The Big Picture
Thomas began a placement with the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in July 2019. He worked as part of a team that develops airborne instrumentation to measure atmospheric water vapour.
“The main project I’m working on is based around a hyperspectral radiometer… it’s going to look down through the clouds from a high altitude… and map water vapor and atmospheric oxygen…”
The Learning Curve
Thomas was put in charge of optimising the performance of the radiometer. He first carried out physical experiments on individual instrumental components. Outside of the lab, he learnt to use the Ansys software package HFSS to simulate the performance of these components. Thomas also taught himself to use the computer-aided design (CAD) packages Autodesk Eagle and Solid Edge. Using these tools, he designed circuit boards and built models to work out how the radiometer components could be best packaged to fit on the side of an aircraft.
“My placement supervisor has taught me a lot about a whole variety of equipment I never knew existed…”
None of Thomas’s team had used Solid Edge before, and Thomas regularly helped colleagues with their CAD work. Alongside his main project, Thomas also contributed to development of a system for mapping artificial radio sources in the sky. As part of this work he wrote novel Python code to analyse experimental results.
“Before I started there weren’t any CAD model designs for what we’re currently building so I’ve built up the model from scratch… now I’m the go-to person for CAD models, which is pretty rewarding…”
The Physics Connection
Thomas had developed strong practical and organisational skills through regular lab experiments at university. He found that these skills were invaluable in helping him plan and carry out his work at STFC. Thomas also built on knowledge of electronics that he had gained in the first year of his degree. More generally, the breadth of work at STFC helped him appreciate the importance of physicists to many different sectors of the UK economy.
“I didn’t know that there were this many different areas to work in physics across the UK…”
The Professional Skills Stuff
Thomas regularly spoke at meetings, gave presentations and wrote reports. He appreciates how this experience will help him both in his final year at university and in his future career.
“I managed all the data and put it in graphs… and helped write reports with my manager, which has been really valuable… I also gave part of a presentation to potential funders…”
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. Thomas enjoyed the chance to engage with a broad range of scientific disciplines.
“The department does a wide variety of research… they put you on different projects at once, so you get a broad view of it…”
The Final Word…
“This year has offered real insight into what jobs after a physics degree are like…”
… And The Next Step
Thomas will return to the University of York in September 2020 to complete his MPhys degree. His work with STFC has inspired him to apply for PhD projects in the field of astrophysics.
“The skills I’ve learnt here will really help with a PhD…”