It’s my particle and I can science if I want to! Join us for this very exciting week at Real Scientists, which will be split up among 5 wonderful researchers that are all working with one of the most fascinating machines in the world.
Physics just edged the other subjects for me when deciding on a university course. I recall being inspired by the distilled beauty of the classic Landau & Lifshitz book “Mechanics” which I perused in the Boolean Library in University College Cork. I went on to do a PhD in plasma physics at the JET (Joint European Torus) tokamak at Culham. About 10 years ago I switched from one Oxfordshire lab to another and started afresh in the accelerator physics field. As a boy I enjoyed solving cryptic crossword clues with my father and today I experience the same satisfaction when the puzzle, after a long period of racking brains and many false turns, finally gives up its secrets.
The idea of working in a small group at the cutting edge of accelerator physics appealed to me. It is possible for innovations to be made even by relatively small collaborations. The fact that our work may lead to accelerators better meeting the requirements of a range of applications is certainly motivating. However it is more the thrill of making a conceptual breakthrough, the excitement of accelerating a beam in a new type of machine and the camaraderie among the team that make this a great field in which to work.
A lot of the time I work on the lovechild of the synchrotron and cyclotron known as the FFAG (Fixed Field Alternating Gradient accelerator). There has been a resurgence on work on FFAGs since the turn of the century, after many years of neglect. A compact FFAG called EMMA (Electron Model for Many Applications) was built at Daresbury Laboratory near Warrington, UK. I was part of the team that commissioned this innovative machine and proved that it works. Lately, I’ve worked on building a tabletop device to study accelerator physics in an analogue system.
Accelerators certainly have many practical applications that may interest the public – for example radiotherapy, medical isotope production, sterlisation and cargo scanning. However, I don’t think public interest is always confined to the strictly utilitarian (as evidenced by the media hype around the search for the Higgs boson at the LHC). Particle accelerators are fascinating in their own right – conveying this to the public without descending into a miasma of arcane terminology requires the skill of a science communicator.
I have a 1 month old and a 3 year old daughter to keep me busy! My eldest and I sometimes get stuck in a loop where I answer questions which she always follows up with a “Why?”. Like all good scientists she is not happy with leaving basic assumptions untested.
What would you do on your ideal day off? I would be transported for the day to one of my favourite destinations – the Dingle peninsula in Kerry, the medina of Tangier or Abel Tasman National Park on South Island, NZ. My wife and daughters would be with me – part of the fun would be enjoying the wonderful, imaginative train of thought of our three year old. A day of exploring would be followed by sampling the local cuisine (and in the case of Dingle – a pint in one of the unique pubs there).
Please welcome David to Real Scientists!