Making Apple Watch

As a counterpoint to Monday’s post about building giant ships by throwing huge slabs of steel around, here’s the opposite end of the metalworking spectrum: the precision metallurgy and machining that goes into making Apple Watch.

Product Designer Greg Koenig has a terrific blog post which dissects what little Apple has said about the Watch with a fanatical eye. All he has to go on is this set of films about the ‘craftsmanship’ involved:

From there, Koenig explores work hardening; gold metal matrix composites; ultrasonic imperfection testing of the sort usually applied only to medical implants or aircraft engine components; the order of polishing vs. machining operations; stainless steel alloys and nickel allergies; forging and the effect of grain structure; datum detection and coordinate measuring; …

I could go on. Koenig does, and it’s fascinating. Turns out, the steel and aluminium watches are made using quite different processes (forging and extrusion, respectively), and there’s something extraordinary going on with the aluminium version:

Apple is doing something utterly unique […] using a laser to clean up any burrs or finishing defects from machining. You can see the laser quickly outline the lip of an inside pocket, and come in for a more intense second pass on the floor of that pocket. […] this is an astonishingly brilliant trick they cooked up.

Materials Science and Metallurgy are fields that are easy to overlook, but so many of the devices and technologies of our lives depend on continued innovation at all levels of the supply and manufacturing chain. Mass production has been one of the key technologies of the last hundred years or so, but there are still new advances to be found.

Do read the rest of Koenig’s post. If you find it as utterly compelling as I do, bear in mind that you’d get to work with this stuff most likely from studying physics, chemistry and design technology in school. You’d go on to fields like physics, chemistry, materials science, product design, or mechanical engineering, then specialise into surface physics, metallurgy, production engineering, quality control, and so on.

Watch a gigantic ship being built in six minutes

Projects like Think Physics spend a lot of time illustrating how engineering careers mostly aren’t about welding or metalwork. But there’s still something plain cool about seeing huge slabs of steel being thrown around by massive cranes and slotted together like oversize Lego. This video is the cruise ship AIDAprima being built in Nagasaki, Japan, between June 2013 and May 2014.

On board are two water slides, climbing walls, a lavish sports deck, 1643 guest rooms, thirteen restaurants and some sort of clever roof I don’t quite understand. Underneath is what sounds like a fiendishly clever air bubble system which reduces friction between the hull and the sea it’s travelling through, which is claimed to reduce fuel consumption by 7%. That’s a huge saving for a ship of this size (more technical details about the ship here).

When we’re talking about cutting edge engineering innovations and the exciting career opportunities that are emerging from breakthrough sectors, it’s worth remembering that the traditional heavy engineering companies are also still doing cool stuff. Ship building, power generation, mining, machine tool production – they’re all busy fields, and they’re not standing still when it comes to new technologies and approaches.

(video via the superlative blog The Kid Should See This)


North-East Skills 2015

We’ve been to Mars.

Not literally. We’d be the radiation-fried husks of the team formerly known as ‘Think Physics’ if we’d tried, not to mention somewhat over-budget. No, this week we took a model of Mars to the North-East Skills event. Here’s what our stand looked like, and some of the things visitors did with us:

Our intrepid explorers tested their rover-wrangling skills and strained their talent for communication to the limit as they guided their robotic rovers across our simulated Martian surface. Which all looked a bit Blue Peter, we admit, but what we were doing was surprisingly close to what real Mars rover teams do. The Curiosity rover that’s currently driving around Mars is picking up significant wheel damage, and to understand what’s going on the NASA and JPL team have been driving a test rover around a ‘Mars Yard’ – literally a back yard decked out to look like Mars. Here’s a terrific article about the wheel damage, and the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Amanda Steffy walks through the engineering challenge in this film:

It’s not just the Americans who are building Mars rovers. Here in the UK, Airbus are building the rover component of the European Exomars mission. Here’s Abby Hutty of Airbus talking about her role in the project:

…and some more background about the science that the rover will be doing, including more clips of the Mars surface simulation just outside London:

So our simulation wasn’t too far off the mark, for a five-minute activity. We were also handing people fragments of meteorites, and talking to them about the skills and attributes they might use in a STEM career. We had hundreds of terrific conversations – big thanks to everyone who turned up the stand, it was a delight to meet you all.

For those of you who missed out, here’s our Mars Mission Flier (PDF, 1.2Mb).

Huge fun, and we’ll hope to see you again next year.

Degree Apprentice Software Engineer Opportunity

Completed your Post-16 qualifications and thinking what next?  Why not consider this fantastic opportunity with the HMRC, Newcastle upon Tyne.  Under the direction of product managers, scrum masters and technical leads, you’ll work with software developer colleagues to build, develop, test and deploy digital services for our users. This diverse role means you will gain experience in working in a fast paced agile/scrum development environment; as well as gaining experience in developing digital and web solutions.

There are 15 vacancies, you will be paid a starting salary of £23,367 a year, and study towards a BSc (Hons) in Digital and Technology Solutions at Northumbria University!

Sound good?  For more information click here

Accenture: Apprenticeship Open Evening

Accenture is a multinational digital company who support businesses to develop their: Strategy, Digital, Operations, Technology and Industry. They have a range of opportunities from apprenticeships through to graduate programs, intern opportunities and summer vacation schemes.  Accenture looks after a number of projects for clients including the NHS, aerospace and finance sectors, and have even been involved with Google Glass and Universal Music!

They have a large base in Newcastle and are currently recruiting apprentices.

Find out more: 

On Wednesday 6th May (16:30 – 18:30) Accenture will be hosting an open evening for students, parents, guardians, teachers and careers advisers to find out more about their apprenticeship scheme.

What does the evening involve?

  • Meet current apprentices and find out their thoughts about the scheme
  • Speak with apprenticeship leads regarding opportunities at Accenture and the types of projects you could be working on
  • Receive great advice from the recruitment team on CV writing, interview techniques and the recruitment process (remember to bring your CV)!
  • Pizza!

The evening is aimed at school leavers or for young people who are perhaps interested in exploring further opportunities.

Location: Accenture, Cobalt Business Park, Newcastle Upon Tyne,  Tyne and Wear NE27 0QQ

For more information click: Newcastle Apprenticeships  or contact Stella Gauld by emailing on:

Featured Video: Ellie Gangel is currently on the apprenticeship scheme at Accenture and is really enjoying her time with the company. Think Physics had the opportunity to film her at Accenture. We were very impressed by Ellie’s enthusiasm towards her role, as well as the apprenticeship scheme on offer.  Ellie has some great advice for anyone considering this post-16 opportunity. Find out more by watching Ellie.


Your Future with Physics

The Institute of Physics (IOP) have have recently added some great new videos to their website.  They showcase how physics graduates use and apply the skills gained whilst studying physics to their work.

The skills acquired from studying physics are transferable and highly valued by employers.  According to the IOP studying physics helps you to develop:

  • Analytical skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Numerical skills
  • Ability to think objectively
  • Investigative skills
  • Communication skills

… as well as many more.

For example, in the video at the start of this post, Vinnie Kalcut, who is a senior finance analyst at record company BMG Chrysalis, discusses how she uses her physics skills as part of a company unearthing musical talent!

To find out more about Vinnie, and other physicists putting their skills to use across a variety of sectors visit the IOP website – Your Future with Physics  

Teachers: The videos are great to use as session starters in classes to promote future career possibilities, and the transferable skills students gain by studying physics!



The Satellite Sector

The UK space sector currently supports 95,000 full-time jobs – and is growing.

Space in the UK contributes an impressive £11.3 billion to the UK economy each year and has been growing at an average of 7.2% over the last 2 years.
(from Shaping the future of the UK space sector – UK Government)

By 2030 it is hoped the Space sector will contribute over £40 billion to the UK economy whilst creating over 100,000 further jobs. Expansion in the satellite sector is being supported by Catapult – Satellite Applications. Their mission: To innovate for a better world, empowered by satellites”. The positions they’re currently recruiting for give an idea of their work:

  • Senior Fisheries Analyst – working on a project codenamed “eyes of the seas” which includes delivering human analytics to provide solutions to end illegal fishing
  • Space Innovation Facilitator – educating and inspiring the public sector on the uses of satellite applications and data
  • Internships to investigate radio receiver development, signal processing and multi sensor positioning

Here in the North East, we’ve a Satellite Centre of Excellence with a key focus on engaging business and looking at ways of using data to support the offshore oil, gas and renewable technologies sectors; transport and logistics; and software and applications development.

There will also be a range of job opportunities for people with an interest in satellites, as well as businesses who could use to their advantage satellite data. All will require people with skills and knowledge in STEM subjects.  There will also be lots of new opportunities which have not even been thought of yet!

Teachers: you may find the video at the top of this post useful, and also this “Satellites for Everyone” PDF.

Future Opportunities: Atom Bank creating new jobs

Atom Bank is a new company which hopes to open as a bank in October 2015, and aims to employ 450 employees over the next five years. Located in Durham, Atom Bank describes itself as “designed for digital” and wants to offer the customer a new, innovative experience in banking, for those who engage with new ideas and new technologies.

Teachers: this is a great example to share with pupils to highlight career possibilities within the financial sector, which combine banking with digital and business roles.  In Atom bank, and companies like it, there will be careers in:

  • People and customer experience
  • Technology
  • Marketing and propositions
  • Finance and risk
  • Operations
  • Business

Job titles include: marketing, business analysts, solutions architects, technical architects, credit risk manager and financial crime (though we think that means preventing crime, not carrying it out).

Post 16 subject choices: Combinations of Maths, Computer Science,  Physics, Further Maths, Business Studies, and ICT will be useful for students aiming for careers in this sector.


Twitter: @atom_bank

The IET launch #LittleEngineers

The IET have just launched a lovely campaign called Engineer a Better World.  There is also a great accompanying video which encourages children to remain curious and inquisitive.  As the video plays, children are seen stopping and wondering about objects in the world around them.  Although both boys and girls are shown, one of its key messages is that girls and boys can be engineers. It also highlights that 0nly 6% of engineers in the UK are female.

The video is focused on primary school aged children, which is a good idea. This is the age when we should be starting to share ideas about careers with children, and more importantly, parents.

I would also encourage you to read the accompanying report about the IET research into perceptions and understanding of engineering.  Key points from the report are:

Fewer than half of parents of girls would encourage their children to consider a career in engineering, compared to two thirds of parents of boys. More than half of parents feel that engineering careers are more for boys, and children’s views are largely similar.

Two thirds of parents don’t feel they know enough to help their child if asked for advice on engineering – although the majority said they would like to know more after being shown additional information about careers in engineering and technology.

By involving parents earlier in the careers process they too can promote and feel more equipped to advise their children.  If a parent thinks engineering is ‘just’ about fixing engines its understandable why they are not promoting these options to their daughters.  If parents know about the many areas of engineering, the creativity and opportunities it can offer, they may be more inclined to encourage their daughters to become engineers.

Starting careers information and advice earlier allows children and parents more chance to find out about a wider variety of different careers.  At the moment, these conversations occur at about the same time as young people are making choices about GCSEs and concentrating on exams (and their social life).  Careers advice should be a much more sustained process over years of careers discussions and practical investigations, with emphasis placed on the skills and attributes needed to be successful in different careers.

This video, and the campaign by the IET, is a step in the right direction.

Embedding Careers Advice in Schools

On Monday 2nd March the BBC published an article called  All schools need trained careers teachers, says charity. The article reported on calls from Teach First that more needs to be done in schools relating to careers advice.

All schools in England should have a teacher trained to give high-quality careers advice, particularly to poorer pupils… Without a fresh effort, careers advice in schools will remain ‘fragmented and ineffective’.”
Teach First.

Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan responded to the report saying that there were many schools and colleges doing “fantastic work” but there was also too much provision that was “patchy and in places inadequate.” She also mentioned that in many cases teachers did not have the time to dedicate to careers nor the training to deliver good careers advice. Ms Morgan then commented that the government’s new Careers and Enterprise company, announced late last year, would help schools to develop links with employers and improve pupils employability.

This reference to the new Careers and Enterprise company is interesting – it’s being sold as if it will make careers advice in schools magically better.

The new enterprise company sounds like a good idea, but as yet we don’t know much about it. With the best intentions in the world, employers still won’t be able to link to every child and young person. They do not really have the time to… they have businesses to run! Similarly, I don’t believe that a visit from one employer is going to create a school full of young people wanting to do whatever it is the company are encouraging pupils to consider. The Careers and Enterprise company may be part of a solution, but interventions and engagements need to be sustained and meaningful: there is not a quick fix.

Another part of the answer may lie in better training for schools and teachers, and a careers strategy from primary school age through to post-16 which lies at the heart of the national curriculum. I think careers advice needs to be central, embedded and expected in most lessons. It should become second nature to teachers, providing meaning and context for what is being learnt.

You have a maths lesson, with no idea why you are learning certain topics; would it not be better to show how maths, and the skills you are developing, apply and will support you in the future? Engineering, accountancy, hairdressing, plumbing or sport, all require a mathematical understanding. Would this not help pupils better understand why they are learning something and how they can apply it, as well as introducing the many different careers out there?

For me, this is one of the problems with careers education, that we do not make enough use of careers examples within our lessons. Yes some teachers do, but not consistently and there is no guidance or expectation that teachers should make careers links consistently.

My personal opinion is that careers advice should be incorporated in the majority of lessons, not bolted on or exclusively discussed in citizenship and similar lessons. Teachers should be able to go to a website for example for this information, carry out regular personal CPD, and easily find role models/employers they can use to clearly highlight careers links from their lesson topics. These should be included in lessons, and examples and challenges set around them.

Currently career guidance is compulsory from Year 8. This is too late. Some young people are fully aware of what they want to study, and have a career in mind by 13 years of age, but the majority don’t have a clue! Also, how can you have high aspirations if you are not aware of the careers available to you?

We should be introducing pupils to careers earlier to inform the choices they need to make from year 9. Whole schools need to take some ownership of their role within careers advice, rather than leaving one person to deal with careers and progression (a problem shared, is a problem halved as they say)! If not, we may keep witnessing the year 11 head or teacher with careers responsibilities firefighting a situation which could be much more easily and effectively dealt with earlier on.

This whole school approach is backed by the research carried out by ASPIRES (2013) which suggested that STEM careers advice should be embedded within science lessons, as well as much earlier interventions relating to STEM careers information in primary school. Otherwise, we risk secondary careers information, advice and guidance being ‘too little, too late’.