What we do
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How long have you worked at AWE?
I have worked at AWE for over 30 years.
Describe your role?
During the last few years, I have been involved in materials science research at AWE, specifically composites and how they support the UK’s nuclear deterrent. As Head of Profession for Chemistry & Materials Science, my scope is to raise the profile of and participation in professional body activities and maintain our accreditations with The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, to further strengthen a culture of continuing professional development.
What is you previous experience?
During the early years of my career as a Scientific Officer at the then AWRE, I investigated the properties and behaviour of carbon fibre to support research and development activity in composites. My role then expanded to cover various carbon-resin and carbon-carbon composites for structural applications. I have supported our international interactions and have presented at several scientific conferences. I have also worked with UK academia to further research in materials and analytical sciences.
What is important about your discipline?
Everything! ‘Chemistry is all, but all is not chemistry’ as my school teacher often said. ‘Heavy’ Chemistry dominated the wealth creating in the western world in the early 20th century, although rarely in isolation. Polymer chemistry created much of the world we know today; Biochemistry created many of the medicines that keep us healthy into old age; Agricultural chemistry enables the world to continually expand it capability to feed ourselves using fertilizers and pesticides; and Materials chemistry will now drive change into the 21st century as we learn how to control and manipulate atoms and molecules into the forms we need.
Who do you work with?
I work with scientists and engineers, from the US and from UK industry on AWE projects. I provide technical review and advice on collaborative projects developing new UK capabilities in composites. As Head of Profession, I maintain close links with professional institutions, industry and academia, although this is already very strong in the community. I have also sponsored a number of graduate projects and outreach events at local schools.
What is a typical day like?
There is no such thing as a ‘typical day’ in my role! During my time at AWE I have been involved with so many different activities, often running consecutively, that a usual day normally means working on quite different projects in different roles balancing the delivery needs with the available time (never enough!). It can be very varied, with the odd ‘must be done today’ thrown in for good measure. I can be working on anything from the latest high performance aerospace composites to professional competencies supporting AWE’s business transformation.
What projects are you working on?
I am the materials science link with industry supporting a number of joint projects which include scientist working in each other’s organisations. Working with industry, we facilitate and coordinate the varied projects that have included high performance computing, materials for additive manufacturing, and analysis of high performance materials.I am also involved as a materials subject matter expert with a joint UK industry and US project to develop processes to manufacture aerospace composites for the future. A very interesting project but one that can also get deep into the ‘politics’ of IPR/knowledge sharing.
Share your views on the importance of research or STEM
As we have moved out of the ‘Industrial Age’ of the last century (often termed the 3rd Industrial Age) the UK has lost some of its leading edge in manufacturing. Moving into the 4th Industrial Age and the rise of technology, STEM will be critical and fundamental to the UK’s future prospects in an ever-shrinking and competitive world. To lead in this world of technology and the Internet of Things, it will be essential that we culture the interest in STEM and educate across a wide platform our future generations to equip them with the skills needed. We have to influence, entertain and encourage current students to take up the call to be the future engineers, scientists and teachers we so badly need.
What do you think is the biggest global challenge for your discipline?
With the world's population projected to reach nine billion by 2050 and the ever-rising socio-economic disparities, even with the general rise in the standard of living around the world, there is not just one big challenge for chemistry & materials.Individuals, communities, companies and nations all have a role to play in tackling these interconnected global challenges, in order to provide every person in every country with water, food, energy and a home, in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. The RSC’s seven priority areas best sum up the challenges; the themes of sustainable development and climate change underpin the majority of those.