Sara Karbassi and Albin Nilson
22 Sep 2021



New Duty Technicians in the Main Control Room

Albin and Sara outside target station 1

​​Albin and Sara outside target station 1​


Sara and Albin joined ISIS in August 2020 as Duty Technicians. “I always want to try new things, and so when I saw the opportunity to work at STFC become available, I applied," Sara explains.

For Albin, it was a similar experience. “During my undergraduate degree at Lund University (Sweden), I did a summer placement at Diamond Light Source, which meant I knew about RAL. I had also worked on the Max IV accelerator in Sweden during its commissioning, so this role looked like a really good option."

Despite joining in the middle of a pandemic, both Albin and Sara are required to be on site, as a member of one of six shift teams that monitor the facility around the clock. As new starters, they were initially the fourth member of an existing shift team, so they could learn from the experience of others. By working some shifts with different crews, they were able to meet more people and see how they approach the tasks.

The Main Control Room (MCR) crew act as a hub, preparing equipment for use and keeping track of who is in the restricted areas of the accelerator. They are also the alarm investigation team, and first aiders. “Our role is to maintain the machine," Sara explains. “We monitor all the alarms and are first on the scene if anything goes wrong. We do a lot of routine checks to equipment and safety procedures, and things can get really busy when there is a maintenance day or the beam is being switched on."

While the beam is off, the team are busy carrying out routine checks, and scheduling other work that is due. When the beam is on, Albin explains, “it's the same thing, but more can go wrong! An accelerator has one off switch and a million different off switches: on some shifts we will have little to do, but others you can go the full 12 hours without sitting down."

The team's goal is to keep the beam on as much as possible. “If we can solve the problem, we will," says Sara, “but we might need to call in an equipment expert: from where they are working on site, or from home if it's during the night. We can then help them fix the issue, and learn from what they do for the future."

When it comes to fixing a particle accelerator; knowledge comes with time in the job. Albin says, “We get trained up, but sometimes we have to wait for a fault until we can be taught how to fix it. After a couple of months I felt like I could deal with the simple stuff alone, but there is always someone on the end of the radio if needed."

As there are very few opportunities around the world to work in a similar environment, the crew are used to new starters coming in without specific experience. “There is so much to learn, but it's a really good group of people, who are all willing to help," says Sara. Sara is also the first female member of the MCR crew, although this is not the first time she has been the only woman in a team at work. “I seem to always be the first one! But I want to be there so that other women can see that it's possible."

During the long shutdown, it's likely that MCR staff will be seconded to other groups around ISIS. This will be an opportunity for them to meet more people across ISIS, something that COVID-19 restrictions have prevented. 

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