Silvia da Graça Ramos is a Software Engineer in the Data Acquisition group at Diamond. Taking up her role early last year, Silvia’s job sees her working with a number of teams at the facility to provide software support that helps the scientists get the most out of their data and experiments.
So Silvia, you joined Diamond in January 2014. What brought you here?
At the age of 17 I chose to study physics at Pierre et Marie Curie University Paris as I was planning to be a physics researcher. However, following a move to the ‘Instituto Superior Tecnico’ (School of Engineering) in Lisbon, Portugal, my interests turned to software engineering. I was excited to study and work in a field that is evolving and improving all the time, and which has a direct impact on research. After completing my post-doc as a visiting scientist at the ‘Institut fur Plasmaphysik’ (IPP, Max Planck Institut) in Germany, I decided that I would like to tackle new challenges in a different scientific environment. I was keen to work at a large research facility and found an opening at Diamond that related to both my scientific and engineering background. I applied, got the job, and here I am!
What do you do here, and how does your experience help?
The Data Acquisition Group provides computing support for the scientific staff at Diamond in the collection of data from all beamlines. As a Software Engineer I help develop the software tools that allow our beamline scientists and users to perform their experiments easily. This enables them to be more focused on their results. Since I started out intending to be a researcher I have a good understanding of the scientists’ requirements and the data acquisition and analysis tools that are used in the synchrotron community. Along with my experience in engineering and controls software, this has proved very useful in my job here at Diamond.
What’s the big project you’re working on at the moment?
I work on the open GDA software. This is the Generic Data Acquisition (GDA) software which was first developed at Daresbury and then adopted by Diamond. It is intended to be applicable for any beamline on any synchrotron facility, and we use it on the majority of beamlines at Diamond. In my role I focus on requirement analysis, development, and general support of GDA across two of the spectroscopy beamlines at Diamond. Both beamlines deal with the acquisition of a large amount of data which is quite challenging!
What’s your favourite thing about working at Diamond?
It is great to see our contribution to science. I enjoy the challenge of finding the best solutions for requirements, figuring out how to automate experiments and most of all seeing the final result! It is a great sense of achievement to know that you have helped a beamline to acquire good and relevant data that is useful to the science community. It is also a constant learning process, to perform the tasks that I just described. It is important to keep in touch with the best programming practices and techniques to improve software development. And I enjoy working in an international environment.
And finally, what advice would you give someone wanting to get involved in your field?
It really helps if you have good engineering experience and an interest in science. There are often lots of issues to resolve so having a broad range of problem solving skills is good too. I would advise anyone keen to work at a large science facility and just starting out to have a look at the summer student placements on offer. It is a great opportunity to get an insight into this exciting area of work.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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