I have been a tinkerer for as long as I can remember. So, it was no surprise that I went on to study for an engineering degree at the University of Southampton. I chose Civil Engineering as my focus, which had the highest employability stats. My 3rd-year individual project was the catalyst that set my career path toward scientific research, which eventually led me to Diamond. The experience I had with this project was very positive. So, I embarked on a PhD investigating the effects of particle shape in granular systems. During my PhD, I was introduced to X-ray-based techniques at the then newly established µ-VIS X-ray Imaging Centre - MUVIS. This was also when I first visited a synchrotron beamline, TOMCAT, at the Swiss Light Source in Switzerland.
A series of postdoc positions followed, the first of which explored the future of fertilisers for food security. Using my experience in porous materials and imaging, I studied living plant roots with X-rays to compare traditional fertilisers (from mined phosphate) with phosphate extracted from wastewater in the form of struvite. Designing impact mechanisms inside Tomography machines was the subject of my next postdoc project, using in-situ and ex-situ methods.
Then a major postdoc opportunity arose to design a lab-sized X-ray Ptycho-tomography instrument from scratch using the same hardware, suppliers, and software you find in synchrotrons. By the time I joined Diamond in 2018 as a beamline scientist, I knew how to build every element of an X-ray imaging system/beamline.
What do you do here and how does your experience help?
My role as DIAD’s Principal Beamline Scientist is to ensure we are successful both as a world-class scientific instrument and an independent research group. This means doing the right science and doing it well. I make sure the beamline is operational and that users are supported. Promoting our young beamline through outreach and fundraising for new student positions is also an essential task I undertake.
The multidisciplinary insights I gained in my career have proven very useful in bridging and unifying my team’s wide variety of skills and perspectives. There are many synergies between what I do now and my previous experience, from X-ray imaging, micromechanics, and computer simulations, to building sophisticated instruments, big-budget project management, and working on sample environments.
My passion for user support was inspired by my personal experience as a user. Etched in my memory is the commitment and enthusiasm of a TOMCAT beamline scientist, who formed my vision of what a beamline scientist should do as a local contact and service provider.
What’s your favourite thing about working at Diamond?
The culture of possibility! The vast skill sets at Diamond are genuinely impressive. I can take an idea to Diamond’s engineers and scientists, and they’ll build it. We do this daily. I can safely say that Formula 1 and Rocketship companies could not hold a candle to Diamond's collective know-how in science and technology.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get involved in your field?
Get involved in as many multidisciplinary projects as you can. This will develop your technical know-how in areas outside your comfort zone and sharpen your ability to collaborate.
What’s the most interesting project you’ve been involved in?
Building an X-ray Ptycho-tomography machine from scratch. The challenge was monumental. There were just two of us, and we had to deliver a working device before funding ran out – within one year! This was also when I met Hans Deyhle. We worked really well together. Our skills and knowledge were complementary, and this made the project fun. We delivered a working instrument ahead of schedule. Hans and I would go on to work at building and commissioning DIAD successfully.
What makes Diamond different from other organisations that you could work for?
There’s only one synchrotron in the UK. No matter your skills, there’s only one place you want to be as a beamline scientist in the UK – Diamond Light Source!
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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