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)

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Summer internships in the Space Sector: Spinterns (it’s a real thing, honest…)

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The Space Placements in INdustry scheme (SPIN) has been designed to provide an introductory link for those considering employment in the space sector and space sector organisations looking to find the most talented and enthusiastic people to ensure the future success of their businesses. The scheme is managed by the UK Space Agency and supported by the Satellite Applications Catapult.

They have some great summer internships and it’s not too late to apply but closing dates are coming up soon. They  need high quality applications to ensure that companies come back next year!

Vacancies include AI in Space Robotics, Space Careers Development Placement, PROSPECTing for lunar water: sample camera for a Moon lander and more.

Find out more here

 

 

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Astrophysics & success with the Hyperloop Team HYPED

Elisha Jhoti, 4th Year Astrophysics student, describes how studying physics helped her technical work with The University of Edinburgh Hyperloop Team.

Hot on the heels of Elon Musk sending one of his Tesla cars into space, the (rather successful) UoE student Hyperloop team are running an event next week around designing a hyperloop track.  More here

HYPED social media:
https://www.facebook.com/hypedinburgh

https://www.linkedin.com/company/10669902/
Website: http://www.hyp-ed.com

I am a 4th year Astrophysics student and I joined The University of Edinburgh Hyperloop Team, HYPED, this semester. Even though I have only been in the society for one semester, I am already consumed by all things Hyperloop.
As a physicist I was unsure how I could be of much help when I first joined HYPED. On the contrary, physics is the foundation of every engineering decision we have to make. How much force can this material take? What is the pressure force exerted on this vessel? How thin can this part be? All of these questions require basic physical principles to be answered.

My knowledge of physics has helped me provide a different angle to tackle problems from, in addition to conventional engineering methods. Rewind four years and if you told me I would be involved in an engineering focused society at university I would have never believed it. Before university I wasn’t really sure what engineering was. However, I knew that I wanted to learn everything I could about astrophysics.

From the age of 14 I was obsessed with all things space; and so I applied to study Astrophysics at Edinburgh. I chose Edinburgh because I knew they had a lot of flexibility in their degree program; allowing you to pick and choose from a wide range of courses, and I knew that studying at a prestigious, research-led university would give me opportunities that would not be available to me at other universities, for example, studying abroad. Last year I was studying abroad on the international exchange program.

When I came back I realised I wanted to get more involved in societies at my university which I had previously overlooked. I discovered HYPED at the Societies Fair at the beginning of my first semester of my fourth year. After attending the first meeting, I realised how passionate HYPED members were; it was unlike anything I had ever seen at any other university society; they actually cared
about what they were working on. I decided I wanted to be a part of the team.

After attending the first technical meeting, I decided to join the static team; their responsibility is to design the static components of the pod, including the structure and body. This seemed the most relevant team for my skill set at the time, and getting to design the structural components of the pod sounded like a welcome challenge. I joined the Pressure sub-team within Static; we design the pressure vessel that will house the dummy, and eventually passengers. I was very interested in this component, as the team had not tried to design a livable environment in the pod last year, so we were starting from scratch. The inside of the pressure vessel will be at atmospheric pressure; whilst outside the pod it will be close to a vacuum. I was interested in how our design ideas could be applied to other applications, such as space travel and
hyperbaric chambers; the possibilities could be endless.

Over the course of the  semester I became more involved in HYPED; after presenting on behalf of the Pressure team at our first society-wide meeting I was given the opportunity to attend the InnovateUK 2017 conference to which HYPED had been invited. This was an invaluable experience and allowed me to gain insight into the overview of the whole project and what the future plans for HYPED were.

Whilst speaking to engineering experts and industry delegates at the conference I realised the effect the idea of Hyperloop had on other people outside of our society. Many were excited and impressed at the prospect of Hyperloop becoming a reality, some did not even believe we were only university students. The reaction from these delegates made me realise the importance of the society; if we could already make industry experts begin to question their ideas about the future of transport then we were already beginning to change the game.

Being a part of the technical team in HYPED has made me realise how physics can be applied to a wide range of problems, and how the problem solving skills perfected during the physics degree can be used in any number of situations; from modelling completely abstract concepts to designing parts in an engineering project, such as HYPED. This is the reason I love physics; it can be used as a tool to solve almost any problem, as long as you have the physical laws in place, you can predict and model behaviours of particles, materials and forces.

When I chose to study astrophysics I did consider that perhaps I was choosing a very specialised field, which I knew I would enjoy studying, but that it may limit me. However, I have found this is not the case; concepts and skills I have learnt during my degree I have realised are applicable anywhere and everywhere, from solving engineering problems, to carrying out astrobiology experiments. I am looking forward to what new projects HYPED will bring my way and I hope that reading this blog has shown you how studying physics can allow you to use it as an interdisciplinary tool, helping you solve a wide range of problems that can help make the world a better place

CERN Summer programme now open

CERN are now recruiting for their summer programme.  Details here and advertised on MyCareerHub. Closing date 28 Jan 2018

I noticed they specify in their eligibility: “You have completed, by summer 2018, at least three years of full-time studies at university level.”

Recalling what they said at their recent campus presentation – if you are a direct entry student, you will have to give an explanation of your circumstances. Show you gained direct entry on academic merit so by the end of two years university study you will have the capacity to perform at a similar (if not higher – quick learner!) than someone with three years.

#ExperienceWorks campagn week beg 6 November

Week beginning 6 November is our focus on work experience and the breadth of things that can count.  I’ll be running two sessions via Collaborate on getting work experience – details on MyCareerHub events. I’ve captured a few students’ very different experiences and what they gained as a result. For more details on the #Experience Works campaign, visit the webpage

Michal Tomaszewski graduated as the top student on Mathematical Physics degree and  is currently working on his PhD in cancer research at Cambridge.  Michal did a business internship in the City and gained experience from various financial institutions before he changed his path to cancer research.   Having done a purely theoretical degree he is now at home in a wet lab. It just shows:

  • it’s good to try different things to work out where your preferences lie
  • starting in one area doesn’t mean you have to stay there
  • no matter what you do, you develop personally and professionally from it

Tara Bruendl (astrophysics)

“In the 2 months that I worked at the European Space Agency, I learnt about the professionalism in the agency and how important good communication between colleagues is. I learnt what it’s like to work independently besides one of the best mission analysts in the world and also receive constructive criticism once in a while.

I was afraid that my programming wasn’t up to scratch but luckily I could pick up the most common routines  fairly quickly. With the help of my very patient supervisor I learnt how to make code more elegant and use as little of it as possible. When I wasn’t debugging the Fortran 5000-plus-liner (yes, in the space sector everything gets recycled, including ancient programs from the 70s) tea breaks would take up second priority, as many staff would joke. The canteen was the meeting place of different sections, ages and nationalities.

If you can, I would always recommend gaining some work experience in the summer, since it not only gives you a head start in job applications but also teaches you a lot about if the job is right for you in the first place. That said, I’m considering a career in the space sector more than ever before and could imagine working as a trainee for ESA or in the space industry after graduating.

Sara Rigby (MPhys)

This summer, I was able to carry out two internships that helped me formulate my career plans much more solidly.

 First of all, I spent a month at a secondary school in York doing a physics teaching placement, arranged by the Ogden Trust. While I started out simply observing lessons, by the time I left I was treated like a teaching assistant: not only did I work with individual students and small groups regularly, but I also got the chance to plan and deliver a whole lesson. On top of this, I ran an extracurricular club with the other intern, and of course I also had to put up a few displays. This gave me a well-rounded view of the different elements of a teacher’s job.

Having a strong foundation of physics knowledge helped me to explain things in a way I found intuitive, and sometimes to link different subject areas together to make useful analogies. I would definitely recommend the Ogden Trust’s Teach Physics internship to anyone who is considering a career in teaching, however unsure they are. The month I spent there gave me a realistic view of life as a teacher, allowing me to make a very well-informed decision about my future career. Even though I won’t be pursuing a career in teaching, I’m really glad I got this opportunity. I really enjoyed the time I spent at the school, and I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to communicate effectively.

Shortly after this, I travelled to Bristol, where I spent two weeks doing work experience with BBC Focus Magazine, a science and technology publication. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got to write while I was there. Most of what I contributed was published on the website, but one very short ‘Eye Opener’ piece – an extended caption to accompany a striking image – made it into the most recent print issue. I wrote a feature on weird and wonderful pain relief; I contributed to the ongoing ‘This Day in Science History’ series; I interviewed a renowned cosmologist from MIT about his new book on artificial intelligence.

One skill that came in useful in particular was the ability to research a topic, quickly understand the basics, and distil it down to the essential and most interesting parts; for once, I was thankful that I’d done the group project the previous year! I loved my time at the magazine: I was fascinated by the day-to-day organisation, especially leading up to their publication day, and I realised how much I love writing about science. This helped me to decide that I want to pursue a career in science communication once I graduate.”

CERN @ KB: grad roles & work experience offers

CERN will be on campus on 4th October – full details and signup will be on MyCareerHub

CERN offers tremendous opportunities for the right students to develop their skills and understanding through some of the most exciting and cutting edge projects in engineering, computing and physics.

Research STFC

Come along to this event to get an insight into engineering at CERN, with a talk from a senior CERN engineer on the experiments, facilities & what their work involves. This will be followed by a Q&A for which he will be joined by a representative of the CERN HR Talent Acquisition team who will introduce all opportunities at CERN.

CERN’s Summer Student Scheme and Technical Studentships are being advertised now on the Science & Technology Facilities Council site. Find out more on the STFC website.

SpaceX & HypED in Los Angeles

Great blog post from physics students Enrique Cervero and Hamish Geddes – members of the Edinburgh University Hyperloop Team (HypED).

Want to know more about the space sector? Check out the Careers Service resource: Your Future in the Space industry

Hyperloop 1

The team working on the pod at the Innspace in Sanderson Building

“We are just back from our trip to California for the SpaceX Hyperloop competition, it’s been an amazing experience. We would once again like to thank the School of Physics for the support they gave us for our trip.

The Edinburgh University Hyperloop Team (HypED) has been working for over ten months to design and build an Hyperloop prototype, a method of levitating transportation propelled along a vacuum tube. Much of our summer was spent at the mechanical lab in Kings Building drawing sketches, tightening bolts and drilling holes with the ultimate purpose of bringing our Hyperloop Pod, Poddy McPodface, to life.

All this work was to culminate at the end of August in Los Angeles, where HypED was invited to by SpaceX to participate in the finals of one of the most prestigious engineering competitions in the world: The Hyperloop Pod Competition II. A total of 25 teams from all over the world were invited to unveil and race their prototypes at the space company’s headquarters, HypED being the only British team and one of four European teams.

The team arrived to LA about a week before the competition. We brought our prototype to a local workshop in Los Angeles, Urban Workshop, where we spent most of the pre-competition days giving the final touches to our design.

Hyperloop 2

The team working on the hydraulics at the workshop in LA

Our main worry before the competition was that we would not finish our pod in time, that there would be something, some flaw or eventuality, that we had not planned for and that would ultimately prevent us from competing at SpaceX. We all worked hard either way, trying to get everything done perfectly to meet SpaceX’s requirements.

When the pod was done, we drove it to SpaceX in Hawthorne, LA, where it was to be tested for safety, systems and functionality before the competition. Out of the 25 teams that got invited to the competition, only 3 would be allowed to test their pod and race it in the vacuum tube. HypED’s prototype was unfortunately not one of the 3 chosen by SpaceX. However, our team was given clearance to test our pod at a speed of 40m/s (144km/h) in the vacuum track, which would have made it one of the fastest Hyperloop Pods ever tested.

Over the entire year and competition, I have learned that real world applications of engineering are never simple and require a level head and persistence to complete: there must be a lot of thought put into a design, many drafts, scraps and failures need to be done before arriving at the finalised product.

I have also acquired a lot of technical experience, how to use industrial machinery, solve real world mechanical problems and work as a team to bring our ideas to life.

The outcome of the competition was also an imperative learning experience for the team which we will definitely use to our advantage in next year’s competition. We will take from our design flaws and mistakes and remove them in our next design, use the advice and knowledge given to us by Tesla and SpaceX engineers, and improve on our design’s advantages.

Hyperloop 3

The team with our completed pod next to SpaceX’s vacuum Hyperloop test track

From CGI to cleft palates, mapping disease to space science & bedbugs!

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STFC is one of seven publicly funded UK Research Councils. With a combination of expertise, facilities and resources, they drive knowledge and innovation in the UK and throughout the world, shaping societies, strengthening economies, building industries and transforming lives. Based across six key sites nationwide, with collaborations around the globe, their teams are a mix of scientists, engineers, technology specialists and support professionals (all 2000 of them) –  harnessing what they know to meet real-world requirements.

Their success stories give a good flavour of what they do – and what you could be doing with them.

Find out more about careers with STFC on their website. They recruit via MyCareerHub too so start following them on MyCareerHub and on LinkedIn to get updates on opportunities.

They are currently focussing on inspiring careers for women in their organisation and have won awards for addressing  gender inequality.

European Space Agency: my summer internship experience

Tara is a final year student here at Edinburgh. She wrote her first blogpost about applying to the European Space Agency (ESA). Here is her second blogpost where she talks about what she did and what she learnt about the job, the ESA, the people – and herself.

“With my traineeship at ESA slowly coming to an end, it’s time to look back at the many memorable experiences made and interesting people I met. In the 2 months that I stayed in Darmstadt, a 20 min train ride from Frankfurt, I learnt about the professionalism in the agency and how important good communication between colleagues is. I learnt what it’s like to work independently besides one of the best mission analysts in the world and also receive constructive criticism once in a while.

My job at ESA was to improve an orbit determination software called DITAN, which was used for low-thrust trajectories such as the mission BepiColombo to Mercury in 2018.

tara-esa-satellite

Artist’s impression of BepiColombo in front of Mercury. Credit: ESA – P. Carril

Naturally as an Astrophysics student I was afraid that my programming wasn’t up to scratch but luckily I could pick up the most common routines  fairly quickly (so many nested if loops!). With the help of my very patient supervisor I learnt how to make code more elegant and use as little of it as possible. When I wasn’t debugging the Fortran 5000-plus-liner (yes, in the space sector everything gets recycled, including ancient programs from the 70s) tea breaks would take up second priority, as many staff would joke. The canteen was the meeting place of different sections, ages and nationalities.

Besides work, other topics of interest such as politics (Brexit more than once) and even personal bests at the last triathlon as part of ESA’s sports clubs were discussed. Similar to all the societies and clubs Edinburgh University offers, ESA has a smaller range of activities to make different nationalities feel at home. During one of the after-work wakeboarding events I noticed once again that ESA really supports a good working atmosphere and also emphasises positive and open thinking whilst not forgetting to be critical as well.

Sharing an office with 4 trainees and contractors from Hungary, Belgium and Germany also gave me an insight into their work, although some of their French conversations as one of ESA’s working languages surpassed my 6-weeks taster course level. Nevertheless, on multiple occasions we helped each other with technical issues or generally exchanged ideas and experiences. It was astounding that even though they had come from totally different walks of life their technical knowledge and the art of communicating this in an easily comprehendible way was exceptional. Not only in my department did I notice the conscientious and composed way in which trainees and staff would listen and respond.

As most of the staff are international, ESA hosts intercultural events such as the annual fun run, running 5 or 10 km with or without a costume as well as a BBQ, which is themed after a different country every year. This year they chose the UK and Northern Ireland, which the organisers claimed to have chosen before the Brexit campaign started (or they were testing all the British staff’s humour). Costumes ranged from business men, to green leprechauns or simply tea bags and was, besides the roasting temperatures that day, an all-round fun activity. The BBQ didn’t disappoint either and offered all sorts of traditional cuisine, alcoholic beverages such as Pimm’s and a performance by Scottish country dancers and a bagpipe player. And there was me in Germany, thinking I could escape the ever-present bagpipe-melodies known from Edinburgh.

tara-esa-group

Credit : ESA – Stefano de Padova

Another insightful event was the informal ‘space dinner’ with guest speaker Rolf Densing, director of operations at ESA, who spoke about the future in space and invited all guests to have a chat with him during the German dinner. Surprisingly his predecessor and German Astronaut Thomas Reiter made an appearance too. Although I missed my chance to speak to him, I overheard a story of him at the dinner table when he was sipping his morning coffee and let it drop in mid air still thinking he was in space! These little stories besides many others were exchanged during the meal and made the company even more enjoyable.

At the establishment I work at, the European Space Operations Centre, Security takes an important role since million-euro heavy satellites are operated from here. This meant I was obliged to wear a badge with my name and picture at all times and was checked every morning by the international security guards, who I’m sure knew everyone’s nationality off by heart and greeted them with “Guten Morgen”, “Buongiorno”, etc. Equally the staff returned the good deed with respect and a bright smile.

Possibly whoever is reading this thinks I’m exaggerating my appraisal for ESA, but with a 100% success rate for all its launched missions, its expertise is world leading and I couldn’t have imagined a better placement with such a lively and proactive vibe to it.

If you can, I would always recommend gaining some work experience in the summer, since it not only gives you a head start in job applications but also teaches you a lot about if the job is right for you in the first place. That said, I’m considering a career in the space sector more than ever before and could imagine working as a trainee for ESA or in the space industry after graduating. Equipped with my new-found motivation to pursue this goal I’m curious which challenges await when I return to Edinburgh!”

Jobs in space

Great post from my colleague Matt Vickers about jobs in space. If you are keen to know more about Optics in Space, the June issue of Physics World has a good supplement on Optics & Photonics. Physics World has a series of supplements focussing on different areas of physics. They introduce you to the main players, academic and industry, often working in partnership in these areas. The articles and adverts give you a good idea who is working in these fields so great for making speculative applications.

The Careers Service Blog

Many thanks to my colleague Matt Vickers for this blog post which gives an overview of jobs in the space sector and details of an event taking place next week – Rebecca

From the 11th-17th July 2016 the famous Farnborough International Airshow takes place in Hampshire, England.  This biennial event (it alternates each year with the Paris Airshow) combines both a public event and trade show – both on a huge scale.  According to organisers, the 2014 Farnborough show attracted orders and commitments worth US $204 bn.

Focused on the aerospace sector and its supply chain, the trade show includes significant presence from companies and organisations involved in the global space industry.  The show’s trade website includes pages specifically covering the space industry, and shows the infographic below.  If this gets you excited about jobs in space and you want to find out more about the organisations behind the numbers, use the searchable exhibitor list to…

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