Emma Ryan



I’ve attended Rosebery School, Glyn Technology School, University of Edinburgh and University of Surrey.


I have a degree in Physics and I’m currently studying for a Engineering Doctorate in Material Science.

Work History:

I was a member of a team at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, working on the Multi-Object Optical and Near-infrared Spectrograph for the Very Large Telescope.

Current Job:

Research Engineer


Lockheed Martin UK

About Me

Engineer by day, baker by night.

My name is Emma and I’m supposed to be here to answer your questions but I thought I’d ask you a few of my own too while I talk to you about who I am and what I do, I hope you don’t mind. I’m 25 years old and I’m in my third year of an Engineering Doctorate and I also work as a research engineer.


I like watching films about aliens, reading and visiting castles. I play saxophone and support Liverpool FC.  I am super obsessed with Harry Potter and I like to think I’m a bit like Hermione, mostly because of the curly hair (which Hogwarts House would you be in?).



Here is my grey cat called Sacha who likes to tap me on the face with his paw when he wants attention.




When I was younger, I wanted to be a spaceship but now that I’ve grown up a bit, I want to build spaceships. Oh, and once I made a cake for 200 people that had 60 eggs in and I managed to set fire to the mixer. I’m good at breaking things.

My work

I 3D print spaceships, satellites and armoured fighting vehicles out of metal.

Building spaceships, satellites and armoured fighting vehicles can be very expensive. One of the reasons it costs a lot of money is that a lot of the material you buy is cut off and thrown away to make the final part (can you think of any other reasons building spaceships is expensive?). It can be made cheaper by adding the material layer by layer so no material is wasted. It’s also a lot quicker to build parts this way, especially if the shape of the part is complicated.

I work on wire and arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) which melts welding wire in layers to make really big parts all in one go that are metres long (additive manufacturing is used as the technical term for 3D printing). The parts are just as strong as the normal parts, the conventionally made parts. We know this because we’ve broken the parts and shot them with bullets and they behave in the same way as the normal parts.




There are disadvantages to WAAM too. The process can’t be easily repeated. Even when the same settings and the same material are used, the builds can be very different. We use ‘complete’ and ‘incomplete’ to mean ‘good’ and ‘bad’ builds. Complete builds have the right shape and none of the settings have to be changed. Incomplete builds have the wrong shape or the wire has stopped melting or the settings had to be changed so that it would continue building.




I study why the builds are different and what causes a build to be incomplete (or “bad”). I think it’s the wire. If we have bad wire, we get bad builds. Bad wire means wire that’s not the right shape or size, that has scratches on the surface, that has dirt and contamination on the surface or isn’t the right material (do you agree? what do you think might be causing the different builds? Could it be something else, like the temperature of the room changing?). You can find out more about my  typical day and how I study the builds below.

Once we know why the builds are different, we can stop it from happening so that we do get the same builds each time and therefore WAAM is a reliable process (what does a reliable process mean?). Once this happens, WAAM can be used for lots of different things such as building spare parts on ships or even spaceships so that they don’t have to carry lots of unneeded things with them (what would you want to build?). Already, the European Space Agency and NASA want to use WAAM on the International Space Station to see if it can work in microgravity (does anyone else think that’s really cool or is it just me?).  If it can work in microgravity, it can be used on the lunar village which will act like a petrol station on the way to Mars to pick up spare parts and overpriced chocolate bars (would you go to Mars if you were given the chance?).

My Typical Day

I spend a lot of my day playing with really big robots and breaking metal parts.

My job is trying to work out how the (really big) robots have built parts differently. There are lots of ways of doing this. I can look inside the parts to see if the atoms are positioned differently (called the structure) or if the material is different (known as the composition). I also test the mechanical properties of the parts – this is a measure of how strong they are.




I get to play with lots of cool toys. And by cool toys, I mean really expensive bits of specialist equipment. I use microscopes that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to look at atoms in the material.

Some of the equipment shoots x-rays at my samples and measures electrons that are given enough energy to move (this is called x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy or XPS for short). XPS can look at 10s of nanometres, this is about 1000 times smaller than the width of a single strand of hair. Some of the equipment shoots electrons at my samples and measures x-rays (this is called energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy or EDX for short). EDX can look at the micro scale, this is about the width of a strand of hair. The energy of the electrons and the x-rays can tell me what my samples are made out of. I use the equipment to try and see if there is any differences in the parts and the material used to build the part.




I test how strong my parts are by breaking them apart. Some parts are a lot stronger than others. For example, titanium parts are stronger than aluminium parts (what material do you think is the strongest in the world?). Captain America’s shield, made out of a vibranium-adamantium alloy, would be even stronger than titanium and would be very hard to break (unless you’re Thor in the Comic Books).

Not all of my work is practical. I spend time writing up all my results in reports so other people know what I’ve been doing and can use my research. They’re using some of my research to write laws about additive manufacturing, which I think is pretty cool and I really feel like I’m making a difference. No one day is the same and I am learning something new every day! Today I learned that turning something off and then on again is the best way to fix it, even with big bits of welding equipment; it works better than kicking it (how do you fix things that are broken?).

What I'd do with the money

I would buy lots of Lego.

Lego is a lot like additive manufacturing; you build it up in layers. Remember that I said additive manufacturing is faster than traditional methods of making things, especially if they have a complicated shape, and creates less waste material? I plan to use Lego, and you guys, to prove that.

You get 50 loose Lego blocks and 50 Lego blocks built in a cube. You need to time how long it takes you to build a hollow box that is 3 blocks wide, 3 blocks long and 3 blocks tall. You can either add blocks in layers with the loose Lego blocks or take blocks away from the cube – you can only add or take away one Lego block at a time! Any blocks you take away must go in a separate contained labelled ‘Waste Masterial’. Then you do it again, but you try the other method. If you added blocks the first time, you now try making a box by removing blocks from the cube and vice versa.

Which method do you think would take longer? Which method do you think would waste more material?

Then, you repeat both methods but instead of a box, you build your initials. For me, this would be ‘ER’ (like the Queen!). This represents a complicated shape or geometry.

Which method do you think would take longer? Which method do you think would waste more material?


My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Very, very chatty.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

The Beatles (although also a massive fan of Beyonce, Bon Iver and Bonobo. Anyone beginning with B, really.).

What's your favourite food?

If pizza didn’t make me fat, I’d eat it every single day. Pepperoni is the best.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I’ve touched a bit of the moon.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be succesful.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

I used to get in trouble for laughing because I sounded like a seagull.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I liked maths the most because lots of different ideas came together to make sense.

What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?

I got to hang out with James May and people from NASA.

If you weren't an engineer, what would you be?

I think I’d be a teacher or a lawyer.

Tell us a joke.

A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. The barman says, ‘For you, no charge’ (it didn’t have to be a good joke, did it?).

Other stuff

Work photos:



Here is the lake at university. I play frisbee here when the weather is nice and hot.




Here is me working hard in the lab (and definitely not playing Pokemon)!




Here are the cool robots and microscopes I get to play with.