Suzie Sheehy

well it's all over for me. Good luck Sheila & Adam!

Favourite Thing: I love that I get to travel a lot (USA, Canada, Japan, Spain & soon China to name a few!) and I really enjoy talking to people about my research. The best thing, though, is the science itself – discovering new things that no-one knew before is a big thrill!



Mentone Girls Grammar School, Melbourne, Australia (1995-2001)


The University of Melbourne (2002-2006) BSc (Hons.), then The University of Oxford (2007-2010) DPhil (Particle Physics)

Work History:

Primus Telecom, Australia as a Fraud Analyst (weekend job to put me through uni), I worked at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland for 3 months in 2005 and at Scienceworks Museum, Melbourne, Australia for 9 months in 2007.


I have a 3-year research fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, and I work in the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC) based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

Current Job:

I’m currently looking at taking the new types of particle accelerators I’ve been working on and using them to accelerate really intense beams of protons. There are lots of applications for it, one of which is a new type of totally-safe nuclear power plant called an ADSR.

Me and my work

I design machines called particle accelerators which I hope will make the world a better place.

Particle accelerators were developed so that scientists could find out more about “matter” or “stuff” – the building blocks that make up everything that we know of. That’s what the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is for – check out the picture of me 100m underground with the ATLAS detector!

But the LHC is just one accelerator – there are over 20,000 in the world! They have done so much more than just physics… you might not believe it, but they have changed the way you live your life!

For instance, accelerators are used in making the chips that drive mobile phones, computers and mp3 players. In archaeology accelerators are used for dating old artefacts and in biology for studying the structure of proteins. In medicine, accelerators produce radio-isotopes for medical imaging, beams of X-rays for radiotherapy and are now also being used for new methods of precise cancer treatment using particle beams. 

atlasRadiotherapy, used to treat cancer, uses a small particle accelerator

My research focuses on understanding the physics of a new type of particle accelerator, but it doesn’t have a very catchy name! It’s called a “non-scaling FFAG”. I’m interested in these machines because they could be used to accelerate really powerful beams of particles, which I hope could one day be used in a totally safe type of nuclear reactor to help solve the world’s energy problem.

My Typical Day

Could be running an experiment, doing work at my computer or travelling to a conference in some far-flung location.

This is not my typical day, but it is a picture of me at an exhibit about accelerators at the Royal Society which I helped organise in 2009, the guy 3rd from the left is the Director General of CERN – he’s really nice! 


OK, don’t get the impression that all I do is swan about in evening dresses. Although I do get to attend some nice events occasionally, they are not a typical day! 

A typical day at the office probably consists of: get up, get ready for work (figure out what to wear), pack gym stuff, drive to work, breakfast, email, work on my computer, lunch, meeting, more work, gym, supermarket, dinner, tv or read a book, bed! 


Some of the best days are when I’m working on experiments. It can be hard work – sometimes involving shifts until (or past!) midnight, trying to solve problems in real time with a real accelerator. I have to make sure not to get anything wrong so that I don’t ruin the machine (it’s worth about £8,000,000 – so I don’t want to break it!!) But when you finally get it working, it’s all worthwhile! We usually celebrate with champagne the first time we get an accelerator working, it’s a bit of a tradition.

So what does a successful day’s work look like?? Here is a picture from the oscilloscope (like a TV screen that shows you electrical signals) – it shows the first few turns around an accelerator called EMMA, that we got working last August (we’re still working on it!). Just look at the Orange lines, they show 6 pulses, each set of 2 is one turn of the beam around the circular machine:


What I'd do with the money

2 students or teachers with the best proposal will win up to £250 each for a science project!

After doing an online poll the two things you guys seemed to want was either to visit my lab or for me to buy a piece of equipment for your school. It’s easy to organise visits to my lab through the lab itself (STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) so instead I’ve decided to put the money towards YOUR science ideas!

The best 2 proposals I receive for science projects that need some money for a piece of equipment will WIN! 

All you need to do is to email: BY THE 1st APRIL!!

That means you have a week after the competition finishes to get your proposal in!

And include the following information:

  • Project Title
  • A 300 word description of your project & why it’s important
  • What you’re going to spend the money on
  • Your name, school and some way to contact you (email is fine) to tell you if you’ve won!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Energetic. Dedicated. Shoe-fanatic.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Quite a mix really, from PJ Harvey to Cara Dillon

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Jumping off a 20m cliff into a freezing cold river near Geneva was pretty crazy, but fun! But I still love playing with liquid nitrogen and exploding hydrogen balloons…

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To get to go into space (to the Moon or beyond) just once. To be able to do my dream job in Australia where my family live. To have a limitless collection of shoes and handbags!

What did you want to be after you left school?

A singer/dancer/actress or a vet

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes, usually for picking on my identical twin sister. She still remembers me putting biscuit crumbs in her swimming cap… must have been pretty traumatic! It wasn’t all one-way; she picked on me too.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Scientifically: I helped to create a new design for an accelerator for treating cancer with particle beams, after I’d proved that their existing design couldn’t work. Overall: Running science demonstration shows around Australia & the UK to tens of thousands of school students.

Tell us a joke.

An atom is walking down the street when suddenly he stops, turns to his friend and says “Oh no! I’ve lost an electron!” His friend says “are you sure?” The atom says “I’m positive!”