Case Study: Greg Bowie
Apprenticeship into engineering
Greg remembers having a curious mind as a young child. He loved looking at things to see how they work, which drove his parents mad! At school he was good at maths and science, and joined the Royal Air Force Air Cadets. He was never interested in going to university, so left school at 16 and took up an apprenticeship at a tool moulding company.
“I was never sort of an academic kind of person, and I find that for me a much more valuable way of learning is getting your hands stuck in, working out how things work …”
Healing broken bones
Greg is currently a manufacturing engineer at Invibio, a company working on biomaterials for medical applications. He uses his hands-on skills and creativity to create and test trauma plates, which are used to hold broken pieces of bone together and allow them to heal. When someone suffers a nasty fracture, they might have one of Invibio’s plates surgically implanted to help stabilise the injury while the bone grows back.
Usually trauma plates are made of metals such as titanium or steel. However, Greg and his team are developing a new material which combines carbon fibres thinner than human hair and plastics.
Greg says the way the material is engineered is much closer to the natural structure of bone, which can lead to good biocompatibility so the plates will encourage broken bones to heal faster. But there are other advantages too:
“When we have these carbon fibre reenforced plastic plates another benefit is that they can X-ray through the plate and see how that bone is developing and healing.”
Learning from failures
When starting his journey into engineering as an apprentice, Greg became resilient by learning from his mistakes. One of his favourites quotes is, “You can’t let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you” (Barack Obama).
Being resilient and patient helps him better to understand the best ratio of carbon fibres to plastic and how the materials should be layered together.
“We’ve got some understanding [of] how the material may work, but we need to make it, we need to test, it we need to see if it fails, how it fails, and [work out] what we need to change.”
In particular Greg and his colleagues need to understand how much carbon fibre reinforced plastic plates bend without breaking (this is called flexural strength), and how tightly screws can be inserted through the material. It goes without saying how important it is to study these properties before a plate goes inside a human body.
Under the sea and other medical applications
Carbon fibre reinforced plastics have become common engineering materials, used everywhere from car components to tennis racquets. They’re also used in pipes for deep sea applications. Being able to tailor the strength and flexibility of the material, they can be ideal for encasing pipes which will have to sit on the seabed without being crushed by the high pressures.
Invibio is also developing other materials for medical applications. For example, they 3D print porous (sponge-like) plastic materials as spinal cages. This allows bone to grow into the implant as well as growing around it.
Gregs loves that his engineering work, and the biomaterials and products he helps to develop, make a difference and improve people’s lives.
“That is what I love about where I work now, it’s an interesting field to be in.”
Going back in time
Greg had a superpower he would like to be able to time travel. Not necessarily into the future: to go back in time, to see how engineers and inventors developed the things they did. That said, he is curious about where biomaterials technology is going to be in 10 years’ time.
“How many bones can we fix in the human body with these plates? Because it not necessarily always suitable for all the applications giving the existing manufacturing process that we use …”
creative, patient, resilient
Case Study: Christopher Robinson
Christopher works as an electronics technician with the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source centre for research.
Tinkering and learning on the job
From a young age, he has been tinkering with different objects learning more about how they work and how they are put together. Christopher finished his A-Levels before he decided to apply for an apprenticeship with STFC. He really enjoyed the practical side of things at school and found that an apprenticeship meant he could carry on developing his hand-on skills and learn from projects.
At STFC I gained invaluable knowledge due to our fantastic apprenticeship scheme
Doing an apprenticeship also meant that he was being paid at the same time he gained qualifications on the job. Another highlight of his apprenticeship was the opportunity to travel abroad:
I was offered the chance to travel to Geneva in Switzerland for 7 weeks to work at CERN, an opportunity that saw me develop and gain many useful skills and personal achievements at the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world!
Christopher loves his job. According to him being an electronics technician means that he is imaginative when he designs and builds electronics circuits which are used in parts of the particle accelerators at ISIS. Christopher is also self-motivated and enjoys the variety of work he does:
Because of the nature of it no two jobs are the same. Each job requires a unique method in order to complete it.
He is also patient as he finds faults and repairs equipment when it fails.
Christopher also enjoys that his work pattern is flexible. This means that there is an opportunity to do some overtime to earn more money, change his working days or simply being on call.
Using knowledge and expertise to help others
Recently, Christopher was really proud to be able to get involved in an important project:
“I have recently been heavily involved in the ventilator challenge at Penlon, repairing and testing ventilators for the Covid-19 outbreak.”
Christopher is so passionated about engineering that during his free time he find engineering related activities to do. He is currently working on a vintage motorcycle and is very excited about the final product.
imaginative, patient, self-motivated
Case Study: XinRan Liu
XinRan is currently a Research Associate at the School of Physics and Astronomy of the Edinburgh University
How things work
XinRan was born in China and moved to Edinburgh when he was 7 years old. He has always been curious to find out how everything in the Universe works. To help him find some answers, XinRan studied science at GCSE and A-Levels. He then decided to study Physics at University.
“I have always been interested in learning how things work: Why are we stuck onto Earth? How does the Moon affect us? Why does gravity not suck us into the Sun? How are stars and galaxies are formed?”
A professional hunter of the invisible
XinRan describes himself as a professional hunter of the invisible. As he further explains,
“Our eyes cannot see tiny cosmic particles which are constantly passing through our planet so particle physics researchers need to use massive detectors that are deep below the Earth’s surface.”
These detectors need to be underground so that they are protected from interference that is present at the surface. These particles rarely interact with anything, so XinRan has to be patient while he waits for them to be detected. He is curious to find out what the particles can tell us about things like what is Dark Matter and origin of the Universe.
XinRan job has taken him to travel the world to work however he has always loved Scotland and he is happy to have found a job at the University of Edinburgh. According to him the best part of his job is as follows:
“It has taken me to some of the most spectacular places around the world many of which are deep underground. It has also introduced me to many amazing people along the way.”
XinRan is also passionate about work with young people. He is recently developed an activity for schools to build mini Mars rovers and exploring the STFC Mars Yard at The Boulby Underground Laboratory.
Getting better at tennis
In his free time XinRan loves reading, kayaking, mountain biking and hiking. He also enjoys watching tennis but when it comes to play it he needs to improve his game.
curious, passionate, patient
A-Levels, GCSEs, PhD, Physics, Research
Case Study: William Pilcher
William is the deputy IT Service Delivery Manager for the Particle Physics Department at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
The importance of apprenticeships
William developed many of his IT knowledge through a one year apprenticeship for STFC. This meant that he could study in college whilst gaining hands on experience at the Rutherford Appleton labs. This gave him great skills and knowledge of this fast paced workplace.
After his apprenticeship, William applied to a full time position with the Particle Physics Department (PPD) and was successful!
“I was ever so grateful for the opportunity presented to me through my apprenticeship, and it’s great to see that there’s a renewed focus on similar pathways for younger versions of me!“
What IT service delivery managers do.
William is responsible for key central management platforms. These are things like Windows/Mac support, anti-virus software and printing solutions. His ideas are shared at staff meetings where everyone can work together. Here they share more ideas and improve plans to support staff across all STFC sites.
“While it’s easy to describe my IT job as “being adept at Googling problems, and even better at switching things off and on again”, there’s a great deal of depth to my day-to-day tasks! “
What does William love about his job?
William loves the wide variety that his work has because it keeps things interesting and exciting! Sometimes he has a large workload and it can feel difficult having a lot of things to do at once. But, it is all worthwhile to get to meet staff from all around the department. He loves to hear what they are up to and about the effects that his work is having.
“Working in such a friendly, open environment is the key benefit to me – if ever there is a quiet moment in my work, I know I can go and speak to colleagues to hear what exciting projects they’re pursuing.”
He has worked in the PPD computing group for five years helping with a variety of projects. He has helped with masterclass open days, introducing computer software and supporting colleagues working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Competitive sports and socialising
Outside of working hours William likes to stay active. He takes part in different competitive sports but enjoys weightlifting and long distance running the most. He believes that having a good social life is very important. Whether that be going to music events with his friends or hiking and meeting new people.
Deputy IT Service Delivery Manager
organised, patient, resilient
Biological anthropologists make comparisons between humans and other animals in order to understand human uniqueness. They compare species across time to unravel the evolutionary history of humans over the last 5 million years. They investigate variation in human development and health, exploring the differences in humans today and in the past.
Attributes: tenacious, hard-working, patient
- The Primary Science Teaching Trust has a downloadable slideshow (PDF) about Dr Kelsey Byers who is an evolutionary biologist. It’s part of their resource A Scientist Just Like Me.
Palaeoanthropologists study the origins and development of early humans using fossil remains. They use biological evidence such as fossilised skeletal remains, bone fragments and footprints alongside cultural artefacts such as stone tools which were made by early humans to discover how the human species developed and evolved.
Attributes: patient, passionate, committed
Robotic technicians work with a team of robotics professionals, assisting mechanical engineers, electronics engineers, and robotics engineers in designing, manufacturing, testing, and repairing robots. A robotics technician acts as a liaison between the development team and the customer. They perform the installation of the robot and provide training on its functions. Robotic technicians are also in charge of maintenance and repairs. They may work in for the government in defence, for the medical industry or in the manufacturing industry.
Attributes: self-motivated, patient, resilient
Astronomers are a type of scientist that study objects in space. There are two types of astronomers. Observational astronomers collect data from satellites and spacecraft using radio and optical telescopes, develop new instruments to gather information and develop software to analyse and interpret data. Theoretical Astronomers develop theories on the physical processes happening in space and analyse data to help develop our understanding of events in the universe.
Attributes: open-minded, self-motivated, patient
Network engineers are involved in the installing, maintaining, servicing and repair of computer data and communication systems. They can be involved in installing new software and hardware as well as creating user accounts and dealing with permissions and passwords for networks.
Attributes: committed, patient, collaborative
Nuclear engineers design, build, maintain and decommission nuclear power plants. Their work involves measuring and monitoring radiation levels, ensuring the plant meets legal requirements for safety and security, supervising power station technicians and planning safe methods of nuclear waste disposal. They maintain the systems which transfer the electricity from the generators to the outside world and design ways to improve the efficiency of nuclear power plants.
Attributes: committed, patient, resilient
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