Living the dream
16 Oct 2014




Although Lee Jones (ASTeC) was good at physics and maths at school, at the time he didn’t find science that interesting. We recently caught up with him to find out what inspired him to follow a career in science, engineering and outreach.


Lee Jones
(Credit: Lee Jones)

Although Lee Jones (ASTeC) was good at physics and maths at school, at the time he didn’t find science that interesting. We recently caught up with him to find out what inspired him to follow a career in science, engineering and outreach.

“My A-level choices were maths, physics and metalwork. These were my best subjects at O-level (I got ’As’ for maths and physics). I thought they were a good combination to be an engineer, which was what I wanted to do at the time.” A lecturer at Birkenhead Technical College was the source of Lee’s interest in becoming a mechanical engineer: “David Clack, whom I still remember fondly”

Lee was successful in his A-Levels. In 1987 Lee went to the University of Liverpool to study mechanical engineering… but he didn’t like it! He left at the end of the first term and went into employment. Several years later, the realisation that he had natural ability in physics and a fascination with astronomy and the space programme inspired Lee to try again. “I realised I should have studied physics at university, so in 1994 I embarked on a six year physics/maths degree with the Open University (OU) while working full time for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in electronics (radio, RADAR and avionics repair).” Lee had chosen well. In 2000 he got his first degree from the OU.

At the end of his degree, having taken redundancy from the MoD, Lee approached the STFC (then CCLRC). “I was seeking practical experience (an OU degree is somewhat lacking in this) and was offered a position by Elaine Seddon in the Spin Polarised Photoelectron Spectroscopy group. This quickly led to a PhD research degree in Surface Science, jointly sponsored by the CCLRC and the University of Liverpool. I became fascinated by the SRS while working on this PhD, and a job within STFC working on accelerators became my goal.”

Lee’s dream to join ASTeC became a reality in 2005 and he has been happily working there ever since. “I work in the Accelerator Physics group, specialising in photocathodes and drive lasers for photoinjector electron sources.”

“I love the freedom that research offers, and having ‘big toys’ to play with, whether this is the ALICE or VELA accelerator, or the photocathode R&D systems we have at Daresbury. I really enjoy assembling often complex experimental systems, writing software to integrate all of the equipment, then using this to achieve world class results in photocathode production, and research into the fundamental physics under-pinning their operation.”

QuoteBig science’ costs big money, and having the public on ‘our side’ is a key enabling step to ensuring that government make that funding available to us.Quote

Lee Jones

Whilst working in ASTeC, Lee has been fortunate enough to travel extensively. Having already visited the US (Virginia, New York State, Manhattan, Long Island, Texas, Boston), he was very excited to get the opportunity to visit Novosibirsk in Russia in 2011. He’s also visited many interesting and beautiful places in Europe, such as Heidelberg, Bonn, Dresden, San Sebastian, Berlin and Genoa… to name but a few. “I love the world-wide nature of this work, and the network of international colleagues I have built-up over the years. I am proud to say that I have colleagues at several laboratories in the US, Europe and Russia who I really enjoy working with, and consider friends."

Some aspects of his job are a little challenging though: “I have a number of very different roles within ASTeC/STFC, and sometimes there is simply too much to do!” Time management has always been a challenge for Lee which is not surprising as he finds ‘no’ is the hardest word to say.

Despite the challenges, Lee’s most exciting work experience occurred at Daresbury. “First operation and commissioning of the ALICE accelerator was a very exciting and challenging period for me. This lent itself to a number of key milestones, some of while were UK firsts, such as: first operation of the photocathode electron gun, first acceleration through a super-conducting accelerating module, first ‘turn’ round the ALICE machine, which was followed quickly by full energy-recovery, and then operation of the UK’s first Free-Electron Laser!”

In addition to his ‘day-to-day’ job, Lee coordinates and delivers the public engagement (PE) programme for the Cockcroft Institute (CI), as well as being Chair the Daresbury Section of the Prospect Trade Union.

Lee Jones at Omaha Beach
(Credit: Lee Jones)

“I have been involved with public engagement activities since 2006. At first, I was ‘pressed’ into supporting the annual Particle Physics Masterclass at DL, but found I enjoyed this activity quite a lot. I played a progressively larger role in PE as time went on, and when Naomi Wyles left STFC, I took on the full responsibility for the delivery of ASTeC’s PE programme. This later expanded into a larger role for the CI.”

Over the years, Lee has progressively built-up and improved the activities and resources available for PE events which have had a positive impact on events. “This year’s Particle Physics Masterclass at DL was a fantastic success (thanks also to Wendy Cotterill for her part in that), and the CI exhibit at the 2014 national Big Bang Fair was a fabulous event.”

Lee has gained an enormous number of skills and experience while working within STFC. “In addition to the obvious skills in research and analytical thinking, which are an absolute necessity for my role, I have dramatically improved my communications skills and confidence, and developed significant political skills which have become progressively more important in recent years for the delivery of ‘big science’.” Through his involvement in outreach, Lee’s organisation skills have also improved as well as his planning and delivery skills, all of which are proving invaluable.

Would Lee recommend public engagement work to others? “Absolutely – If you can’t explain your science to a primary school child (KS2), then you don’t understand it! PE is an essential part of a student/scientists work to improve their understanding of their own field, and to instil a sense of wonder in the natural world and our understanding of it.”