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.
Our second curator this week will be Hywel Owen (@hywelowen), Lecturer in Accelerator Physics at the University of Manchester! Here’s Hywel in his own words:
My uncle worked in a diamond mine and we lived in Rhodesia where natural resources were a big part of the national consciousness. I can trace my interest in science from a booklet on minerals and rocks that I had from an early age. Later in London I made many trips to the Natural History and Science Museums, which sparked a lifelong interest in the natural world. Physics seemed the most fundamental subject to study, so I did that and never quite left the field.
I’ve always been more attracted to practical problems, so after a PhD designing liquid crystal light modulators I sort-of fell into the field of particle accelerators. Since then it’s been my passion. There aren’t many subjects where you can work on giant machines that can have such diverse applications from atom-smashing to cancer treatment. I’ve been fortunate to work on a number of big projects, and am still trying to do that.
Right now I’m working mainly in two areas. Firstly, I’m involved in the national effort to develop the next generation of X-ray facility for the UK. There’s a ‘conventional’ technology that I’ve worked on in the past, but we’re looking at alternatives using unusual arrangements of magnetic system, and also trying to make the use of laser acceleration a practical alternative. Secondly, I’m leading a couple of projects to improve the use of proton therapy – my topic is to develop a practical source of protons that can be used directly to make more accurate images of patients so that their radiotherapy has less side-effects. X-rays are okay for making pictures, but protons could be much better.
Most people think particle accelerators are only used as ‘atom smashers’ in places like CERN. However, most of the accelerators in the world are used for things that people will experience. Around 1 in 5 of all people will have radiotherapy at some point, and virtually all radiotherapy uses particle accelerators. They’re also used for sterilisation, water purification, designing better drugs, industrial processing, and can even be used to make silicon chips. Most of us who work designing particle accelerators take the technologies developed for places like CERN, and apply the same ideas to make better and better accelerators that help people’s lives directly. So funding basic science is also funding practical benefits; and we help UK industry to make money from selling new ideas overseas.
Right now I’m pretty busy with the day job, but I’ve had a lot of fun doing talks at the popular SciBar events. These are a great way to hear directly from researchers and to ask questions about what they do.
I’ve done a lot archery over the years, which sounds quite different to particle physics. However, despite the ‘Robin Hood’ connotations modern archery is actually a very technological sport. It’s worth a try, although you won’t get much of an idea just by doing a ‘have a go’ session. I recommend you join a club and try it properly – you’ll see that there’s a lot to it.
What would you do on your ideal day off? Easy – spending a day with my children. Like most scientists I have a big love for the outdoors, and love camping and hiking in the wilderness.
Please welcome Hywel to Real Scientists!