Go Martin and Paige! =)
I did my placement year for Pfizer, and have worked for AstraZeneca since I graduated in 2007. Before graduation I did several summer and term time jobs.
I am a process engineer (aka chemical engineer), and scale up ways of making drugs from the laboratory (20g) to the plant (20kg).
AstraZeneca, a company that develops new medicines.
I help make the drugs that you get now at the pharmacy, and also those that are being tested in clinical trials at the moment.
I work in research and development, working out how to make drugs (the medicinal kind that you get from your doctor!!) without letting anything explode, boil over, or make holes in the equipment.
I work with chemists, who will know all about the molecule we are trying to make. They will work out how to make it in the laboratory, using beakers and glass reactors of about 200ml, making a few grams of drug. I will take that process and make sure we can do it much bigger, in 2500L reactors; we call that scale up.
Doing this might involve any number of bits of work, but the main ones are:
Making sure we can mix it ok (agitation)
Making sure it won’t release enough gas to cause an explosion (pressure relief)
Making sure we know exactly what will happen when using computer modelling and laboratory experiments (predictions)
Making sure the chemicals we’re using won’t corrode the equipment (chemical compatibility)
Making sure we’re not going to leak nasty chemicals into the environment (environmental risk assessment)
My Typical Day
I don’t have a typical day at work, as I could be either doing computer modelling at my desk, experiments in the lab, or helping with a manufacture on plant. I love the variety!
Ok, so at my desk I’ll be using the internet and other resources to help me find pieces of information about the chemicals I’m using. I’ll use those to plan practical work, and also to build computer models that’ll help me predict what is going to happen in my process. I’ll also spend a lot of time talking with the chemist I’m working with, to make sure we understand what eachother are doing.
In the laboratory I’ll be running experiments that I’ve designed, to prove or disprove a theory about the scale up. I might for example test how slowly I can mix a solid-liquid mixture before the solids fall to the bottom of the reactor. That’ll tell me how hard I need to mix in the large reactors.
On the plant I might be working out what is needed to install a new piece of equipment, or helping the guys who operate the plant run the process I have given them.
I would say I spend about half my time at my desk, and the rest between the lab and the plant.
What I'd do with the money
Enable school kids to visit nearby work places to see real engineers doing their job.
I think you need to see what is being done, visit the labs and the plants nearby, it’s the best way to really understand what being an engineer is all about (and I am biased towards chemical engineering…).
Depending on where you live you might be able to see all sorts of things being made: chocolate, shampoo, beer, medicines, ice cream, cling film, coffee, paint, perfume, petrochemicals… the list is endless!
I’d like to either give the money directly to local schools to help fund these outings, or to an organisation that enables these kinds of trips. Either way, I’m happy to host some trips at my place of work!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Thorough, bubbly, motivated.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
at the moment, Milow
What is the most fun thing you've done?
a safari in South Africa
What did you want to be after you left school?
An engineer… but I had no idea which kind
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Only for chatting in class
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
Going to Switzerland to test a bit of equipment that I’d chosen for a job. Proving it works despite other people’s doubts! In more general terms though, my job gives me the satisfaction that I’m helping to develop new medicines that will save people’s lives.
Tell us a joke.
Trust me, I’m no good at telling jokes…
Results from some computer modelling
To give you an idea of the different scales I work at:
In the lab (200ml):
In the Large Scale Lab (50L – basically it is what the name suggests, just the same as you would use in a lab, but much bigger… see if you can work out which bit is which?):
In the Plant (2500L – the reactors go through the floor, here you can see the lid, the bottom would be above you when you’re on the floor below):
And finally, what I try to avoid: