Don't forget to vote! Vote Mike!!!
My current job at STFC is my first “proper” engineering job, but I did lots of things during school, college and university such as working in a pet shop, putting leaflets in envelopes and delivering newspapers. They were all great experience!
As an electronic engineer I’m responsible to designing and testing the electronics for scientific instruments on satellites.
I work for STFC in the space department, which is known as RAL Space.
Hello, my name’s Mike and I’m an Electronic Engineer in the Space department at STFC. I design electronics that go onto satellites and currently I’m working on a camera that’s going to go on the International Space Station. Read on to find out more about me…
I work for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC for short) in their Space department – known as RAL Space – at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory which is just outside Oxford. We specialise in making scientific instruments for space satellites, and the group I work in make cameras that photograph interesting things in space, such as the Sun.
One project RAL Space was involved in was NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (or SDO for short). It takes some amazing photos of the sun, such as the one below, and it’s great to know that the team here designed and built the electronics that make this possible.
If you like, you can see the all latest images of the Sun taken by SDO by going to the NASA SDO website. Usually the photos will have been taken in the last hour or so!
Currently, I’m working on a camera that will be mounted on the International Space Station. The images from the camera will be downloaded to Earth as quickly as possible and then posted onto the internet for everyone to see, so you’ll be able to watch “live” images of the Earth passing underneath the space station.
You can learn more about the project by looking at the UrtheCast website, or you could watch the YouTube video below. (sorry if your school blocks YouTube!)
I’m an electronic engineer, so I’m mainly involved in the design of the electronic parts for the camera. But I have to work closely with everyone else to make sure the whole project works well. There are loads of things to consider, will the camera get too hot? Or maybe too cold? How will it fit in the rocket that will launch it? How much electrical power will it need?
Outside of work I try and keep as active as possible (although there’s nothing I like more than sitting down with a cup of tea!) I enjoy running, cycling and swimming – currently I’m training for the London Marathon in April which is a little bit scary! I love getting outside into the mountains and I also enjoy caving and a little bit of climbing too.
My Typical Day
My days are generally spent getting on with design work and meeting up with others in my team to discuss the problems we’re facing.
My day normally starts around 8.30AM by checking my email. Then I might have a project meeting. In these meetings all the different engineering areas (like electronics, mechanical, thermal etc.) get togethor and talk about the progress they’re making. It’s great to hear about all problems the other groups are facing, and they’re really important for keeping the project on schedule.
Then I knuckle down and get on with whatever work I’m doing at the moment – I’ve spent a lot of time recently designing a circuit board using special software on my PC. Often I’ll encounter problems along the way, some I can solve myself but quite often I’ll need advice from others about the best way forward.
My work changes all the time though, but it really depends on what’s happening with each project. Sometimes I’ll be working at my desk, other times I might be in the clean rooms testing the electronic that will actually go into space – or I might be in one of the other labs prototyping something new. It’s great because I know in a few months time I’ll be doing something completely different.
At lunch time I head to the canteen to meet up with work friends – the work they do is really different to mine so it’s great to hear about that. But we also have a life outside work! So we’ll plan when we’re going to meet up in the evenings to go out to the cinema or for a meal etc.
After lunch it’s back to work!
What I'd do with the money
I’m planning to create an outreach activity to give students like you a real taste of what it’s like to be an engineer.
At STFC we often have schools come and visit us on site – or we go out and see people in their school. I’d like to create a really fun activity that lets students have a go at being an engineer!
The plan is “solar-powered-lego-man-drag-racing”!!! I’ll use the money to buy some equipment (such as big lights, solar panels, motors and some lego) and then you have to design and build cars that go as quick as possible…using just solar power!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Honest, happy and adventurous.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Tough question – I find myself liking all sorts of music from really popular things, such as The Killers or Coldplay, to other people you probably won’t have heard of like The National and Bon Iver.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I once went white-water rafting which was great fun! The rapids were HUUUGE and the raft would often flip over and you’d get thrown in the river!
What did you want to be after you left school?
By the time I left school I’d decided I wanted to be an electronic engineer…but before that I was quite keen on becoming a baker!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sorry! I was actually fairly well behaved at school.
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
Whilst at university I got involved in a project that was putting electronic sensors underneath glaciers. I got to accompany the reasearchers out to Greenland where we flew around the ice cap in a helicopter – it was aaaammmaaaazzzing!
Tell us a joke.
Knock knock……..who’s there?…….the interrupting cow………the interrup-MOOOOOOOOO!
The Rutherford Appleton Lab is a pretty big place! When I first got here it took me a week to learn how to find my office (it’s hidden at the end of some long corridors!)
This is the telescope for the High Resolution Camera that going to the International Space Station. It’s attached to the vibration test facility here at RAL which is used to simulate the launch into space.
This is a picture of the MIRI instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope in the thermal-vacuum chamber. This chamber is used to simulate to the conditions the instrument will experience in space.