Name: Galen Aymar
Job title: Accelerator Design Group Leader
Company: ISIS Neutron and Muon Source
What do you do?
I work on designing and maintaining the particle accelerator at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source. Some of the technology or components in our accelerator are brand new and cutting edge while other components were designed over 50 years ago, which means I get to work alongside teams of engineers across the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source to understand how these work, update them, and put new designs into place. This ensures researchers can get the most accurate results possible when they’re using our facility.
What does your company do?
The ISIS Neutron and Muon Source helps researchers from across the globe investigate the properties of materials. Our accelerator fires a beam of protons into a target to generate neutrons and muons, which are used as probes to understand processes that happen on an atomic scale. It is research done here that lays the foundation for scientific research all around the world.
How does what you do help tackle climate change or achieve net zero?
Research from the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source spans from battery innovation to improving self-driving car technologies. By ensuring that the equipment at the facility is up to date with the latest technical innovations, I ensure that researchers can do their work as accurately as possible so we can find the next solutions to the climate crises quickly.
How is engineering helping tackle climate change or achieve net zero?
Engineering should be one of the primary solutions to climate change. If we want to reduce our carbon footprint without reducing our standard of living then we must ensure our systems and technologies are able to deliver cutting-edge results, and engineering is the only way to do this.
Could you describe an average day working in your job?
Every day is different at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source. There are always things to improve so I’m either working on refurbishment or repair of parts of the existing particle accelerator at the facility, or checking if there’s anything that could be done. A single day may include design and simulation for new components, meeting up with technicians and operations to review equipment builds, and then managing teams on our new projects. I’m also working on the design of our latest project ISIS-II, the next-generation neutron source that will succeed the current facility. Designing a whole new particle accelerator fit for the 21st century takes a lot of collaborative thinking and creative ideas, especially since this new facility will be leading scientific research for decades to come, so I work with teams across the Science and Technology Facilities Council to plan this.
What made you want to do engineering?
It initially started as a desire to understand how things work. And then I discovered how exciting it is to see my ideas and designs made into real, functioning hardware. I have always enjoyed designing new concepts on paper, and engineering really allows me to bring those concepts to life and push the boundaries of what is currently possible!
What route did you take into engineering and why?
I always had an interest in science and technology. At university I decided to pursue mechanical engineering instead of other types of engineering or even science, such as physics or chemistry. The physicality and scale of mechanical engineering, dealing with hardware that is intuitive and visible, really helped to keep me interested and excited. And once I experienced the thrill of seeing my own design work as intended
What personal qualities are important to do your job?
A desire to learn and then apply that knowledge may be the most important. It’s rare for any education, regardless of the path taken, to cover all aspects in order to become a good engineer. Learning never stops and every project brings with it new understanding, and so the ability to seek out those projects and that understanding greatly improves success.
In a slightly different vein, attention to detail is so important when designing accelerators and their components, any errors can be not only be costly, but also means someone’s research might not go ahead as planned. It is important to keep an eye out for any small issues!
What do you like most about your job?
Instead of just focusing on one part of the puzzle, or one part of the supply chain, I really enjoy that I get to develop many components at all steps in the process, creating something bigger and better. This means working all the way from the design and testing of components to building and maintaining it in practice. It’s really satisfying to see your work come to life and be used by some of the most distinguished scientists around the world.
What advice would you give to young people who might be interested in a career like this?
Ask questions. No question is too small to ask, and if you’ve thought of it, chances are a lot of other people are wondering the same thing too (and they’ll appreciate that you asked the question!). On a team like mine, we get excited about not knowing the answer and want to find out how things work and why they work the way they do. Making sure you get into this mindset early on really helps with understanding later.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Lately it seems that much of my time is spent cooking and trying new recipes. I’ve especially been interested in fermentation and have learned just how good homemade sauerkraut and kimchi can be. I try to grow my own veg at our allotment, though I think the snails, rabbits and birds get to enjoy it more than I do. Beyond that I enjoy cross country running, reading, and video games.