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Bill S. is a cryogenics engineer at Fermilab in Illinois. Find out what his job is really about.
How would you describe your job?
I am a cryogenics engineer. I provide and operate liquid helium refrigeration systems to support high-energy physics experiments. My job is twofold. First, there is operations and maintenance issue involved with supporting current programs. Second, there is design and research to support future programs.
Why did you choose this career?
As a child I was always interested in science. I particular enjoyed astronomy, space, and aviation. I decided to be an engineer to work with the technology of these fields. I liked the problem solving aspect of engineering. I liked the chance to see something built and find out if it works the way you thought it would. I took my engineering skills and got a job at a national lab where stuff like this happens all the time.
What is your normal working environment?
Working independently, yet with team players and specialists around me. Surrounded by lots of skilled and motivated people...I like that very much. Casual. Not much hierarchy. Daily "pressure" of keeping things working now.
What are your individual responsibilities?
Operating LHe refrigerator system for new superconducting radio frequency accelerating cavity research & development is main job right now. Also, I do similar work for the Tevatron collider experiments. Also, and an important role for the future is designing better and more reliable cryogenic systems for all of Fermilab's needs.
What would you say is the best part about your job?
Getting to wear lots of "hats". By that I mean I get involved in hands-on field work to run current systems. Yet I also get opportunity to sit down and do research and design for the future. That is sort of unusual in engineering, usually you do one or the other. I do both. And it’s good because I learn from each set of experiences. And it makes me a better all round engineer.
What are major goals that you and other people in your field are trying to achieve?
Reliable, cost-effective cryogenic systems that meet very demanding requirements for high energy physics experiments. Physicists many times know that "colder is better". But colder is also more expensive! Its up to us cryogenic engineers to make this very difficult physics experiments possible, but doing so with limited money from funding.
What is the salary of people that do your job at Fermilab?
Depending on experience, I believe it is around $60,000 to 90,000 per year.
From your experience doing this job, what advice can you give for people who might want to pursue a career similar to yours?
Be curious. Be excited about the future. Realize that our country's future in large part rests on America continuing to push technology forward in many areas. In my case, its for high energy physics and cryogenics....but there are many other technology areas. Be versatile in your reading. If there is something in science or technology that grabs your interest, read books about it. It’s like anything, the more you know about something, the more questions you will have. Which brings us back to the curiosity angle!