Final Word

“A lot of people who work there do have a PhD and then go back into research and development so I think that’s kind of the big goal I want to follow at the moment.”

Kate feels as though her Year in Industry has prepared her for her final year project upon her return to university and would thoroughly recommend the experience to other students.

Skills Learned;

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