After studying Physics at Durham University, Richard joined the CDT in Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Bristol. During his first year, he did a 3-month project with ISIS' Toby Perring modelling the results of Inelastic Neutron Scattering experiments. It was this, combined with work during his master's year on X-ray crystallography that got him interested in large facilities.
At the end of the first year of the CDT programme, Richard applied for an ISIS facility development scheme project with Russell Ewings, which he began in 2016. His initial project aim was to develop a pressure cell for use during inelastic neutron scattering experiments.
“But things don't always go to plan!" Richard explains; “the cell was actually better suited to diffraction experiments, so I ended up working closely with the team on the WISH beamline. This meant I was able to get to know more people at ISIS, across a wider range of science areas. When I first came to ISIS as a PhD student, I felt very welcomed, despite working across two groups. I think ISIS has a great atmosphere of inclusivity. It was a lovely place to come and spend time."
Although Richard was mostly based in Bristol, he made frequent trips to ISIS, and took part in the student conferences and user meetings, where he was able to present his work. The pressure cell that he developed is in use as part of a collaboration with ISIS' Fabio Orlandi, as well as attracting interest from external users; “I found the goal of producing some deliverable for the facility motivating and gave the project a good sense of direction," he says.
“During one visit for beamtime, I saw a poster in the beamline hutch that said 'Mantid needs you!', advertising roles in the computing division at ISIS," says Richard. “I spoke to Lamar, who leads the group, and he explained that they were looking to recruit scientists into the group without the need for them to have had specific programming experience."
Having done some coding during the data analysis as part of his PhD and found it interesting, he applied for the role and started as a junior software scientist in 2019. “I hadn't finished writing my thesis when I started, and that's definitely not something I would recommend!"
Richard settled into the role and after completing an Open University course on Software Engineering was promoted to software scientist in 2020. He mainly works on the Mantid data analysis framework but has also recently started working on the SpinW software, which simulates experimental results for users to analyse their data.
Richard adds; “I feel like I can make a bigger contribution in this role instead of focusing on a narrow area in my own research, as I can write software that improves the work done by academics across a range of fields."
But that's not to say his academic career is over, he has also done some experiments as a user since joining as a software scientist and has felt supported by his team to continue his own science programme.