Student profile
Rhiann Canavan

Rhiann Canavan

"One of the highlights of my PhD has beenthe eight-week placement I'm currently spendingat Crossfield Fusion as part of the GRADnetprogramme."

Entry year


My PhD in experimental nuclear physics (focusing on gamma-ray spectroscopy) was a joint position between Surrey and NPL (National Physical Laboratory), and I've been based at NPL’s headquarters in Teddington throughout my studies. This PhD opportunity appealed to me because I loved the idea of working in a commercially-based environment while doing experimental research, and spending time at international facilities.

The experimental nuclear physics group at Surrey is one of the biggest and best in the UK, and the opportunity to work with and learn from my supervisor Professor Paddy Regan – who holds the NPL-Surrey Chair in Radionuclide Metrology – has been a huge privilege.

I developed a fascination for experimental nuclear physics during my MSc studies and wanted to learn more about radiation and radiation detection, and how this can help us understand processes in stars and supernovae, and the creation of the elements in the universe.

One of the highlights of my PhD has been the eight-week placement I'm currently spending at Crossfield Fusion as part of the GRADnet programme which organises training and placements for postgraduate students and Early Career Researchers.

Having the opportunity to work with Crossfield Fusion has been incredible. The company’s goal is to help solve the world’s need for clean energy, as well producing technology to help with cancer therapy or nuclear medicine applications – a mission I find very motivating.

On placement I have helped to build and test electric circuits. I ran a vacuum system, operating valves and reading gauges, and made measurements of current and voltage to infer the behaviour of our system. My daily role has also involved having technical discussions with the chief technical officer, helping to decide the best approach for creating the equipment we needed.

"I’ve now been offered a permanent position with the company as an Experimental Project Manager and am very excited to be able to continue working for them."

I would advise any PhD student considering a placement to do so. The industrial experience and knowledge you will gain is priceless and it’s a great way of building up your CV and increasing your employability. While on placement, ask questions, immerse yourself in the work, and take advantage of the opportunity to develop both your technical and transferable skills.


Find out more about GRADnet, the collaborative graduate school of SEPnet (South-East Physics network), which comprises nine South-East England physics departments including Surrey’s Department of Physics.

Discover our courses in physics, including our Physics PhD.

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