A massive congratulations to #teamHugh and a huge thank you to all the students who took part in the live chats, asked questions and #VoteEd! It has been amassive privilege to take part and get to know you all! Best of luck in the future!
Withernsea High School 1993-2000; University of Birmingham 2000-2004
11 GCSEs; A Levels in Further Maths, Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology; MSci in Theoretical Physics
Thales UK Ltd. 2006-2008; Diamond Light Source 2008-Present
Insertion Device Physicist
Diamond Light Source
Favourite thing to do in my job My favourite thing to do in science is to play. Unless you are enjoying your work and exploring new options things that should be exciting can become dull.
I make electrons dance so hard they shine more brightly than a billion suns, by using the most powerful permanent magnets on Earth, superconductors working near absolute zero, and a particle accelerator.
I work at Diamond Light Source – a particle accelerator that accelerates tiny particles (electrons) up to pretty much the speed of light. When these electrons fly through a magnetic field they get pushed to one side and emit light – synchrotron radiation.
I design and make special magnets that push the electrons from side to side and make them wiggle, and every time the electrons wiggle they produce a burst of light. These magnets are called ‘wigglers’ (imaginative naming right!?) or ‘insertion devices’.
I use various different materials and technologies to make these magnets, including special rare-earth magnets that have very strong magnetic fields. These Neodymium-Iron-Boron magnets are much stronger than the magnets on your fridge.
Magnetic fields can also be made by passing a current through a coil. The higher the current the stronger the magnetic field. Under normal circumstances the amount of current you can pass through a wire is limited by the resistance of that wire – too much current in the wire and it will melt! Fortunately there are some amazing materials that have ZERO resistance – superconductors! However these only operate at very low temperatures and they need to be cooled in liquid helium which is a cool 269 degrees below zero! This technology is also used in the wigglers at Diamond.
My Typical Day
Always starts with a coffee – after that every day is different.
Everything (well, most things) I do at work are in the pursuit of designing, building or operating magnets for the Diamond electron accelerators.
At the design stage I will be working at my computer with various softwares that help me to calculate the magnetic fields I need. I tell the computer the how I want magnets and electrical wires arranged, and the computer tells me what the strength of the magnetic field is. Then if I need to I can change things around until I get the answer I need!
At this stage I might also need to write my own software or shortcuts (scripts) to speed up my work.
Once the magnets have been designed mechanical engineers at Diamond will try and turn them into designs that can actually be made.
Once the magnets have been made I will measure them using our special equipment for measuring magnetic fields, a Hall Effect probe, or a coil of wire. If I need to I will make small mechanical changes to the magnets to tune, or shim them to make sure they are precisely right.
I’m also responsible for making sure that our superconducting magnets are working properly by keeping them cold- really cold at -269℃. I do this by keeping them submerged in liquid helium and keeping all the cooling equipment in good condition!
Sometimes I will need to study how the magnets are behaving one they have been installed, and this means I get to play with one of the most expensive pieces of scientific equipment in the country – the Diamond particle accelerator!
Because there are not many people in the UK who do the work I do, I sometimes get to go to meet people at conferences in other parts of the world. These are great opportunities to see what other people are doing in my line of work and to come up with new ideas for the future.
Diamond is a facility that does a lot of science for the benefit of everybody, and it is very important to make sure the public knows what we do and why we are awesome. This means that a few days per year I will be involved in showing students and members of the public around the facility and trying to explain all of the amazing science we do. I really enjoy those days because I love talking about where I work. (Because working at a particle accelerator is as exciting as it sounds!)
What I'd do with the money
Develop a synchrotron based board/card game.
I love science, I love working in a synchrotron and I love playing games. This is why I’d try and develop some ideas I have into a board game. Over the years I have learnt a surprising amount from playing games (mostly history rather than science!) and as there are many game-like aspects to operating a synchrotron I think it would be cool to capture what it’s like working here in a game. There are only so many synchrotrons in the world… but if I can make a fun game then more people could know what it’s like to work in one without leaving their living room!
Specifically the money would be spent on manufacturing a demo of the game, card/box design and piece manufacture through 3D printing.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Everything is awesome!
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Secured a paying job as… a physicist!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D. Or more generally science fiction books and films.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A bad musician. Or an explosion welder (apparently it is real thing!)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I once got to pilot a microlight. It was AMAZING!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
A faster-than-light spaceship, a time machine and eternal youth.
Tell us a joke.
Did you hear about the magic tractor? It drove down the lane and turned into a field!
Diamond! (Although don’t get too excited, it’s only a model!)
This is the real one!
A panoramic of the experimental hall floor – where the magic happens. Well, where all the science happens.
This is a panoramic photo from inside the main particle accelerator at Diamond – the Storage Ring Synchrotron. The accelerator is made of three main types of magnets seen in this photo – Green ones, Red ones and Yellow ones, and they need a little bit of explanation.
The green ones are Dipoles or ‘Bending Magnets’, and they have just two magnetic poles. They are just a straight upwards pointing magnetic field and they steer the electrons. As the electrons are steered, or bent, they produce light from infra-red to X-rays, and this light is used by some of the beamlines here at diamond.
The red ones are Quadrupole magnets and they have four poles. They act like lenses in the synchrotron and keep the electrons together as they fly around the ring.
The yellow magnets are Sextupoles, and they have six poles. These guys are the sheepdogs of the synchrotron. I like to think that the electrons hunt in packs, they travel around the accelerator not as a constant stream, but in bunches. The sextupoles stop any electrons from running away from the main pack, or from falling too far behind.
There is a fourth kind of magnet is off to the far right of the picture, and it is purple. This is an Insertion Device and is what I spend most of my time working on. Insertion devices are also called wigglers because they wiggle electrons from side to side as they fly through. As the electrons wiggle they produce very bright and focussed light which is used by the scientists in our beamlines to look in detail at all kinds of matter.
This is the largest insertion device at Diamond. It is five metres long and weighs ten tons, too heavy for our crane to lift it. We had to float it on air to be able to move it. This photo was taken in our magnet measurement lab.
And this is the device being installed into the storage ring by one of our twenty ton cranes!
Our superconducting wiggler needs to be kept cold at -269C, and we do this by keeping it in a bath of liquid helium. When we transfer liquid helium into the wiggler then we can get pretty vapour plumes coming out of the top, caused by water in the atmosphere condensing around the cold gas exhaust.
The whole point of Diamond is to produce light, but the vast majority of it is really bright, not in the visible spectrum and pointed at experiments, so you don’t ever actually see it. Except if you know the right people to ask – above is a photo of some visible light produced by one of the bending magnets, and I got to hold it in my hand!
I spend a reasonable amount of time at my desk. It’s not the tidiest but the view is good!
Of course it’s not all fun and games, sometimes we have to do very hard work, like the day I helped to build a model of Diamond’s three particle accelerators out of Lego 😉 . #EverythingIsAwesome!