Christopher Robinson
23 Apr 2024



Christopher is an Electronics Technician with the Radio Frequency RF Group’s Linac section. After taking his GCSEs, he joined the RAL Apprenticeship Scheme and joined ISIS.


What first piqued your interest in engineering?

I have had an interest in engineering from a young age, particularly in electronics. I would always question how things worked, and why things broke, and would frequently take things apart to find out! I knew that I'd rather learn hands on by doing an apprenticeship than learning from a textbook in a classroom, so I left school after GCSEs and joined the RAL apprenticeship scheme.

I left school as soon as I'd achieved my GCSEs at 16 years old to join the RAL apprenticeship scheme. The first year of the scheme was achieved purely at the BMW college in Cowley, where I had 1 day release learning in the classroom and physical hands-on learning for the remaining 4 days. I really enjoyed this balance, and the physical work was always engaging. I learned a vast array of skills including basic electronics, electrical wiring, hydraulics, pneumatics, turning and milling.

After completing the first year, I continued to day release to BMW for classroom learning but came onto site to learn on the job. I got to familiarize myself with many electronics-based departments on site and learned many skills I'd need to work with them. Following the completion of my 4-year apprenticeship, I then advanced to a HNC at JTL and OAS in Culham where I learned more advanced electronic theory.

Did you have a role model that influenced your decision to work in science?

My role model was probably Fred Dibnah, I really enjoyed watching him tinker with machines from a bygone era on TV. It very much led to my interest in engineering and restoration.

What are your main memories when you look back on this first start in your career?

Even from very early on when I first came onto site from college, I was doing jobs that benefitted the machine, soldering up adaptor boxes and repairing amplifiers, under supervision of course! This was highly beneficial to me, as I could finally see the work I was carrying out going to good use instead of being a practice job in college.

Please could you tell us about your current role.

Following my apprenticeship, I moved into the ISIS RF group Linac section. We are tasked with maintaining and developing the 70Mev drift tube linear accelerator, constructed of 4 tanks, an RFQ and a debuncher, driven by 5 200KW amplifiers 4 2MW amplifiers. Parts of the system are over 65 years old, tank 3 for instance was constructed in 1956, so it's very important to keep on top of maintenance, and to design new pieces of equipment to aid in the running and protection of the machine, and the equipment the operates it.

What is a typical day like for you?

 On a typical day in a cycle, I'd most likely be developing and assembling projects. Most recently I've been working on a new design for a 130A pulsed power supply for our drift tube magnets to replace our current aging power supplies built in the 1990's. This involves electronic design, PCB design and eventually manufacture and assembly. I'd also be working on checking the Linac, inspecting for any early signs of component failure that might need attention in a shutdown.

What do you enjoy the most?

Development is my favourite part of the job. Mainly because I can see it through from start to finish, from a scribble on a whiteboard, to a finished device in service.

Did you ever doubt your abilities? If so, how did you handle these situations/feelings?

When I first started working on the Linac I would worry about potentially worsening a situation or not being able to diagnose a fault. I found that taking time and care and splitting the system down into its separate components makes the task much more manageable. Talking a problem through with other members of staff helps too, everybody is trying to achieve a common goal and I've found are generally happy to help!

What have been the main benefits so far of working at ISIS?

For me the experiences I've had and variety of jobs I've completed have given me a vast spectrum of knowledge which I can use to perform more complicated repairs and develop more complicated equipment. Just developing the new power supply for our drift tube quadrupole magnets has taught me much about switch mode power supplies, current regulation, and inductor characteristics.

What has been the most rewarding experience so far of being at ISIS?

For me the most rewarding experience has been the development and installation of a system to detect the operation of our existing pulse power supplies. The system uses inductive current pickups to sample the current flowing through the quadrupole coils, compares this against a reference voltage and determines whether the power supply is delivering sufficient current, for all 32 power supplies simultaneously, 50 times per second. This job was delivered in a fairly short time period due to the unreliability of the existing system, and I was immensely proud when it was installed and operational.

What has been the most challenging experience so far? Or what have been the biggest obstacles to overcome so far?

The most challenging experience has been the development of the new 130A pulse power supplies for the tank 1 quadrupoles. The task was more complicated than I had initially expected it to be, and therefore required a redesign after my first prototype. This task required me to do a lot of self-research and experimentation to produce a good working prototype, but I've learned a lot because of it, and next time I work on a development project like this, I will have this experience to work from.

What kind of training have you had so far that has proved the most useful?

On the job training has been the most useful for me, I find learning by doing and learning from mistakes to be far more rewarding than learning from a book or being told. I've made many mistakes and learned many things to consider when designing PCBs and new pieces of equipment, but making the mistake once means that I won't make it again on the next run. This has taught me much about different components and configurations, and which ones are required for different applications.             

How would you encourage young people to get into the discipline you have chosen? What words of advice would you give someone hoping to make it into a career?

If you're curious about how things work, find yourself thinking about new and different ways to achieve or optimise tasks, engineering is a fantastic career to get into. There are so many different aspects of engineering, for me electronics is the most interesting, as a project consists of many different aspects. From spending the time designing and drawing it up, to designing PCBs, making a chassis using machine tools and hand fitting, assembly, and testing. Skills and proficiency come with time and experience and will be picked up as you go.

Finally, your work in three words.

Interesting, Varied, Rewarding

Contact: de Laune, Rosie (STFC,RAL,ISIS)