"I always wanted to know how everything worked or didn't work and why things are the way they are."
Driven by her natural curiosity, from a young age Kathryn would opt to read books and encyclopaedias to find answers to the science world's mysteries. She goes on to explain “It's a misconception that science has all the answers. When science is really about having the curiosity to ask questions and to seek out an answer."
From primary to secondary school, Kathryn considered an array of careers to feed her natural sense of wonder. “My brother was the first person in our family to go to university, so we didn't have any specific knowledge of scientific careers back then. I remember thinking I wanted to be an archaeologist, a teacher, an artist and an astronaut. Then throughout my teenage years I wanted to be an RAF pilot." However, due to low blood pressure, she followed STEM subjects because she was naturally good at them and was encouraged to pursue them.
At A-Level she did physics, chemistry, and maths, and went off to do an Integrated Masters in physics at Swansea University. This was followed by a Ph.D. in Raman Spectroscopy of Blood Analysis, where she took on an interdisciplinary approach that meshed physics and medicine to create a diagnostic technique, which could be applied in identifying immunological diseases, deficiencies and allergies. She used that diagnostic technique to carry out clinical trials in her PosDoc on Cancer diagnostics, with a focus on bowel cancer.
Whilst she was on a summer placement, her supervisor, who was linked to the Artemis Team at the CLF, brought her to RAL to do some optical alignment. “There were some long days at the facility, but the sheer density of knowledge and the scale at which science was being done at RAL was invigorating, so I thought if I had the chance to go back I definitely would." After her postdoc, she switched into an industry-based role, where she transitioned into doing advanced spectroscopy in the CLF's Ultrafast group.
Fast-forward three years, Kathryn continues to work in partnership with Johnson Matthey (a global science and Chemicals Company, and a leader in sustainable technologies) as a Senior Applications Scientist and is now the Interim Group Leader of the Industrial Partnership and Innovation Group at STFC. Her role is a 50/50 split between the Central Laser Facility and JM at Harwell. This allows her to not only work at the Harwell Research complex and other STFC sites but also travel to various technology sites that JM has. Her role has adapted as the facility has adapted. In her first year, she was brought in to take care of JM and encourage industry interactions with academia and the facility. Her work has gained momentum and last year STFC launched its IPI group to support the CLF and its scientists to have a mechanism of interacting with industry.
When asked about the best part of her role Kathryn said, “People bring me challenges and opportunities. I know when that happens there is almost always someone in the CLF, or the wider STFC community, that will know how to solve it or will have a unique perspective of how to tackle it." She adds, “In the three years that I've been here, it's been very rewarding to see people use our facilities to solve a problem, which then helped them improve their research and understanding."
One of the most useful skills Kathryn has gained at STFC is how to translate highly-advanced complex technology and science into an approachable and applicable technique for industrial scientists. “When the IPI group and CLF scientists solve an industrial challenge and it has a tangible scientific or economic output for the benefit of everyone in the UK" is what gives her the most job satisfaction.
One of the most exciting things Kathryn has seen at STFC is when Pavel and Tony's CLF spinout Cobalt was acquired by Agilent. “It demonstrated the whole life cycle of being an innovative scientist. It showed us how you can translate advanced technology into something commercial and useful to everyday life that has the potential to drive an entire sector. I got to learn about the commercialisation lifecycle - how a technique was discovered, the science explored, the spinout created, portfolio expanded and successful acquisition. It definitely inspired me to learn more about the innovation process and motivates me to drive innovation and creative thinking across the CLF".
Kathryn in 5 years envisages an established IPI group with an industry facility access panel, and collaborative R&D programme. She also spoke about how she'd like to have a building. “Whether it be to lead a building or be involved in the process, to be part of a building that is delivering state-of-the-art laser based technology and material characterisation expertise to our stakeholders. I would love to see something like that in the up and coming years."
Every member of staff that is profiled on in. focus is asked to answer a couple of simple questions that we think will help you to get to know them better.
Did you have an alternative career choice?
What music do you like?
Anything but mainly classical. In the summer and to exercise I do like Dance music.
What was your favourite board game during childhood?
If you had a time machine, which period would you go to?
I'd like to go to at least a 1000 years into the future
What one person in history (dead or alive) do you admire the most?
Where is your favourite place on Earth?
What book are you currently reading (or, if you aren't reading one, what's your favourite book)?
I'm reading 4 right now “Apocalypse Cow", “The Power of Habit", “Dragonlance" and “The Undercover Economist."
What is your favourite food?
Pasta, pasta, pasta
If you had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, what would it be?