Back observing pulsars, and get to work int time for 9:20 chat (Portree!)
Favourite Thing: Fixing something that doesn’t work. There’s not much that beats the feel good you get when you solve a problem that’s been nagging at you for days or even weeks. Sometimes the solution turns up in the middle of the night and you wake up in the morning with a whole new idea to try out, and it’s amazing how often that works out. I think the brain carries on thinking when you’re asleep.
Ladbrooke, Potters Bar (1957-1963) Enfield Grammar(1963-1970) – names changed now, but if you know the area it’s behind the marketplace.
Bristol (1970 -1973 and 1974-1977) I did a B.Sc in Physics, then took a gap year and came back and did a PhD which involved a lot of number crunching using computers that filled whole rooms and were dumber than a modern phone.
British Steel Scottish Research Labs (Steel Rolling Mills) – they closed it down and shut the mill. Howden Engineering (Channel Tunnel, WindTurbines) – they downsized the “new technologies group”, ICI (don’t ask) – do I detect a trend here?
Jodrell Bank Observatory. Part of Manchester University. I started here in 1990 and it’s a marvellous place to work.
Systems Engineer – a posh way of saying I fix things.
Me and my work
I work at Jodrell Bank Observatory, getting computers to move large chunks of metal around …. and then see what numbers come out – I’ve done this to steel rolling mills (noisy), big wind turbines (scary), channel tunnel digging machines (no toilets!) and now radio telescopes (cool).
I work at Jodrell Bank Observatory – it can’t be bad when this is the view out of the window!
I work to persuade computers to move the huge telescope and keep it pointing at whatever bit of sky we’re currently interested in. Once we’re pointing nicely, enormous amounts of data start to arrive from the telescope and I make sure that we can catch it all, check it over and the sort it into boxes for the astronomers to make amazing discoveries. Occasionally – since I get to look at the numbers, I may get lucky and see something interesting first. I’ve made one pulsar discovery this way – someone else wrote the paper – but I found it for them!
My Typical Day
Check overnight data, have breakfast, drive to work. Start all the last set of observations processing. Work on new stuff.
A lot of my work is to keep things running. A radio telescope doesn’t have to run only when it’s dark, it can keep going all the time. So first thing in the morning and lastthing at night, I check all the computers are still doing what they should be. (This is NOT a 9 to 5 mon-fri job!)
When I get to work, the first job is usually to send the previous 24 hours telescope observations to processing. If anything went wrong, a lot of the morning may be taken up with sorting out the mess. If some of the equipment has made errors I might spend the rest of the day dismantling something and replacing bits.
Late morning and lunchtime we often have meetings to talk about the new kit that we are developing. General I’ll be writing the programmes to control the stuff, an electronics whizz will be designing and building circuits and other engineers will be there to figure out how we put it on the telescope and connect to it (we use fibres now). During the summer I sometimes host a question and answer session at the observatory visitor centre.
In the afternoon it’s more of the same, and I end the day at work with making sure all the computers are still running, the telescopes are pointing nicely and all is well with the world. (If it goes wrong I may get a phone call at 3am!)
What I'd do with the money
The New Jodrell visitor centre could do some neat interactive exhibits – or the amazing Jodcast makes good use of any money.
More to follow ……. I have to find out how far £500 will go.
Meanwhile this is one possibilty … We have a small (7m) dish for students to use.
We may be able to relocate this to let visitors “look at the sky”.Here’s a map of the sky showing the milkyway and the 7m at one end of the visible bit … and here’s the result of scanning the telescope along the line.
The Milky Way (Our galaxy seens edge on) is one of the brightest things in the sky for this little telescope).
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
User friendly engineer (as opposed to the seriously user unfriendly engineer – my opposite number)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Alistair Anderson – I’m a folky and I play a concertina like this guy (but not so well). … and the english concertina is the only instrument invented by a scientist – Charles Wheatstone.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Seeing the view from the top of the Lovell telescope.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I wish I was thinner, younger and could play Irish reels faster.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Who me … not really .. how boring.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Wrote the entire control system for a wind turbine, then took the brakes off in a strong wind …. and it worked! Yippee – we’re making electricity!
Tell us a joke.
For an optimist, the glass is half full, for a pessimist the glass is half empty, for Alan Sugar, the glass is overspecified, overpriced, overbudget and should have been made smaller!