Having originally graduated as a geochemist in South Africa, Amanda led the Mineralogy Division at the South African Science Council (Minket). She moved with her family to the UK ten years ago, has an MSc in International Housing from the London School of Economics, and also studied for a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at Imperial College. She has since worked at both Morgan Advanced Materials and M&I Materials, and now leads UKAEA’s team of material scientists and engineers.
What can you tell us about your new role here at UKAEA, and what the focus of your work will be directed towards?
My role is looking at materials across the UKAEA programme, and ensuring our different programmes have an integrated strategy. Also, to make sure that we are thinking about all the potential (materials) gaps in the programme for STEP and DEMO and making sure we have a long-term plan that is coordinated across our range of diverse skillsets.
Further to that, I will be engaging with various stakeholders outside UKAEA and continuing to build relationships with members of the Henry Royce Institute as we work towards a fusion materials strategy for the UK.
Since you’ve lived in the UK, you’ve held posts at two different companies – firstly at the Fibre Centre of Excellence at Morgan Advanced Materials, and then more recently as Technical Director for M&I Materials. What experience can you bring to UKAEA from both of these varied roles?
At Morgan Advanced Materials I headed up their R&D research facility where the focus was on the development of novel high-temperature ceramic fibres. The site was 15,000 m2 and presented a lot of operational challenges alongside the science. It was also a job where I had to think in terms of delivering products for commercial revenue.
As Technical Director for M&I Materials, I led a programme of research projects. One area which particularly overlapped with fusion was the company’s research into tungsten-based materials for nuclear radiation screening. M&I also led work on providing ceramic products to protect superconducting magnets. You can see how both have direct relevance to tokamaks.
What was it about nuclear fusion research that led you to UKAEA?
Throughout my various jobs, I have always had an interest in the humanitarian side of things – international development particularly. When I was a geologist, I was involved in work to prevent the trade of conflict diamonds. More recently as a materials scientist I focused on safe fibre insulation and environmentally safe transformer oils. Now here at Culham we are talking about sustainable, clean, green energy provided by nuclear fusion. I like it from an ethical point of view. I also think that it brings some very exciting new technology to the fore. In the materials field, people talk about extreme environments – asking how we can make materials that can cope with high temperatures within vacuums. At UKAEA we have materials exposed to high-level neutrons – so that is a pretty extreme environment and one I feel is another challenging aspect of materials work.
Are there any challenges in the work of materials that you would like to use your experience to help drive forward at UKAEA?
Having had a strong background in ceramics, I can see that ceramics are perhaps underrepresented in terms of considered materials for a tokamak. I would like to see some really clever ceramic materials being incorporated into our materials portfolio. In terms of specifics, cutting-edge ceramics is one example when considering aspects of a tokamak such as the heat exhaustion system.
What has it been like starting a job when the site at Culham is not at full capacity in terms of staff? Have you managed to meet colleagues face-to-face?
Well it has been challenging. Funnily enough, when I arrived here for my first day, that was in fact the first time I had met some of my co-workers face-to-face because the recruitment process had been a virtual one. It has been nice to finally do that now.
One advantage in going ‘virtual’ so to speak is that we can interact with a wider range of people because there is less of a need to travel overseas.
On the lighter side of things, what interests do you have outside of work?
Well, family does take a lot of time, but is obviously very enjoyable. My husband is a fellow geologist and all our teenage daughters are musical. I play the flute and piano and so we are beginning to get to the stage where we are proficient enough to be able to play small pieces of music together! Other than that, we love to explore National Trust sites around the country!
Is there anything particularly about UKAEA which you have been impressed with so far?
I have been pleasantly surprised already at the degree of communication within different groups across UKAEA. With big organisations, people often assume that there are areas which can operate very separately from one another. I am seeing that this isn’t the case here. I look forward to adding to what I feel is healthy, cross-functional engagement on campus and across the virtual homes of staff!