Supporting Diamond's industrial clients working in the Food sector
In this series of articles, we would like to introduce to you members of the Industrial Liaison team. They perform an important role within Diamond, working with our industrial clients to make sure they quickly achieve actionable results to meet their organisational needs.
In this article, we shine a spotlight on Claire Pizzey, Deputy Head of Industrial Liaison.
Claire is a specialist in small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and conducts experiments with or on behalf of industrial partners at Diamond.
Her main role is to enable our industrial users to solve complex analytical problems, usually related to products or processes. She has worked at a number of national and international facilities and loves the variety that her role brings, working with a range of clients to understand the behaviour of their products.
Tell us how you came to work at Diamond?
My first role at Diamond was as a support scientist on I22 (SAXS) moving to the Industrial Liaison group 11 years ago. Since then I have worked closely with scientists from companies both large and small across a wide range of different sectors.
My PhD was in colloid and interface science at the University of Bristol (Physical Chemistry) and I was an industrially sponsored student working very closely with HP Labs on liquid crystal display materials. I followed this with a post-doc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Chemical Engineering). Throughout my PhD and post-doc I worked extensively on small angle scattering experiments and it seemed a natural progression to work at the synchrotron.
SAXS is a technique that can probe microstructure in non-crystalline samples and can be used to address issues in formulation and processing from fields as diverse as pharmaceuticals (both small molecule and biologics), oil, food and consumer products. For me personally, this keeps the work very fresh and interesting as there is so much variety and each time we learn something new, it can be applied to the projects that follow.
What does your typical day-to-day work look like?
To be honest, I have different types of day. My typical day involves a lot of collaboration, working with clients to get a clearer idea of their specific challenges, researching and designing the most appropriate experiments and then liaising with my colleagues to make the arrangements for these experiments.
These days it’s lots of e-mail and Zoom/Teams calls! I might have some client data to analyse or I might be working on a talk that I will be giving soon. I work closely with the Industrial Liaison team’s Marketing Manager to help engage with other industrial scientists who may be tackling a thorny problem that we could help them to resolve. I’d really like more people to be aware of what facilities like Diamond could offer to support their work.
On special days I have beamtime. This is time that I have scheduled on Diamond’s research instruments, to perform the experiments on behalf of our clients. These days are quite intense because beamtime is valuable, client samples are valuable and I work hard to ensure that we achieve the best possible data. Beamtime days are not 9-5 days (they can go very late) but they can be very rewarding, exciting, stressful and fun. Sometimes I work with industrial partners on beamtime and it’s always interesting to build a team and work together to achieve something. You could think of it as a higher-stakes team-building away day – a lot of laughs and usually a fair quantity of coffee and chocolate too!
What are the key challenges that these industries face?
It’s hard to generalise but innovation in most industries relies on a detailed understanding of the product or process they currently have. In order to improve the product or process, or even make a totally new one, you generally need a fuller understanding of why the existing one works (or doesn’t) so that you know what you can control or change, and what effect any changes may have on the product microstructure or chemistry.
In some cases challenges arise from the need to change product components (supply chain issues, legislation, consumer preference etc) or processing (higher throughput, scale up, order of addition, new manufacturing site, etc.) and maintain or improve existing performance. In other cases, we're working with clients on new products and here we often need to gain a greater understanding of the structure-function relationships for the new product or process.
How does Diamond support the research of these companies?
Many of the clients I work with have no prior experience with synchrotron techniques or SAXS and so I work closely with them to define the problem, design an experimental approach, collect and analyse the data on their behalf and prove them with meaningful results.
Some clients have expertise in data analysis but choose to outsource the data collection to us to save time – they send the samples and we send back the data. Under normal circumstances, other clients choose to come to Diamond to collect their own data. Sometimes we work together as a team and this can be particularly helpful for replicating complex processing or sample preparation at Diamond.
I like to describe Diamond as the Formula 1 of analytical characterisation. It’s the place you go for the most complex samples or experiments, or when you have exhausted the capability of lab-based instrumentation. It doesn’t replace the more standard lab work but adds extra value and understanding.
How does the Industry team add value?
I think the value we add is in experience and expertise. I can help advise on the best experimental approach to take and how to design the experiment in the most effective way to get the information that is needed to address the original challenge. We use our experience of a wide range of experiments from a range of industries to give a realistic view of what might be achievable and how to get the most from that experiment. We can also help to analyse the data to obtain meaningful results.
I think the aspect customers seem to most value is our collaborative approach. We try to understand the underlying problem and design the best solution to address that problem and that usually takes some discussion and planning. We also work together throughout the experiment and often discuss results.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Learning the language of so many different industries. Everyone has different terminology and definitions, often for the same words, and in order to communicate effectively, I need to ensure that I use our clients' language; as you might expect the “standard” terminology in use for scientists in biopharmaceutical development is very different from that in the oil or food sectors. In particular the word “stability” seems to have so many different meanings depending on who you talk to.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Making an impact on an industrial project and seeing the client value our contributions. Hearing that our work has impacted on a commercial product or process is very exciting – real-world applications in action.
Are there any stand-out projects?
I worked with a pharmaceutical company to help understand a manufacturing problem. The experiments were complex and it was a real team effort to collect the data. I’m told that the data were extremely useful but I have never known exactly how the results have impacted the project. Generally, the more secret the final results, the more impact that they have made. I’ll take that one as a win!
More routine work can also have a lasting impact. One project with Porton Biopharma (and my colleague Rob Rambo) looked at variants in a biopharmaceutical manufacturing process which helped to provide information to the regulator to demonstrate that further purification steps were not needed. Without the need for these costly steps, the drug was cheaper to produce, allowing more patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia to benefit.
What would you say to other companies thinking of using Diamond's Industry services?
Please come and talk to us and tell us the problems you are experiencing. There’s no need for prior knowledge of facilities or the techniques, we can help to break down the problem into discrete analytical challenges and design experiments to address them and if we don’t think we can help, we’ll usually try and suggest an alternative approach.
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