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Meet 3 scientists building careers with nuclear science to benefit Australia

Studying science will open doors to many sectors, including careers with nuclear science

What do an Indigenous environment scientist, a nuclear researcher and a synchrotron instrument scientist have in common? They are all early career professionals at ANSTO, home to the use of nuclear science and technology to benefit Australia.

And you can read all about their interesting careers in this issue of Careers with STEM: Science 2024.

#1 Jessica Hamilton, Beamline scientist, ANSTO

Jessica Hamilton is a beamline scientist at the Australian Synchrotron. Image by Tina Smigielski

When Jessica first started her science degree, the geoscience lecturer opened with: “Do you want to learn about volcanoes, dinosaurs and space?”. 

“I was sold,” Jessica says, dropping physics in favour of geology.

Today, Jessica works as a beamline scientist at the Australian Synchrotron in a job that is very varied and in a facility that she says “looks like something out of a sci-fi film”.

“I’ve gotten to work on so many cool projects in my time here, from Antarctic sediments, to molten rock, nanoparticles, batteries, and more,” she says.

The beamline Jessica works on is one of many at the facility, hosting different groups of visiting scientists every few days.

“My job is to set up the beamline and optimise it for their experiment, troubleshoot any issues, and train the scientists in how to operate the instruments to get the most out of their data,” Jessica explains.

Her research focus is in developing a process that uses mining waste rock for carbon sequestration and critical metal recovery (mainly nickel and cobalt).

“With the explosion of renewable tech, battery storage etcetera, we need to make sure the raw materials for these things are produced in more sustainable and ethical ways, so this is the future for geoscience I think,” Jessica says.

She loves working as part of a team at ANSTO and says one of the biggest lessons she’s learnt is that research requires a lot of creativity. 

“The key to doing research is actually to just try something new! That felt very freeing to me – to no longer feel a mountain of existing knowledge looming ahead of me, and to stop worrying about being right or wrong.”

Jessica’s study and career path to a nuclear science career

  • Bachelor of Science (Geoscience) (Honours), Monash University
  • Technical assistant, IPB Petroleum
  • Intern, Earth Systems
  • Teaching associate, Monash University
  • PhD in environmental mineralogy, Monash University
  • Beamline scientist, Australian Synchrotron (ANSTO)

#2 Amy Macintosh, Ecotoxicologist, ANSTO

Amy_MacIntosh - ecotoxicologist

As an ecotoxicologist, Amy researches how naturally occurring radioactive materials from abandoned oil and gas pipes impact marine life.

Amy always wanted to work with animals. She started her studies with a Bachelor of Science in zoology and geography at the University of Otago in Aotearoa / New Zealand. She then followed that up with more study and research projects, and is now completing a PhD in environmental science at Macquarie University, based at ANSTO.

The aim of her PhD? To generate a database of the accumulation of potentially toxic metals and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) in different Aussie marine animals, and the key organs of concern (like muscle, liver, gut and shell), from contaminants of decommissioned offshore oil and gas pipelines.

Amy says there are lots of cool things about her job, including travel.

“I’m very lucky to have travelled all the way to the International Atomic Energy Agency HQ in Vienna, Austria, to be a representative for Australia and ANSTO,” she says.

And she’s excited to apply her knowledge to emerging jobs in nuclear science, including monitoring opportunities in Australia’s new nuclear-powered submarines program.

Amy’s study and career path to a nuclear science career

  • Bachelor of Science (Zoology, Geography), University of Otago
  • International student exchange to University of Exeter (Zoology)
  • Bachelor of Science (Wildlife Ecology) (Honours), University of Tasmania
  • Master of Science (Earth and Environmental Sciences), Macquarie University
  • Research assistant, (CSIRO Environment)
  • PhD candidate and ecotoxicologist, Macquarie University / ANSTO

#3 Brett Rowling, Analytical chemist, ANSTO

Analytical chemist - Brett Rowling
Image: ANSTO

As an analytical chemist at ANSTO, Brett’s days involve analysing air, water and soil samples from Australia and around the world. The aim? To understand the movement of natural and man-made contaminants through environmental systems.

But Brett didn’t always know he wanted to be a scientist. “At school I liked chemistry, maths and engineering studies, and I also knew I liked talking – so teaching seemed an obvious choice,” he explains. “I could see a guaranteed job at the end and really, I had no idea what a scientist did.”

Brett scored a teaching scholarship and headed to uni. Halfway through his degree, he got into the Year in Industry program at ANSTO. “It was a fantastic position with a great mix of field sampling, laboratory and office work,” Brett says.

As part of the program, Brett saw lots of interesting science and engineering projects. “I also performed a small research project looking at soils, which was written up and presented – all great work skills that set me up for future work within and outside of ANSTO.”

During his time at ANSTO, Brett (a descendant of Bungoree and Matora) has worked on projects such as digitally preserving hand stencils from a site on his mob’s country, and studying giant clam shells from northern Australia to reveal information about past climates.

“To me as a blackfella, it’s the recent interest in our culture by the wider Australian community that’s remarkable from a career perspective,” he says.

“Our culture already has customs, lore, science and engineering which, being Australian-made, is world-leading. We have been able to take our oral stories and practical sciences from country, and marry them up with the use of modern techniques.”

Brett’s study and career path to a nuclear science career

  • Bachelor of Science (Geoscience) (Honours), University of Wollongong
  • Analytical chemist, ANSTO

This article was brought to you in partnership with ANSTO and a version of it was originally published in Careers with STEM: Science.

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