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A photograph of Jean sitting at a desk adjusting the dial on an oscillator with one hand and holding a cable in the other.
Jean tests a prototype ventilator using an oscilloscope © National Physical Laboratory

Q&A: Jean Morris

A passion for physics led Jean Morris to her role as a research engineer at the National Physical Laboratory, where she won an award for pandemic service.

Why did you first become interested in science/engineering?

When I was younger, we had a big book called How Things Work and it absolutely fascinated me. I would spend hours with my twin brother taking apart different things around the house to see how they operated, and our parents hated us! The intrigue behind how everyday things (and more exotic machines like satellites) work has kept me enthralled with engineering.

I would spend hours with my twin brother taking apart different things around the house to see how they operated, and our parents hated us!

Quick-fire facts

Age:

26

Qualifications:

MPhys

Biggest engineering inspiration:

Margaret Hamilton (who was responsible for the new code written for the Apollo mission)

Most-used technology: 

3D printing

Three words that describe you: 

sporty, enthusiastic and Welsh!

How did you get to where you are now?

I studied physics, maths, chemistry, and English at A level and did a master’s in physics at Lancaster University (which I got into through clearing!). After university, I joined a graduate scheme at Airbus where I was a space systems engineer specialising in radio frequency analysis of telecommunications satellites (one of the satellites I worked on is now in orbit). I also did a placement in Munich where I worked on machine learning algorithms. After this I became a research engineer at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and have worked on a multitude of projects, from atomic clocks and a satellite calibration instrument, to the Kibble balance, which redefined the kilogram in 2019

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

In 2020, I helped set up the new ventilator testing facility and led a team that created a low-cost ventilator prototype, for which the Royal Academy of Engineering awarded me the President’s Special Award for Pandemic Service.

What is your favourite thing about being an engineer?

I have a passion for physics, and engineering is essentially realising physics in the everyday world. It’s amazing going from an equation or a model to something that moves and works right in front of you! What does a typical day involve for you? Every day is completely different depending on the project I’m working on. Currently, I do lots of electronics design and test, so I’m often picking up a soldering iron and then doing some design or analysis work on a computer. I also help design the enclosures these electronics boards sit in so I do lots of 3D printing.

What would be your advice to young people looking to pursue a career in engineering?

Don’t think that just because you’re not top of your class that you can’t be an engineer. There are so many different qualities that make a good engineer, from working with others to problem-solving to aesthetic design skills. Enthusiasm and a willing to learn are the main attributes of a good engineer.

What’s next for you?

I hope to be able to publish some papers and work on something related to climate change as that is one the most pressing topics at the moment. Hopefully in a few more years’ time, I’ll be leading a project of national importance at NPL.

***

This article has been adapted from "How I got here- Jean Morris", which originally appeared in the print edition of Ingenia 91 (June 2022).

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