Holly Campbell - Experimental Materials Scientist at the UK Atomic Energy Authority

Issued: Tue, 30 Jun 2020 00:00:00 BST

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I can play the Pokemon theme song on the glockenspiel from memory!

Tell us about your career journey so far

Last year I obtained my PhD in solid-state chemistry from the University of Glasgow. My project focused on the development of novel superconductors.

Whilst finishing my PhD, I joined the team at Glasgow Science Centre as a science communicator. I spoke to the public about all kinds of science and got to demonstrate some fun experiments too!

Earlier this year I became an experimental materials scientist at the UK Atomic Energy Authority. My research investigates the effects of high energy irradiation on the superconducting magnets used in nuclear fusion reactors.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

Easily chemistry! I loved that everything we learned in chemistry related to the world we can see around us. From various industries, the environment, outer space, all the way through to us humans and our pets! All in all, I was fascinated by it!

Upon reaching university it became very clear to me that learning chemistry would open up many doors because it is such a broad subject. I was very lucky to be introduced at a fairly early point during my undergraduate degree to magnetism and electronic properties in solid materials. I fell in love with that area, known as solid-state chemistry, and it has shaped my career ever since!

What subjects/qualifications are useful for your role?

At school, chemistry, physics and maths would all be very beneficial.

My path involved getting an undergraduate degree, a postgraduate degree and a PhD, which is one route to becoming a scientist.

However, many companies such as my employer UKAEA offer apprenticeships and graduate programmes which train you in the skills needed for technical jobs at a much earlier point e.g. at school leaving age or after an undergrad degree.

Getting my PhD was a dream of mine from a young age, but it’s important to know that there are other options for careers in science and engineering. Ten years at university is not a strict requirement!

What is a normal day in your role like?

I started my role back in April this year, and because of the pandemic I have been working remotely from home here in Scotland. Currently I read a lot of science papers, plan future experiments and have online meetings to discuss progress and new ideas for when everyone is back on site.

What's your favourite thing about your job?

I love that I get to apply my passion for and experience with superconductors to such an amazing cause.

The goal of the UKAEA is to provide sustainable, carbon-neutral energy by harnessing nuclear fusion. For so many reasons the research is very exciting and to know that I’m contributing to the overall mission of the organisation is truly wonderful.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?
Please share links to relevant resources.

One little demonstration I love is the ‘World’s Simplest Electric Motor’. All you need is a small neodymium magnet, a battery and some copper wire.

Here is a link to a YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCSvNyHorgo

The demonstration in the video uses small magnets with holes in the centre at the top of the positively charged end of the battery. An alternative to using the very small magnets is creating a dimple in the raised silver-coloured metal part at the positively charged end of the battery. Both of these options allow the wire to balance effectively whilst spinning round and round.

This demonstration illustrates key principles of magnetism and electricity. When the magnet is attached to the flat negative end of the battery, the free charged particles inside the battery begin to move through the battery because they follow the field lines of the magnets magnetic field. Neodymium magnets conduct electricity, so when the positive end of the battery is connected to the magnet using a copper wire, you create a circuit path for a current composed of charged particles to flow round.

The passage of electrical current in the copper wire generates its own magnetic field. The magnetic field exerts a force of the wire, and this causes the wire to rotate in a circle around the battery.

Lorentz force is the name of the force acting on the wire because of the magnetic field inside it. Lorentz forces inside a nuclear reactor are very powerful, and need to be taken into account when designing the superconducting magnet arrangements! 

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