Ed Rial, Support Insertion Device Physicist
What/where did you study?
Whilst studying for my A levels I developed a passion for Physics, and subsequently applied to study for an MSci in Theoretical Physics at The University of Birmingham. My studies ran the whole gamut of physical topics from Classical Mechanics and Electromagnetism through to Quantum Field Theory and General Relaitivity. The main area of work for the Birmingham Theoretical Physics Group was Condensed Matter Physics, and my final year project was in that area.
What did you do after your studies?
My original plan had been to go on and study for a PhD at Birmingham, but I failed to get funding and was forced to venture into the Real World. After spending several months helping my Dad build a replacement house on the disappearing Holderness coast, I eventually found a position on the Thales UK graduate scheme. I was officially designated a 'Systems Engineer' in the Signature Management (SM) group, a group specialising in modelling, measuring and analysing the 'signatures' of military vehicles, i.e. how easy the vehicles are to detect by methods such as Radar, InfraRed Imaging and visual and acoustic methods. The main expertise of the group was Radar, and I spent time helping to develop modelling software, as well as taking part in physical measurement trials of some very large vehicles! Whilst in the SM group I expanded the group's understanding of how to quantify the detectibiliy of a vehicle with the naked eye, and lead the design of field trials to establish the visibility of various vehicles.
My greatest achievement at Thales was to co-ordinate the re-issuing of the UK Defence Standard for Stealth, a series of documents to which I also added my own contributions.
Whilst I enjoyed my work at Thales, I had always harboured an ambition to work more directly with scientific research and technology development, an ambition that began when I visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory during my A Levels. I almost couldn't believe my eyes when a vacancy for Diamond landed in my inbox that almost exactly described the skills and experience I had obtained at Thales. One application form and two interviews later, here I am!
What do you do here and how does your experience help you do your job?
One of the key components of the Diamond Synchrotron are magnets called Insertion Devices (IDs) that move the electron beam to produce the very bright light that enable the beamlines to perform their experiments. As part of the ID group I get to work on the full lifecycle of the design of the IDs, from matching the requirements of the beamline scientists to what is practically possible, through the design of the magnet arrays, modelling, assembling, installation and finally maintenance.
Throughout this process I use several software packages and programs to model internal interactions between the magnets, and the interaction of the magnets with the electron beam. I also get the opportunity to program my own algorithms in C++ to help in the process of assembling the ID.
I work to physically assemble the devices, which includes measuring the magnetic field of the device, and tuning (or 'shimming') the the magnets to produce precisely the field required.
Some of the devices use superconducting current carrying coils to generate their magnetic field, and these devices need to operate at a temperature of four degrees above absolute zero. (-269 C). These need regular checks to ensure that the cryogenic systems are working, and so some of my time is spent playing with really cool things like liquid Helium.
My degree in Theoretical Physics has proved very helpful as I studied topics like electromagnetism, thermodynamics and relativity in quite some depth, and these are all essential topics to understand the workings of the Diamond synchrotron. Despite the theoretical nature of my studies, I am quite a hands-on individual, and so the practical experiences I gained at Thales (not to mention the experience of building a house with my Dad!) helps me to plan a practical approach to the assembly of the IDs and the experimental measurements that need to be taken during the shimming process.
What do you like about your job?
It will sound clichéd, but the thing I like most about my job is the variety of the work I do, because I am involved in the full development lifecycle of the ID. Not only do I get the chance to work directly on design issues and solve problems associated with that, but I get to work on building the final design and see the end results of the work I do.
In short, I have a fun job, in a friendly environment, working within a community to enable world-class science and technological breakthroughs that will impact on the future.