So after a very intense six months, I've come to remember that I have a website, and realise how much it has been neglected!
After many stressful weeks working as a consultant in the renewables industry, I decided in March that it wasn't for me, and that I wanted to return to research. Happily, my first opportunity turned into a position, and I now work in the atom probe group at the University of Oxford as a postdoc. Not a bad place to come to restart your academic career!
It's really good to be back in the lab, reading papers and analysing data. I'd forgotten how much I missed the creativity of it. My role requires me to help in the running of the instrument and the laboratory, as well as running samples for industry and academic partners.
Atom Probe Tomography is a very interesting subfield of material science that allows you to image the atomic structure of a material in 3 dimensions. Samples are sharpened into very fine tips (50nm in radius at the top, too small to see even in a microscope!) either using chemical etching or ion-beam milling. They are then subjected to a very high static electric field (5-10kV), in addition to a pulse of either AC voltage or a high power laser. The voltage or laser pulse puts the atoms in the tip 'over the top', evaporating a few thousand per second.
The atoms evaporated are then collected by a delay-line detector which records their position and mass/charge ratio (which tells you which element they are). Over several hours the atoms evaporated from the surface can be reconstructed to give a 3D map of the tip, allowing you to track things like precipitates in alloys, radiation damage in nuclear reactor walls or dopants in semiconductors.
Being the guy running this kit is a great opportunity, as I get to learn all about a new technique on a number of different projects, building up my skills and knowledge so that if one day I want to do my own research proposal, I know the strengths and limitations of the device and technique.
I'm still writing, mostly on the big sekrit projeckt, but I'm also going to start using this place to talk about my research as it's interesting (to me at least!)