What are your credentials / past work experience that make you suited to your role in the company?
I am a physicist by training, my first degree was a Master’s in physics from University of Surrey. I then completed a PhD in optoelectronics at the ORC (Optoelectronics Research Centre) at Southampton University under the tutelage of Professor Peter Smith. At that time, Peter’s group was looking at two technologies, one of which was the PPLN crystal and how to manufacture it. I was working on the other technology; direct UV writing which is effectively a CNC manufacturing process for making integrated optical circuits. After I finished my PhD, I was offered an excellent opportunity to join a start-up from Peter’s group called Stratophase.
Stratophase was a company of two halves at the time, one half was concentrating on the development of optical microchip sensors and the other half on the PPLN technology. When we started Stratophase my time was split between both areas of the business. After a few years we got the investment necessary to commercialise the waveguides and the decision was made to split the business in two. The name Stratophase went with the direct UV writing and Bragg grating technology which by then was my main focus and Covesion was spun-out as a completely separate entity to develop and manufacture PPLN technologies. Stratophase worked on the development of products for a number of markets, we were initially focused on making components in the telecoms sector and then moved into the development of biochemical detectors for biological targets and the measurement of chemicals. I was very fortunate in that while working at Stratophase I had learnt how to take a niche area of science and apply it to make it useable in a broad range of markets.
For various reasons Stratophase ceased trading and I set up my own Product Development company and Covesion were among my customers, when they offered me a permanent role, I thought it would be a good fit for me. It’s not often you get to start with a company where you know the products and the people so well. For the last 10 years I have been looking at Covesion from the outside. It is a University spin-out that has learned to stand commercially on its own two feet. That is a rare thing. I am excited to see where the company goes in the next few years. We are working in cutting edge markets like quantum technologies with huge growth and development possibilities.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Like many of my colleagues at Covesion, I like solving problems. That’s always something that I enjoy. I view myself very much more of an engineer than a physicist. I like the practical problems. For example, Widget A needs to do this somehow…how can we make it happen? I will normally be working with a team, bringing in all our skills, ideas and experience, that can be great fun and very rewarding. It is a real sense of achievement, seeing something come to fruition where you know the journey started with Widget A and now it is an entire system where you press a button and it does what it is supposed to do. Satisfying for us and obviously good for our customers.
What has been your career highlight so far?
While working at Stratophase we developed an optical chip to work inside a bioreactor for small scale bench operations. We had a particular customer offering these for scale up to industry who was looking at the agriculture market, trying to make biodiesel from fermentation. One of our probes, which had been designed to work in pretty much all environments, was installed at the bottom of a 50 thousand litre bioreactor, something the size of a small house. The chip was fixed at the bottom of the tank in the liquid and the other end of the probe was outside the tank, exposed to the elements.
As the development engineer on any project you are all too aware of the potential pitfalls and problems, but the sensor worked, it passed all the safety tests. I wouldn’t have fancied the thousands of litres of ‘muck’ that we would have had to deal with to sort out any issues!! That was one of those achievements where the engineering design and development paid off. A small but technical highlight with a real sense of achievement.
What inspires you?
I am impressed by, and take a life lesson from, successful people that retain their humanity. I think there are a lot of nice people that you encounter in day to day life that run all sorts of different companies, large and small, which have a big impact on people’s lives. I find it hard to mention anyone in particular or to single anyone out but I aspire to be one of those type of people, to try to have balance. Success is not just about success for success’s sake, you have to have a reason why you do it. It’s got to give something back to the world, you family or other people.
Outside of work.
I like to tinker with 3D printers at home, I have far too many really! Mainly outside of work it is all about my family. So, it’s doing things with the kids like going out for family walks and getting out into green spaces as well as introducing them to all things technology and engineering and trying to keep them on the right path. Maybe it’s a boring thing to say, but absolutely they are the centre of my life.