The Big Picture
Ryan began a placement with the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in July 2017. He was assigned to a team that develops computer models of nuclear and environmental physics.
“It was a computational project, it was to do with some atmospheric physics and some radiation physics… I was working with two quite sophisticated computer codes, and I was trying to make them talk to each other…”
The Learning Curve
Ryan modelled the decay of radioactive particles in the atmosphere by combining two existing computer codes. He first gained a thorough understanding of these two codes, which were written in non-standard computer languages. Ryan then wrote Python routines to streamline sharing of data between the two models.
“Because of a lot of what I did at AWE was independent learning, I feel like I’m now more inclined to try and find a solution first by myself… and then ask when I’ve exhausted that route…”
Ryan was completely responsible for the direction and progress of his work. He finished the project within ten months, and members of the modelling group continue to use his code.
“They planned to use the code I was working on in future projects… it’s rewarding to know that something you worked on is being used…”
The Physics Connection
As part of his theoretical physics degree, Ryan had become familiar with the Linux operating system and with the Python language. He had also learnt methods to plan and write efficient code. This grounding helped him quickly understand new computing languages and structure his work.
“My initial Python expertise was invaluable… it was definitely useful to know how to code, not just in Python itself, but the whole approach… how to solve computer problems, how to approach them… that was very helpful…”
The Professional Skills Stuff
Ryan took part in regular team meetings and contributed to the preparation of reports. Through this work, he built on his university experience of clear and concise scientific communication to develop new ways of presenting data and ideas. Ryan also enjoyed taking part in several training courses, which ranged from speaking and writing workshops to seminars on the dark web and the physics of shock waves.
“AWE had their own guidelines on how they thought information should be presented… it was interesting to see the difference between how I’d been taught at university and how some people did it at AWE…”
AWE is responsible for developing and maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Ryan was based at their main site close to Newbury. He enjoyed the collaborative atmosphere and appreciated the wide-ranging opportunities for further development which AWE provides.
“They do a lot of secondments, so if you wanted to you could go work for so many months in a different area of the company, which I thought was fantastic…”
The Final Word…
“My main sense of achievement came towards the end when my manager said, ‘Well done, you’ve done a really good job’…”
… And The Next Step
Ryan completed his MPhys degree in June 2019. He is now studying for a PhD in biophysics at the University of Leeds.