I usually wake up around 7am to shower, have breakfast and make a sandwich. I then walk (or run, depending on how elaborate that sandwich was) to the station and catch a train to Sutherland. From there, the ANSTO shuttle takes around 15 mins, passing through some genuinely lovely bush and river views.
I arrive at work at 9am on most days, though this is quite flexible, and begin my day checking the ANSTO intranet and my emails over a cup of coffee. The intranet is a good way to keep track of organisational news and research highlights across the broad range of work happening at ANSTO. I’m also in frequent email correspondence with my supervisors, instrument scientists at ANSTO, and external collaborators such as researchers from the British Antarctic Division, as my current project has an environmental science focus.
I have a meeting with each of my two project supervisors once a week. These are really helpful for giving structure to my project and getting feedback on my work. They typically begin with me giving an overview of what I’ve been working on in the past week, sharing the results of that work, and detailing any questions or challenges that have arisen as part of that. My supervisor provides comments and feedback on that work, as well as pointing me to papers or often, really helpfully, to other experts within ANSTO such as instrument scientists and we discuss how the project should progress from there.
I was somewhat worried at first that my physics and chemistry background was out of alignment with the project I am working on as it is environmental science based. These concerns were quickly dispelled though, and my supervisors have made me feel that my distinct background allows me to contribute more in certain parts of the project, particularly in the spectroscopy and modelling aspects. Most of all though it’s been a great opportunity to learn a bunch of new science, and I’ve been very lucky to have two supervisors who have both been willing to share their expertise in paleoclimatology and hydrogeochmistry respectively, with me. Another great part of working in Environment division has been that everyone seems to be into the outdoors, and my supervisors and I spend a decent amount of time chatting about trail running and rock climbing and scuba diving.
Along with experimental work, I spend a decent amount of time on data analysis, both from results that I’ve collected, and on previous datasets collected by my supervisor. This is somewhere that my physics background has been quite useful, being comfortable working in the programming languages of Python and R. I quite enjoy listening to some music and writing code for a few hours. I’ve been lucky enough to be given my own office, which has a pretty sweet view and sees lots of birds flying past every day.
Besides having lots of trees and wildlife, ANSTO has its own oval. Lunchtime social soccer runs most days, and is a great way to stay fit, break up the day, and meet people from across site. There’s also an annual competition which is due to start soon with over 100 participants and word is we can expect big things from team “Free Gradicals”.
In the afternoon I like to do experimental work, the focus of which is a lake sediment core from subantarctic Macquarie Island. I enjoy having both the analytical and experimental components to my project, as it gives greater variety to the work than always being at my desk. It’s also great having the opportunity to work with the unique infrastructure available at ANSTO, and with the expert instrument scientists.
I’m currently working with scientists from ANSTO’s Centre for Accelerator Science, using the 2MV STAR Tandem accelerator for Ion Beam Analysis. This basically involves firing very high-energy hydrogen atoms at my core samples, which cause the samples to emit X-rays that are characteristic of the elements in the sediment. The accelerator is easily the largest instrument I’ve ever worked with, taking up half the floor space of a dedicated building.
For Ion Beam Analysis I prepare my samples, weighing, grinding, and pressing the sediments into pellets, before loading these samples for runs with the instrument scientists, and interpreting results together.
This is just one of several experimental techniques I work with in the project. Others include X-Ray fluorescence core scanning, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, and lead-210 dating by alpha spectrometry.
Most days I finish at 5 and get the bus and train home.
After work I like to head to the bouldering gym for a climb with friends. It’s a bit of an obsession and also a great way to get exercise. Occasionally we’ll even head out to the bush in Sutherland near ANSTO where there’s some quality outdoor bouldering on real rock.
After climbing I have dinner, saving leftovers if I want to avoid the running-late-because-of-my-sandwich run to the station tomorrow, and go to bed.