Holy Trinity School, Crawley 1998-2004. University of Exeter 2004-2007
Physics (with Quantum Mechanics and Laser Technology) Bsc Hons
Cavendish Nuclear 2007-present
Favourite thing to do in my job: Getting other people as interested in radionuclides as I am
I’m interested in everything and I think atoms are neat
I live in the centre of Bristol, which is the best. I apologise to anyone who doesn’t live in Bristol.
Outside of work I have a lot of different hobbies as I’m terrible at doing nothing. At the moment I’m completely obsessed with swing dancing, but I also like making my own clothes, playing piano, drawing, walking, baking and reading. I also volunteer at Samaritans, which is just as important to me as my day job.
I specialise in designing and analysing shielding against gamma radiation, but know a lot about managing radiation and nuclear waste in general
Ultimately I’m responsible for keeping background radiation levels on nuclear sites safe and legal on a day-to-day basis, and I take that job very seriously, as does everyone else I work with. Radiation affects almost every imaginable aspect of running a nuclear power plant, so I’m always learning new things.
What I love about my field of work is how incredibly complex and fascinating radiation physics is when you actually get down to it. There’s so much to think about! Different radionuclides give off different types of radiation at different energies, and some of them decay (at different rates!) into completely new radionuclides again whereas some become stable. Then there’s the way radiation travels through different materials, how it can change different materials over time, and there’s the biological effects of radiation to consider, then there’s the extreme conditions found inside a reactor, unlike anything else on earth, and I could go on and on and on!
My Typical Day
Advising other people about what to do with all that radiation
I work for a consultancy so we take on all sorts of work for customers around the world, but mainly the UK. The work can be anything from advising on how best to store drums of waste to evaluating multi-million pound building designs. On a good day I get to spend lots of time building computer models, which is the fun bit. Because they’re statistical models I actually code everything from scratch.
I also have to write up my work thoroughly enough to prove my models are good enough to base engineering decisions on. It’s much like writing up a science experiment in class, but with more detail.
I do spend a lot of time working with other disciplines, but mainly civil engineers and process engineers. Civil engineers design building structures, and more importantly, make sure all the massive shield walls I’ve modelled won’t fall down in real life. Sometimes the ideal shield wall won’t work in reality so we have to figure something out together. Process engineers decide how nuclear material is moved around site so I work very closely with them to make sure radiation isn’t building up to unsafe levels at any point. At this point in my career I’m a bit of a jack of all trades – I know a little bit about everyone else’s business so I can tell them how radiological issues will affect them.
What I'd do with the prize money
Run engineering/physics workshops in local schools
I’m also part of STEMnet (http://www.stemnet.org.uk/) which helps people working in science, technology, engineering and maths to go into schools and inspire students. So teaming up with them, I bet me and my co-workers could arrange some really interesting activities to do in schools. Fancy playing around with Geiger counters? Or the remote-control robots we use to carry out operations in really high activity areas?
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious, enthusiastic, open-minded
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Helped design a new piece of instrumention to go inside parts of reactors that have never been accessed before. This was to prove that the cores were strong enough to keep running past their original lifetime – very important as we’ve not got replacements built yet.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I come from a very scientific family so needless to say I have been gently encouraged all my life, not that I needed much of a push. I must have read every single DK science book I could find when I was little.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
For a while I treated homework as an optional activity which, er, didn’t go down well.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I’m also very interested in psychology so probably a counsellor.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I can’t possibly choose! I veer wildly between genres. Right now I seem to be having a rock and roll phase.
What's your favourite food?
Whatever’s in front of me. Except coffee, which I can’t stand.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Taking up swing dancing, definitely. And last year I got to ride in a hot air balloon during one of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta’s mass ascents, which was really awesome too.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1)That I no longer need to sleep so I can get more done. I wouldn’t lose the ability to sleep though, I enjoy it too much. 2) An extremely nice library room to be added to my house. 3) Humanity figures out how to build commercially viable fusion reactors within the next year.
Tell us a joke.
Newton, Pascal and Young are playing hide-and-seek and it’s Young’s turn to count. As he closes his eyes and counts, Pascal runs off and hides, but Newton just stands there and draws a square around himself. Young opens his eyes, points at Newton and says “I’ve found you!”. “Incorrect.” says Newton “You’ve found one Newton per metre squared. You’ve found Pascal.”