The Big Picture
William began a placement with the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in July 2017. He worked as part of a team that operates the Vulcan petawatt laser at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
“My time was split between operating the laser… and researching new methods for potential future lasers…”
The Learning Curve
William quickly learnt to prepare the laser for operation and to identify potential faults. Using these skills, he helped deliver a reliable service to visiting scientists from universities and research organisations. When he wasn’t in the control room, William taught himself to use the computer-aided design (CAD) packages Autodesk Inventor and Solidworks. He used these tools to design improved components for the Vulcan system.
“There was a lot of problem solving with regard to operating the laser…”
William quickly became expert at using CAD, and regularly helped colleagues with their designs. He used his skill to graphically redesign laser components, reducing the time needed for physical maintenance.
“I did CAD work to create custom components… and then got them manufactured by the onsite team and integrated them into the system…”
The Physics Connection
William found that his experience of carrying out experiments at university gave him the methods and confidence needed to keep the laser running smoothly. He also built on his knowledge of quantum physics and thermodynamics to understand the fundamental details of high-energy lasers.
“There was a lot of science going on… a lot of talk about the theory behind stuff…”
The Professional Skills Stuff
William worked as part of a small group to operate the laser. This role involved shift work and constant discussion between team members to quickly solve operational problems. William helped present regular updates on the performance of this group to senior managers.
“There’s a lot of sharing, a lot of collaborating… there’s a lot of stuff that I never really thought about that the guys there told me… just how to approach certain situations…”
STFC is a UK government agency that carries out and funds research in the physical sciences and engineering. It focusses on supporting the development of young scientists and on research that will benefit UK citizens. William enjoyed the collaborative atmosphere and exposure to many different scientific disciplines.
“There are so many jobs going, there’s so many students that go… you have all these people around you that are a similar age and doing similar things… the social side was really good…”
The Final Word…
“I would definitely recommend that any physicists look at the entire job list and apply for a number of jobs… there’s so much stuff going on… I’m sure they can find anything – for experimentalists or for theorists…”
… And the Next Step
William has recently begun a PhD project at the University of Sheffield. He is working with industrial partners to develop a new method to visualise stress distributions in aircraft components.
“I had an idea of what to expect from a PhD because I saw students who were doing PhDs at STFC…”