I worked as a handyman for a coal mining company and a butcher. During the summer and at the weekends I had some bar jobs and jobs in supermarkets. Now I tutor undergraduate students at university to pay for snowboarding holidays
Experimental astro-particle physics (so I basically work on experiments that are to do with particles from space)
The University of Edinburgh
I helped to build and run a radiation detector
The detector I work on is called ZEPLIN-III (please dont ask what it stands for because I barely even know, possibly the silliest acronym ever!). This detector is deep inside a mine down in Cleveland (heres a picture showing my lab under the boulby mine)
this is to keep it away from the sun and other stars so that we might be able to see the very faint signal from very hard to see bits of matter hitting the detector. Its important to figure out what this stuff is because after spending the last hundred years looking through very good telescopes it turns out that almost all of the stuff in the universe is completely missing! It sounds a bit far fetched (or mad even?) but everytime somebody tries to do a different experiment to show that actually its a mistake and everything is fine they just end up seeing the same thing! The government organisations that fund science are getting so fed up of this that they are hiring people all over the world to build machines to try and find some trace of this stuff. I helped to build our machine between 2008 and 2010, heres me fiddling with some cables
I finished putting it all together in 2010, this was probably the most work I ever did as we had to assemble the main detector, build a second detector around that and then build 2 huge shields around the lot, heres the 3 of us that did most of the assembly just after we finished everything apart from the shielding (its easy to go stir crazy when you spend a lot of time that far underground, but luckily nobody hit me with hammers in the end )
we turned it on for a whole year after this and the results will be released very soon! Although these results wont be reporting that we discovered dark matter it does show that the technology we developed does work. This means that people will be confident to let us build a big machine that could actually do the job.
A nights youll usually find me in a pub (or club if its a weekend or I dont have to wake up early!), but when Im not working I spend as much time as I can in mountains, so long as theres snow!
When theres no snow around I’ll take up water sports again and head off to find some surf, or to one of the larger Scottish lakes where they have wakeboarding.
My Typical Day
making sure all the systems are working properly and testing their response
The detector requires almost constant attention! typically I would wake up and check all its vital signs (basically looking at graphs and making sure they are all straight lines, showing nothing has changed! ) the instrument has one reading that is a bit like a heart beat. It is kept very cold (-100 Celsius) so that it works properly, our cooling system is run by a computer. If the instrument gets a bit warm it makes it cold (slightly too cold though) so then it has to warm it up (again it makes it slightly too warm and has to cool again). I watch it every morning of my shift to make sure that the temperature is going up and down nicely. Once im happy thats ok then I go underground (heres a wee clip of me entering the lab)
At 11am I turn the machine off so I can calibrate it. Calibrating is just checkong what the scale is. For example on a ruler you would calibrate it by putting the cm marks on! but our machine measures energy so I put a radioactive source into it and measure that. Once a week I also hook up an optical fibre to it and do some more calibrations with that, and also every now and again I put a neutron source in too.
After the calibration I move all the stuff the machine recorded up to the surface so we can all have a look at it and do some science. This is done by a robot, unfortunately our robot is a bit clumsy and so sometimes it drops the data tapes. I have to hang around in his room to pick stuff up for him. After that I refill the cryogenics (this just means I squirt some very cold liquid into a tank so it can cool itself after I leave). This usually only takes me to about lunchtime, so depending on how I’m feeling I may have lunch underground and then do some more work, or just leave and go back to the surface so I get to see the sun a bit!
Last year I recorded a short clip for someone showing the main area of my lab, unfortunately it doesnt show most of the lab and I waffle on a bit aiming at people who already know what im talking about quite well so sorry if it doesnt make sense! you can pretty much ignore what I say really (especially when I’ making fun of the other machines, very unprofessional :s)
What I'd do with the money
donate it to a student trip to a big science facility
Visiting big science facilities can be very exciting, you get to see cutting edge engineering in action and you get a chance to talk to the people working on it. I always feel much more enthusiastic after visiting big facilities anyway. A couple of the places I visited include the Gran Sasso lab in Italy, its under a mountain (which has a small ski resort on top! only 3 blacks and 1 park but its better than the UK), I got to wander round and see all the machines there, such as ICARUS .
I also visited CERN in Geneva, its great to go once you already work in the field as people dont tell you not to touch the stuff (or not as much anyway, heres me riding something called an “RF cavity” at CERN)
you dont need to go abroad though, there are great facilities right here in the UK such as the JET lab where they have a test fusion reactor that could solve all our energy needs and pretty much save the world, if they get their machine working properly, which they nearly do! what they need is more engineers!! over to you guys…..
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
I am Ant
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
rode a brand-new supersports motorbike around the hollywood hills at almost its top speed
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to build scientific instruments
Were you ever in trouble at school?
constantly, thats why my GCSEs came from college! It made things a lot harder for me though so I definitely dont recommend it
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
for me it was one of the less important things in terms of the whole project but the idea came as a “eureka” moment, I came up with a novel solution to calibrate one of our instruments (calibrate is just where you find out the scale, so for a ruler this would just be drawing on the cm markings!)
Tell us a joke.
“Okay, that’ll be 20p,” said the cashier as he scanned my Freddo. “What!?” I shouted. “But it says 10p on the wrapper?” “Yes, I know it says that on it, but it is actually 20.” “Fine,” I said, as I begrudgingly handed him the cash. “Ummm, excuse me sir,” the man slid the coin back across the counter. “You’ve handed me a ten pence piece.” “Yes, I know it says 10p on it but it is actually 20.”