Material Scientist


Physics, Maths, Further Maths, General Studies and Graphical Design

MPhys Physics at Oxford University

Postgraduate degree
DPhil in experimental condensed matter physics at Oxford University

Rachel uses ultrasound to ensure your safety on planes, trains and rollercoaster rides.

‘I use high frequency sound waves to investigate the properties of materials. Most of the work my research group does is on non-destructive testing – a way of making sure railway tracks, pipework, theme park rides and all sorts of other structures are safe. Ultrasound can reveal hidden wear, defects and cracks before the damage becomes catastrophic.’

Some physicists have to choose between fundamental and applied science, but Rachel’s current research combines both, allowing her to investigate the properties of materials and then apply this knowledge to the real world.

‘The best thing about my job is whatever I’m doing at the time! If you ask me while I’m doing experiments, I’ll tell you how exciting it is to be building equipment, measuring samples and finding out things that no-one else knows. If you ask me while I’m analysing data and writing papers, I’ll talk about how brilliant it is to be able to confirm new ideas and tell other people about them. And if you ask me while I’m teaching, I’ll mention how the nerves of facing a large group of students are easily overcome by the enjoyable challenge of inspiring the next generation of physicists.’

Although Rachel’s focus since school has been on physics and maths, studying graphical design at A-level and learning circus skills in her spare time has proved surprisingly beneficial. ‘Having a bit of art and design to balance all the mathematical subjects was good and it has really come in handy when I’ve been designing new pieces of equipment. And being able to juggle clubs is a great way of introducing linear and rotational motion to my students.’

Juggling may be fun, but for Rachel the most important skill in her job is communication. ‘People picture scientists being stuck in a lab on their own, but there are seven people in my group and we all work together. We also have to communicate our results to other people – there’s no point finding things out and then keeping them secret!’

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