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Technical Services: supporting research

Technicians working in a field with equipment

This week we’re featuring a series of articles on the work of Technical Services with a mix of detail and first-hand experience. Technical Services colleagues use their practical skills to support and develop teaching, research, commercial and outreach activities. Today we’re focusing on the role Technical Services play in supporting research.

Supporting research at the University may be working directly to assist research grants, working in research facilities or ensuring that research areas and associated items of equipment are run and operated effectively. The research facilities we support include the Chemical Analysis Facility, the Bioresource Unit, the Observatory, the Crops Research Unit, the Crops and Environment Laboratories and the Confocal Microscopy facility.

Research activities often involve materials and equipment that pose potential risks and our technicians in the Operations Team ensure that hazardous materials such as liquid nitrogen, biological waste and gas cylinders are managed safely. Within this group our glassblowing, mechanical and electronics workshops are key to providing bespoke support to staff and students.

We caught up with two Technical Service colleagues to hear about their experiences:

Hong Lin, a Senior Technician based in the Hopkins Building:

I started my career as a physician in China, before coming to the UK initially at Edinburgh University (where I obtained my MPhil in Medicine) before coming to the University of Reading in 1999. Since when I have been part of various research teams working in different groups supporting the Pharmacology Division and external institutes. The outcomes of the research that I support have been applied in biomedical research and medical diagnosis.

“I moved from the AMS Tower to the Hopkins Building in 2008 and have been responsible for the day to day running of one of the research floors since then. I give lab inductions to staff and students before they embark on their research projects and I am the first point of contact when problems arise with the laboratory facilities or equipment. My work is very interesting and varied and I cannot predict what may happen on any given day.”

Nick Spencer, a technical expert in the Chemical Analysis Facility:

“I have worked at the University for over 30 years and am the technical lead for our X-ray diffractometers. These are highly specialised instruments that characterise the crystal structure of atomic and molecular materials. On a daily basis, I carry out maintenance tasks to ensure that the equipment remains operational. I work with undergraduate, PhD and MSc project students, academics and commercial clients to advise them of suitable methodology and software to carry out their crystal analysis.

“A current project that I am working on involves analysing six crystal structures in chocolate that determine texture and flavour. An excess of one crystal type can result in fat or sugar blooming where a dusty layer forms on the chocolate. The range of projects is extremely diverse and there are always method development challenges to keep me on my toes. As well as the science, the best aspects of my job include using my experience to work independently and the people that I work alongside.”

You can find out more about the work that Technical Services on their website.


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