Jen Hiller, Support Scientist on Beamline I22.
What/where did you study?
I studied for BA in social anthropology and BSc in microbiology simultaneously at the University of California, San Diego. At the time I was really interested in anthropology, but I thought microbiology would provide better career options. In 1997 as a summer student for the anthropology degree I went to Jordan, where I ended up excavating bones in a Early Bronze Age cemetery.
Although this was for my anthropology degree, my background in microbiology gave me an insight into the diseases that had affected the region over the years, and I became really interested in understanding how disease and immunity can affect social change. For example, an abandoned village doesn’t have to be the result of war or famine, it could be the result of villagers succumbing to a new disease.
I completed my degree in 1998 and moved to Sheffield to do an MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology – the study of human bones and funeral rites. I was then awarded a studentship from the Wellcome Trust Bioarchaeology Programme. My project aimed to find non-destructive ways to predict DNA survival in Neanderthal bone, by studying how bones degrade in burial environments. In June 2000 a scientist called Tim Wess wanted to take some of my archaeological bone specimens to a synchrotron to carry out an experiment. I volunteered to go along, and found myself using X-ray scattering on bone fragments at the ESRF in France. The experiment proved a good model for studying bone in specific environments, particularly for bones in cave sites, so it was also very useful for my thesis.
Not long after that I took a postdoc placement with Tim Wess at the University of Stirling looking at parchment degradation. I finished my thesis in 2003 and moved to Cardiff with Tim Wess’s group to continue studying fragments of parchment and bone using synchrotron radiation. In February 2006 I applied for a postdoc placement at Diamond, where I started in August 2006 working on the Non-Crystalline Diffraction beamline I22. I became a support scientist on I22 in August 2008, when I came back from maternity leave after my second daughter was born.
What do you do here and how does your experience help you do your job?
What I do here is supporting users in their experiments, and designing and developing a microfocus end-station, as a lot of my PHD was using the microfocus station at the ESRF. I’m still learning a lot of the synchrotron physics as I go. Having done so many things in my early career makes it easier to learn to do something new, which really helps at Diamond!
What do you like about your job?
I really enjoy the variety, learning new things all the time. I am involved in lots of different kind of science, and because everything is peer reviewed the science is the best science of its kind. I just enjoy doing science and doing different kinds of science is really fun. I also enjoy building things like the microfocus end-station. It’s never boring.