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Alex Dickinson-Lomas

  • What is your current job / programme of study? 

PhD student in electron microscopy and nuclear reactor structural materials. 

  • What A-Levels (or equivalent) did you do? 

 Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Further Maths.

  • Why did you chose a career in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE)? 

I didn’t quite! I only discovered materials science when I chose a university undergraduate course in Nuclear Engineering which turned out to be based in a materials science department. However, since then I have worked as a mechanical engineer and am now carrying out research in materials science. I hope to continue in the field because there is such a lack of specialist materials science knowledge in industry, and this is limiting the way engineers can problem solve and design innovative new machines and buildings.  

  • What did you enjoy most about your MSE course? 

I loved being in the lab! My favourite practical session was when we were handed various components similar to those used in a nuclear plant and were given pretty much free reign to chop things up, prepare samples for different kinds of analysis and had to be the detectives and explain what materials had been used for these items and why.  

  • What is your research about?  

I am trying to understand how the combination of different elements (manganese, nickel and silicon specifically) in iron alloys affects how the microstructure of the material and how this changes when the material is exposed to radiation.  

  • What is the coolest thing you have done in your career so far?  

 It is awesome getting to try out experiments that are the sort of thing I imagined doing when I was at school! I prepare samples for the microscope by cooling very concentrated acid down to –30°C with liquid nitrogen whilst running extremely high currents through the liquid. I then dip my samples into it. It’s not scientifically very complicated but it feels pretty cool with all the electricity and frozen acid and bubbling liquid nitrogen everywhere! 

  • What do you see yourself doing in the future? 

Going on some exciting mountaineering adventures (my dream is to hike and rock climb in Patagonia and the Tian Shan) and continuing to invest time in my hobbies and interests outside of work.  

  • What is your favourite material (and why)?  

I love glasses. Their lack of ordered structure of atoms gives them some amazing properties (such as transparency!)  and they have many uses outside of windows and cookware. My favourite type of glass is the borosilicate glass used to contain highly radioactive waste extracted from spent nuclear fuel.  

Glass is a brilliant encapsulation material for ions because it is extremely chemically stable and it’s hard for ions to diffuse through it. Borosilicate glass is especially resistant to thermal shock compared to other glasses so it can withstand the heat generated from the radioactive material without expanding and cracking. 

  • What advice would you give your 16 year old self? 

 You don’t need to know what you want to do with your whole future right now! Pick something you enjoy and find interesting and this will lead you to exciting places you haven’t even heard of yet. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind about things. 

  • External links 

Linked In: LinkedIn  

Instagram: Alex D-L (@adl_dangerlover)