Tim Stephens

Thanks for voting for me to stay in :)



Heriot-Watt University 1996-2000 (MPhys), 2000-2003 (PhD).


Degree and PhD (in lasers and optical fibres)

Work History:

First, I worked as a researcher at my University for a year or so, then I worked at a laser distributor for another year, then I started at Oxford Lasers in 2006.

Current Job:

Imaging Systems Engineer – I design, develop and support image-based measurement systems.


Oxford Lasers

Me and my work

I use lasers to take pictures of small or fast moving things.

I work as an imaging scientist at Oxford Lasers. We make machines that use a camera to take pictures of small or fast-moving things (anything from droplets of hairspray to bullets) and then measure how big they are or how fast they are moving. The sort of customers that we have tend to be scientists or engineers who want to study how a spray works, or how fast a flow of air is travelling.

I am responsible for designing and developing new machines, and then helping out our customers in case they have problems. I also visit new customers to train them how to control the machines, and attend conferences and shows to tell people about what we make.

My Typical Day

I could be doing anything from designing a new component to visiting a laboratory on the other side of the world.

When I’m in the office, I tend to spend 2-3 hours per day answering email and speaking with my colleagues or customers about problems that they may be having. The rest of the time is split between working in the lab testing ideas, and trying new things; transferring those ideas into computer models; specifying new software needs; writing literature for the sales people; working on the company website; or any number of other jobs that are needed to keep the company working.


If I’m travelling (which is usually about one week in six), I could be anywhere in the world visiting customers. In this case, no day is ever the same. I’ve been to all sorts of interesting places from nuclear fuel reprocessing plants to car factories, university labs, hospitals, chemical companies, aerospace test labs, firing ranges, dairies, you name it!

What I'd do with the money

I’d like to fund some science clubs in schools.

Science clubs during the holidays or after school are a fun way to spend more time learning about the cool stuff that you can do with science. I’d spend the money on getting equipment for some local school science clubs, or perhaps toward some field trips to visit interesting museums or scientific labs.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Who is your favourite singer or band?

What is the most fun thing you've done?

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

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be a weather forecaster (which is why I studied physics). Then I realised that lasers were more interesting.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No, I was pretty well-behaved.

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

I’m proudest of some of the products that I’ve made in my current job.

Tell us a joke.

Other stuff

Work photos:

myimage1 Today I was measuring the shape of the spray from an aerosol can (the white bottle at the right of the image). I used a laser (the red thing at the top) to light up a plane in the spray and a camera (the grey/black object on the post at the left) to take pictures. The camera can take 500 pictures every second, so it can make really slow-motion movies of things that normally happen really quickly. Once I’d taken the pictures, I used software to measure the diameter of the spray and how oval it is. You can see the result of the experiment below.



Here’s a picture of my lab at its untidiest.


I was trying to take apart an inkjet printer to use the printer head for a demonstration of one of the machines that we make. Inkjet printers shoot tiny droplets of ink at the paper when they’re printing out documents from your computer. I wanted to try and take pictures of the droplets, and measure what size they are. I got the printer mechanism out of the printer and then tried to use the various machines that you can see in the background to understand how the printer worked so that I could control it myself from a special piece of electronics. I got absolutely covered in ink that day!


Here’s a photo of one of the systems that I work on. This one is for measuring the size and shape of the spray pattern from inhalers for things like asthma. Scientists use these machines to make sure that the inhalers that they make are always the same and that they always work properly.




Here’s a picture of another system, which is used by scientists and engineers┬áto measure the size and speed of small droplets or solid particles.



Finally, since I seem to have mentioned him quite a few of my answers: Here’s a picture of my cat. Look, isn’t he cute ­čÖé