Scientific Computing Graduate - Laura Murgatroyd
28 Sep 2020
- Elizabeth Pendlington



Laura is near the end of her first year of the graduate scheme in the Scientific Computing Department (SCD) at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). She says, “It’s such a fun and friendly place to work!"

Laura Murgatroyd



Laura joined the graduate scheme in 2019 after completing a masters in physics at the University of Birmingham. Her enjoyment of maths puzzles with her Dad from a young age was what first sparked her interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). “Thanks Dad!” she says. She considered going into medical physics but it was STFC’s diverse and exciting research that attracted her to the SCD graduate scheme. “There are so many awesome science experiments on campus at RAL and I get to work on computing projects supporting some of them!” she explains.

Graduates at SCD rotate through different departments and this appealed to Laura, giving her the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. The community feel of the scheme has also appealed to her, “There are so many grads starting out at the same time, so it’s always really easy to find people to chat to at lunchtime,” Laura says. “Having such a large graduate network is also an excellent way to learn about other departments.”

​​The computational biology group, where Laura is currently working, develops algorithms and software for structural biology, biomolecular modelling and genomics. Her project team is building an app that scientists can use to analyse tomographic X-ray images of small samples which can be applied to, for example, the study of compression forces on small animal bones for arthritis research. Laura and the team have already made some great progress. She says “So far we have released a prototype for beta testing and are excited to be releasing an improved version very soon.” Watch this space!

The rapidly changing landscape of research at SCD provides an opportunity for graduates to work on projects that are coming to fruition. “It was very rewarding releasing an institutional login system for a chemical databases website, and seeing this being used every day by scientists,” Laura says of a previous project she contributed to. In fact, this project has had useful applications to the recent transition to remote working due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The challenges Laura has faced when learning about new systems and software has pushed her to work towards a chartership with the Institute of Physics, “It is still early days but I feel that I have already learnt a lot about software development,” she says, adding: “It is also difficult not to be too ambitious about how much I would like to achieve before moving onto my next project!”

Laura’s passion and energy for computing drove her to get involved in lots of the Public Engagement events at RAL. “I started off helping out by directing groups around site or assisting with events, such as a stargazing evening. I then got the chance to learn about the computing resources we have such as Lego Mindstorm robots.” This led to her favourite voluntary work helping at the Oxfordshire FIRST Lego league final held at RAL which then led to her refereeing at the England & Wales final in Bristol. “This is an international competition where students have to complete a series of tasks with a Lego Mindstorm robot. It was amazing to see so many children working together to produce fantastic code to complete the challenges! It was also lovely to meet volunteers from across the country,” she says. ​

1.jpgIt is clear that Laura has really enjoyed the public engagement side of things at STFC, “Helping children, or the public, learn about science and coding is very rewarding,” she says. And remote working has not stopped her, as illustrated by her involvement in the Remote3 project. This is a collaboration between STFC’s Boulby Underground Laboratory and the University of Edinburgh that was originally designed to help students from remote schools in Scotland access exciting STEM challenges. But the project has been adapted to continue online during the coronavirus pandemic. “In some of the webinars I demonstrated code submissions on a Lego Mindstorm in my house!” Laura says.

Aside from her keen interest in science, Laura enjoys playing board games and crafts such as cross-stitching cards. She misses attending concerts and also a local board games club, but enjoys attending work’s weekly “quarantine quiz” from home. When she has the opportunity, she also enjoys doing escape rooms and recently even did an outdoor puzzle-trail in London!

Contact: Humble, Rebecca (STFC,RAL,SC)