Alastair Macleod

Alastair Macleod

UK Astronomy Technology Centre

I link what the optical engineer wants with a real-life instrument design.

Alastair studied engineering because it gave him lots of opportunities. Now he is helping to build a telescope!

What do you do in your job?

I design parts of instruments used in astronomy.  These are often cryogenic/vacuum optical systems.  This involves making 3D models on the computer, doing necessary analysis and working with the workshops to get the parts made and assembled.  Analysis can be anything from hand calculations to 3D computer based heat analysis.  When analysis is not possible or practical lab tests may be required, which I also get involved in when I need to.

How does your role fit in and support the wider team?

I link what the optical engineer wants and the real life instrument.  The optical engineer is trying to come up with an optical design meet the astronomers’ requirements.  I am trying to provide a design for the physical equipment to make this happen. 

I work alongside other engineering disciplines like electronics and software.  I also work a lot with the workshop who make many of the actual parts on specialist machinery.

If you had to summarise the impact of your job on everyday life – what would you say in two sentences?

I help keep UK science research at the cutting edge which employs a huge number of people in the university sector and supporting industries. I also develop technology which in the long term spreads to more familiar industries like food production or energy.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I can occasionally wear shorts to work. I get a mixture of hand on work and desk design work which you don't get in every engineering job. I get to work with a variety of people across the world and can maintain a healthy work/life balance.

What did you study at school?

A lot of maths and science but also did art which comes in surprisingly handy in engineering. Also basic languages from school are useful, like German and Spanish.

  • Higher: English physics, chemistry, maths and art
  • Advanced Higher: Maths pure, maths mechanics and physics

What inspired you into a career in science / engineering?

When I was young my dad told me about a cyclist who rode a bike made out of a washing machine, Scottish cyclist Graham Obree. This was my first realisation that stuff in the world was designed and made by people and I thought I could do it. This may have had something to do with my choice to become an engineer, specifically so I can make stuff.

However, I think actually at the time I went for it because I was good at maths and physics. Engineering was also a safe degree which gives lots of opportunities out of engineering (in case I changed my mind). Also everyone said that engineers get loads of money. This has turned out not to be true but I'd say a fair above average wage is accurate.

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