Graduate Profile

Emmy Sharples, MPhys 2012

SRF sub-project leader, Helmholtz Zentrum, Berlin

I spent four fab years in St Andrews studying for an MPhys in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics. I look back on the time very fondly but every year at exam time I am reminded of the panicky posts I used to write about exams. This year I found a post from my first year that read “Emmy Sharples is worried physics isn’t for her!” And I wished I could go back in time and tell myself not to worry, Physics is for you and if you could see yourself now you would be proud.

That "worried first year" is now in a permanent staff member at the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB), in April 2019 I successfully defended my work and was made a permanent member of staff. I am a sub-project leader in the SRF group working on the upgrade of BESSY II (our existing synchrotron) to BESSY VSR which will allow us to offer variable pulse length beams to our users. My main focus is the design, development, procurement and testing of the fundament power couplers for BESSY VSR. This involves the in-depth electromagnetic design of the couplers to ensure optimal operating conditions for the accelerator. In the future, it will mean testing and commissioning the couplers so they can be installed into the BESSY II ring where they will provide the RF power needed to accelerate the beam. In addition to this I have responsibility over a number of large scale procurements, both for the couplers and for the cavities that the couplers will power. In the future this will hopefully lead to me moving from sub-project leader to a project leader with my own small team.

Emmy pointing out accelerator components during a tour of the BESSY II ring.

It seems strange to have come from theoretical physics to working on an accelerator, but during my time at St Andrews I had the opportunity to do two summer research placements, which sparked my love of research, one theory one experimental. It was my placement working with the Nanophotonics Group that had the most impact. We were testing a new method for etching photonic structures and it involved a lot of cleanroom hours. As a theorist I thought I wouldn’t be able to do such an experiment placement, but I loved it. From that point on I knew I wanted to stay in Physics and do research.

My PhD bridges the gap between where I was when I finished my undergrad and where I am now. When I was applying to PhDs I wasn’t sure if I had the experience for more experimental research projects. However, my time at St Andrew’s provided me with the knowledge and skills to do what I wanted to do. In October 2012 I started my PhD in dispersion engineering for electron accelerators with Lancaster University Engineering at the Cockcroft Institute, which is the UK’s number one accelerator research facility. My project involved designing novel accelerator components using metamaterial elements. During my PhD, I travelled all over the world to conferences on accelerators and metamaterials presenting my own work. Due to the way St Andrews treats its joint honours program I had already gained a lot of experience presenting work from one field to those in another and managed to win several prizes for my presentations.

The support, encouragement and opportunities provided by the physics and astronomy department at St Andrews University transformed that doubting first year into who I am today and I have so much gratitude for everyone who helped me.

First posted BDS 3.8.17
Updated 30.7.19