Physics and Astronomy to space engineering: a graduate’s story

Thanks to Jennifer Edwards from Lockheed Martin for her guest blogpost. It’s good to get an insight into where physics & astronomy can take you and how the knowledge and skills you develop can be applied.

I graduated from the University of Southampton in the summer of 2018 with a Masters Degree in Physics with Astronomy. When I began my degree, I was unsure as to what career path I hoped to end up on, but explored by doing two summer placements as an engineer during my studies.

Jennifer Edwards

The first was for Archangel Aerospace Ltd. as a Systems Integration Engineer working on UAV design, and the second working for Rolls-Royce as a Development Engineer. I found that I really enjoyed applying the Physics ‘textbook knowledge’ I had learnt, and that the critical thinking and analysis skills I had learnt on my degree benefited me hugely in my work.

Representing Lockheed Martin at UKSEDS student space conference

Lockheed Martin UK’s graduate scheme provides the opportunity to partake in four placements over a two-year period. Initially, I was concerned that going into an engineering company without having an engineering degree would hinder me or that I would find myself behind the other graduates, but that was not the case. As well as building technical skills and knowledge from across the company, the scheme provides the opportunity to develop skills such as management skills, application of the engineering life-cycle, and teamwork and communication skills. 

I started the graduate scheme in September 2018 as a Systems Engineer – an interdisciplinary field of engineering that primarily focuses on how to design and manage complex systems over their life cycle. My first placement involved modelling and simulation of re-entry vehicles, achieved by running bespoke prediction codes and statistical analyses. My Physics degree provided me with a good background level of knowledge of key physical phenomenon and some coding skills, however it was the ability to grasp new information quickly that was the most significant advantage.

I am currently working on operational analysis on a research and development project, for which I am relying heavily on my background physics knowledge, including optics and thermodynamics. As well as this, many of the key ‘soft’ skills I learnt during University are used daily, such as independent learning, time management and communication skills. I would recommend looking into engineering for any physicists who are interested in applying their scientific knowledge to real-life problems, enjoy working in a team and have a desire to learn and develop new skills.

Jennifer also told me:

I hope this gets people thinking about career options in engineering as there’s a big UK shortage!

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Profile: Dr Katie Bouman

The recent black hole image, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – a network of eight linked telescopes – was rendered by Dr Bouman’s algorithm. Good article by Katy Steinmetz in Time Magazine online:

Though her work developing algorithms was a crucial to the project, Bouman sees her real contribution as bringing a way of thinking to the table. “What I did was brought the culture of testing ourselves,” she says. The project combined experts from all sorts of scientific backgrounds, ranging from physicists to mathematicians, and she saw the work through the lens of computer science, stressing the importance of running tests on synthetic data and making sure that the methods they used to make the image kept human bias out of the equation.

Bouman says that most of the time she’s not focused on the fact that she’s in a field where women are the minority. “But I do sometimes think about it. How do we get more women involved?” she says. “One key is showing that when you go into fields like computer science and engineering, it’s not just sitting in a lab putting together a circuit or typing on your computer.”

She  plans to continue work with the Event Horizon Telescope team, which is adding satellite dishes in space to the network of telescopes here on Earth that were used to produce the image released on Wednesday. With the increased perspective and power, she says, they just might be able to make movies of black holes in addition to still images.

“It’s exciting,” she says. And that’s also her message for the next generation who might consider careers like hers. “As long as you’re excited and you’re motivated to work on it, then you should never feel like you can’t do it.”

More here

 

 

Lasers and electro-optics at Thales UK

Tracey Skivington, Electro-Optics Consultant, Thales UK

Tracey completed a B.Sc. (Hons) in Laser Physics and Optoelectronics followed by a Ph.D. in Physics and Applied Physics at the University of Strathclyde. From here, Tracey joined Thales as a laser engineer before moving into the field of electro-optics engineering.

Currently, Tracey works as an Electro-Optics Consultant within the Optronics and Missile Electronics (OME) domain within Thales.

Her area of expertise is in the modelling of electro-optics sensors across many different platforms, including land, sea and air. The sensor modelling includes, but is not limited to, colour TV cameras, laser rangefinders and designators, SWIR cameras, MWIR and LWIR Thermal Imaging technologies. Tracey also leads and manages the Glasgow OME Specialities team comprising of specialist engineers from disciplines in lasers, optics, electro-optics, algorithms and control systems.

Find out more about opportunities at Thales UK here

What can I do with Physics? Guitar valves to fluids to polymers to image analysis

Ewan shows how a degree in Physics can take you in interesting directions.

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Ewan Hemingway, Research Engineer, Canon Medical Research Europe 

I first studied physics at Edinburgh University for the Computational Physics MPhys degree. I was interested in acoustics at the time and my Masters project looked at numerical modelling of guitar value amplifiers. However, one of the 5th year elective courses that really grabbed my attention was a series on soft matter physics, and this prompted me to pursue PhD opportunities. Following a recommendation, I joined an EPSRC-funded PhD in the Physics department at Durham University. There I worked on various problems in computational fluid dynamics, specifically in the area of active matter (the study of living fluids).

I was also lucky to gain some industrial experience through a consultation / research project with Schlumberger.

After my PhD, I stayed in Durham for two more years as a post-doc, where I focused on modelling flow instabilities in polymer physics.

Most recently, I joined Canon as a research engineer in the Image Analysis group. I have been there for just under a year, but already I have worked on a range of interesting problems, e.g., using deep learning for image segmentation.

Thanks to Institute of Physics, Scotland

Great roadshow organised by Ozi, IOP Scotland student rep, outside the Magnet café to raise awareness of the benefits of student membership. Their website, Physics World magazine, events programme and contacts can introduce you to a range of options and career advice. Find out more online

Cool cakes too…

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Astrobiology, Mars tartan and moths

Charles Cockell, Professor of Astrobiology in the School of Physics and Astronomy talks about his job.

Tell us about the key parts of your role?

I teach a popular undergraduate course in astrobiology that is enormously enjoyable to deliver. I also set up and run a project in Scottish prisons called ‘Life Beyond’ to get prisoners to design stations for Mars. They’ve even published a book on their work.

The other side of my role is in research on life in extreme environments, space missions and other aspects of astrobiology. I try to get into the lab at least once a week if I can. It’s difficult with other duties, but doing science is a huge pleasure and particularly helping others get on their way to doing the same.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Freedom. Provided I’ve done what’s expected of my more formal roles – the freedom to walk into a prison and propose a new way of educating prisoners, the freedom to write a popular science book, the freedom to spend my lunch break designing and registering a Mars exploration tartan.

Tell us something we don’t know about you?

When I was 24, I designed and built a moth catching ultralight aircraft that I flew at dusk over the tropical rainforest canopy in Indonesia. I suppose you might regard it as a more serious phase of my interest in butterflies and moths. I flew with night vision goggles provided by the Dambusters (617) Squadron who were our expedition Patron.

I crashed the moth machine about two months into the expedition. Actually, I wouldn’t generally recommend catching moths using an aircraft.

(Adapted from UoE CSE staff newsletter)

Success for Chloe: Ogden Trust Outstanding Intern Award AND IOP Teach Physics Scholarship!

chloe Ogden trust teaching internship

Chloe was recognised as one of the Ogden Trust’s Outstanding Teach Physics interns for 2017 and received her award from Professor Arthur Trew, Head of the School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Edinburgh. You can find her blogpost here.

In 2017, 55 students were awarded Teach Physics internships at 36 schools in England & Wales. For most, it had only been a few years since they had left school themselves so it was interesting for them to taste school life from the other side of the (interactive) whiteboard!

Interns were asked to write a reflective diary, noting their observations about teaching styles, behaviour management, responses to learning and school administration, recording their own successes, and paying attention to their less successful moments. You can find their diaries, including Chloe’s award-winning one  here

Chloe got in touch in June to say:

I was also successful in applying for the IOP Teach Physics scholarship and in September I will begin teacher training in Science with Physics (PGCE) via Durham SCITT, a programme recommended to me by the staff at Bishop Barrington School, my Ogden Trust placement.

In  terms of advice for other students, the most helpful thing I can suggest is just to say ‘yes’! If an opportunity presents itself don’t let insecurities or worries stand in your way, just go for it. It might just help you figure out what really makes you happy. 

Also, read the emails you get from the university and the Careers Service! That’s how I found the Ogden Trust internship and I can say with no doubt that it’s changed the course of my life (for the better, of course).

Broad advice, but that’s what I wish someone had told me!

3 Minute Thesis Competition- physics winner

The University of Edinburgh 3 Minute Thesis Competition final took place on 22 June 2018.  Nine finalists from three Colleges competed to deliver the best research presentation in three minutes with one slide. Warwick Wainwright (GeoSciences),  Gavin Woolman (Physics & Astronomy) and Sorcha Gilroy (Informatics) represented the College of Science and Engineering. Gavin won in the ‘People’s Choice’ category with his presentation ‘Better Thermoelectrics through high pressure’.

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From physics to petrochemical industry

IneosOlivia Steele studied Physics at the University of Edinburgh, but her role is open to chemistry and chemical engineering graduates.

Degree Subject

Masters of Physics with Honours Astrophysics, U of Edinburgh, graduated July 2015.

Brief career history, including current job title & employer

I started working for INEOS as a commercial graduate in Cologne, September 2015. I was out there for almost two years and had two roles in that time: ethylene operator and polymers performance analyst. From May of last year, I have been Assistant Product Manager for INEOS Olefins & Polymers Europe, based in Grangemouth.

Where was your current job was advertised/how did you find it, what was the appeal, what attributes were the organisation looking for?

I met INEOS at the Edinburgh University Careers fair and so applied online. I was keen to start a new challenge and the commercial graduate scheme was a perfect fit. It appealed to me because INEOS wanted graduates who studied a STEM subject, even for the commercial roles. They appreciated the analytical/numerical skills and problem solving I had learned through university.

Which other organisations offer similar roles?

Most other petrochemical companies offer similar roles, however with INEOS you are given real responsibilities from day one. The company offer lots of support and give you space to expand your role with time.

Can you describe what your job entails or a typical week in your job? With your crystal ball, what does the future for your sector/job look like?

I am responsible for the day-to-day planning of all our chemical products we make on site. This means working with our customers and consumers, the shipping team, different assets and taking part in many cross-optimisation conversations. The future for my current role looks exciting – I am beginning to learn more about cracker economics, getting involved in market analysis and taking part in some long-term projects.

Best/Worst parts of the job

Best part of the job is that every day is different (not a cliché!) and I get to interact with various teams both on site here in Grangemouth and abroad. Worst part of the job is that I have to deal with unforeseen complications – but only sometimes!

How have you used the skills and knowledge from your degree in your job?

Creative problem solving helps when dealing with certain issues and analytical thinking is needed not only for day-to-day planning discussions but also to work out the most cost effective solution in a time-pressured environment.

What extra-curricular experience (eg work experience, volunteering, societies, sports, interests etc) do you believe helped you get where you are today?

I have had a range of different types of work experience – as a shop assistant, a waitress, a summer research student at the observatory and as a research assistant for a company who make sports equipment in Austria – these were all great opportunities to learn about different techniques, improve communication skills and develop customer relations. Being involved in societies and sports also helps with organisational skills and working with different types of people.
Is there anything you wish you HAD done in your past to make it easier to get where you are today?

Perhaps taken some more chemistry modules at university…it’s been a bit of a learning curve!

What advice would you give to students wishing to enter your field of work?

The petrochemical industry is fast paced – make sure you are ready for a challenge, it won’t disappoint!

Women in physics – roles and role models

Female physicists responded in overwhelming numbers to a twitter campaign that the IOP ran to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, with women from all over the world tweeting selfies along with brief descriptions of what they do.

Women across the world tweet in IOP’s #Iamaphysicist campaign

IOP Media Officer Melissa Brobby sent out a tweet on 5 February asking women working as physicists to tweet a selfie using #Iamaphysicist and ran this for the rest of the week until the international day on 11 February. More than 200 women responded by sharing selfies, with participants ranging from PhD students to senior particle physicists.

Women across the world tweet in IOP’s #Iamaphysicist campaign

Among them was IOP member Candice Basson, a first-year PhD student working in the University of Manchester Particle Physics Research Group and on the ATLAS experiment at CERN. The furthest afield came from New Zealand and there were tweets from scientists at Jodrell Bank, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the European Space Agency, a staff scientist at NASA and IOP Fellow Mary Whitehouse, who is Chair-Elect of the Association from Science Education.