I worked for the STFC from September 3rd 2012 to August 31st 2013 in the Vacuum Science group of ASTeC (Accelerator Science & Technology Centre) in Daresbury Laboratory, Warrington, UK. I got this epic placement year before I started my undergraduate degree as part of the EDT UK’s Year In Industry (YINI) Scheme.
(So you know what I’m talking about.)
The Science Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is one of the UK Government’s 7 different research councils.
It is responsible for high-quality basic, strategic and applied scientific and engineering research by developing and providing, facilities and technical expertise in astronomy, particle physics, space science and nuclear physics and research in any other field which makes use of scientific facilities.
The Accelerator Science Technology Centre (ASTeC) is a sub-group of the STFC that studies all aspects of the science and technology of charged particle accelerators from large scale international to specialised industrial and medical applications. It is also a partner of the Cockcroft Institute with the Universities of Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester.
Machines that, well, accelerate fundamental particles such electrons or hadrons or to put it more technically “a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams”.
At Daresbury the accelerators on site such as VELA or the Compact Linac, are built mainly for the purposes of investigating and testing new accelerator science/tech as opposed to building them specifically for an end user.
A perfect vacuum is a space entirely devoid of matter but that it is very difficult to achieve or find in practice so instead we define a vacuum as any pressure lower than atmospheric (the pressure that you experience at ground level on Earth from the air around you or around 0.1MPa to be technical).
Vacuum therefore covers a range of different pressures between atmospheric and absolutely nothing and these are often referred to by the magnitude of the pressure or number of particle per volume. The quality of a vacuum tells you how close it is to a perfect vacuum – i.e. lower pressure means higher vacuum.
So to give you an idea of scales, your Hoover or ‘vacuum’ cleaner has about 2 X 10^25 particles per cubic metre which is enough of a pressure drop to suck in dirt but the particle accelerator Diamond (based in Oxfordshire in the UK) has around 1 X 10^13, which is only 100 times as many as there are on the surface of the moon!
In experimental physics it is often very important that there are minimal particles around, or a lower gas pressure is created such as found naturally in outer space. In accelerators this is not just to avoid disturbing particle beams but also to reduce unwanted radiation that is caused when unnecessary particles in the remaining gas get ionised by the passing beam and dragged along with it for a bit.
Year In Industry Projects 2012 – 2013
ESD of Multiple 2D Samples (My Main Project)
Developing and running an experiment to investigate material properties, particularly Electron Stimulated Desorption (ESD) under Ultra High Vacuum (UHV) conditions using multiple small 2D samples. This will help to efficiently accumulate a reliable database for better understanding of how suitable different materials would be for use inside future particle accelerators and provide key results for further vacuum science experiments and future accelerator design.
For a bit of a change (and because I was waiting for lots of equipment to be made) I temporarily moved office in February and spent a month working with the Technology group working for the Design Office on 3D CAD models using SolidEdge software package.
I was responsible for developing the initial 3D CAD model of a hexapod mechanism that was to be designed as part of a collaboration between the STFC and Olsen engineering. Hexapods are a mechanism made of 6 struts in pairs that allows a platform to move around with many degrees of freedom.
The STFC uses hexapods for precisely mounting lasers and telescopes but they are more commonly used for simulator rides as they can be programmed to move along with the videos or games or flight training.
[UPDATE:] My design was continued, developed and completed after I left and has since been manufactured – you can read a bit more about it on the Olsen Engineering website and see it in action in this video!
Superconducting Thin Films In SRF Cavities
Worked on building and running an experiment to investigate the Residual Resistivity Ratio (RRR) of superconducting thin films to investigate their possible use in designing superconducting RF cavities for accelerators.
Summer Placement 2014
I enjoyed my YINI so much that I decided to return for another few months after completing my first year at university. This time however, I returned to the Technology Design group (who I worked on the hexapod project with), not the Vacuum Science group that I was with last time.