Experience and Qualifications
I have worked in science and technology R&D all my career. Following a degree in chemical physics and D.Phil. studying molecular collision dynamics using laser spectroscopy, I started as an R&D Scientist at the Harwell/Culham Laboratories in Oxfordshire. Here I worked on the development of remote sensing techniques for use in hostile environments which ranged from car engines, rocket motors, steel mills, coal furnaces and nuclear reactors. This often involved working on collaborative projects part-funded by the UK Government or the EU and it was here that I started developing project and business management skills.
I then went to work at QinetiQ in Malvern as a full-time Project Manager on a major joint venture with the Ford Motor Company tasked with the development of a reconfigurable 3D holographic display, the type of thing you see in films, but never in real-life. Once that project ended, I took on the Business Group Manager for the displays business before moving into a variety of other roles, including becoming the Programmes & Operations Lead for the Micro and Nano-Technology business group which was involved with the development of III-V compound semiconductor materials and devices as well as the manufacture silicon MEMS devices. During this time, I also went back to the classroom to do a Master’s Degree in Technology Management at Chalmers University in Gothenburg. Like an MBA but with a focus on technology road-mapping, investment and marketing strategies, this reinforced my work in all aspects of technology business leadership.
Following my time at QinetiQ, I enjoyed a brief period as a consultant at the University of Birmingham helping them set up a programme with Rolls Royce and the Manufacturing Technology Centre under the European Regional Development Fund before moving to GE Aviation running multi-partner collaborative projects developing the next generation of flight deck avionics.
Favourite part of your job
I think the satisfaction that I’ve always got in working with technology is best described by those wow moments. And they can come in all sorts of different guises. Sometimes, they come directly from people working in science or engineering in the lab environment and solving a problem or seeing something for the first time. Often, they come from customers or business leaders when they start to understand a concept or idea you have been trying to communicate. The language of science and technology is often specialised and confined to a “inner circle” of peers such that the potential of an opportunity for a business to us to move forward or save money is not immediately to those outside of the specialism. While they invariably nod their head approvingly their eyes are often glazed over. You can see the lightbulb moment when you have used the correct terminology and they understand the opportunity as you see it. Those are good moments.
I have been lucky to have many technological highlights in my career, but the standout moment must have been when a colleague and I packed up an optical laboratory – table, two lasers, Fabry-Perot etalon, mirrors, lenses, prisms and delicate electronics – in the back of a van, drove down to Portsmouth and took a ferry to France to a steel mill in Nantes. We spent two weeks taking the laser ultrasonic measurements that hitherto had only done in the laboratory on a running steel mill and proved it could be done in real life; the technology was robust, and the data correctly predicted the microstructure of the steel expected. That was incredibly satisfying for all sorts of reasons: the fact that it worked and, most importantly, the fact that we didn’t break the steel mill!
Commercially, the highlight must be securing a rare (if not unique) funded extension to the Future Flight Deck project at GE. We had just come to the end of a £10m Innovate UK Aerospace Technology programme in avionics and we were looking to bid on a follow-up programme. There was a delay in getting our bid ready and rather than lose momentum, I thought, ‘Why don’t we just put in for a funded extension of what we’re already doing, on the basis that the project was already seen as being highly successful?’ We were unsure as to whether Innovate would grant a funding increase, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. We put in a bid for the extension and were granted an extra £1m for an additional 6 months of new activities. Even the funding team at Innovate UK said that it was rare for it to happen, but they were pleased with the management of the project and the results, so they were happy to continue to support it.
People that inspire you
I suppose my career in science was really inspired by my first thermodynamics tutorial in which the tutor poured liquid nitrogen all over his office floor in an archetypal mad scientist way! The lecturer was Harry Kroto, (later to be knighted Sir Harold Kroto) before he won a Nobel prize for his work on the discovery of a third form of carbon, the microscopic “footballs” known as ‘buckyballs’. He was an inspirational scientist who, like Richard Feynman was always able to explain a tricky concept in ordinary language. I went on to do a final year project with him and feel privileged to have known him during my 6 years at the University of Sussex.
Outside of work
I run to keep fit (and sometimes enjoy it!) but my main hobby is sailing with my first cross-channel passage as skipper being a notable highlight. The solo sailors circumnavigating the globe are incredible. I find their dogmatic determination and resilience in the face of daily challenges hugely inspirational as I work towards my Yachtmaster qualification.