Will Halcrow
22 Oct 2020
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To celebrate the UK and the European Spallation Source's collaboration, we talked to Will Halcrow, one of the mastermind engineers behind setting up the LoKI instrument.

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​"Engineering was a semi-accidental teenage decision, whilst applying for university, which I stuck with because I thoroughly enjoyed it," Will explains. At A-level, he chose to do Maths, Design and Technology, Physics, and Biology. Afterwards, he graduated with a BEng in Engineering Design from Loughborough University that included a placement at Mondelez International.

After graduation, he joined Bosch, where he did the graduate program as a specialist trainee for two years, rotating around different divisions, before becoming a production engineer for another two years. In 2015, he joined STFC as a Mechanical Project Engineer in the Instruments group at ISIS; "I applied to STFC because of the large-scale projects, bespoke engineering, and cool science – all things that I found interesting were already happening at STFC."

Will is lead engineer of a team working on the LoKI instrument. LoKI is a small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) instrument that will enable scientists to carry out experiments in material science, applied in numerous fields from health and aging, to sustainability and energy security. STFC is designing and building LoKI for the ESS.

“Being a lead engineer requires you to work in a demanding, yet dynamic environment," explains Will; "I supervise all the engineers that are part of the collaboration and manage input from 10-15 team members and stakeholders within STFC and at ESS. My day-to-say activities include making sure that the correct things are being designed, tasks are appropriately prioritized and leading the design and engineering."

Will says; "The best part of my role is getting to design things that don't exist and seeing them come to life. The creative aspect of design is what keeps me going – whether it's a little bracket that someone needed to design or a whole system that needed over two years of work."

"The most challenging part is managing the stakeholders, as these are people from varying specialisms. Furthermore, working with ESS in such an early stage brings challenges as they don't have a structure and people in place for certain divisions. For instance, in ISIS you could go to the science director or operations team for a decision, whereas ESS might not have put people in those positions." Even with the challenges, he adds that it makes working with them more fruitful since he and his team are at the forefront of providing the answers. 

Right now, 50-80% of the instrument's hardware is being ordered, and half of that is on-site at RAL. “After it's been built and we have done a couple of trial runs with it, the ESS staff need to be trained on how the instrument works before LoKI is dismantled and sent to Sweden." After that, the team in Sweden will take ownership and carry out the installation and commissioning, whilst the team at ISIS help out with any questions they have.

Pre-Covid, Will was lucky enough to go to Sweden for meetings at the ESS once every 2/3 months. "As pre-build is ramping up at RAL right now there's going to be more of a focus of what goes at the facility. However, when we get ready to send LoKI to Sweden I can imagine myself going back to help once every couple of months."

When asked about his hobbies, he jokingly said, "sitting in my house waiting for Covid to end," but, on further prompting, admitted that he enjoys "climbing at Brookes, tag rugby and going on holidays."

As for the future; "I don't have a set plan, but what I'm doing right now qualifies as a dream job, so I'd be content working in the same field."​

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