Sarah Connolly

Sarah Connolly

 “The nuclear industry is seeing a rejuvenation of workforce and an influx of drive and passion. With new opportunities in areas like SMRs, it’s a really exciting time to be embarking upon a career in the sector.”

Career to date

  • DPhil in Materials
    Science (2014 -Present)
  • MEng in Materials
    Science (2010 - 2014)
  • University Liaison Officer for Central England Branch of Nuclear Institute
  • STEM Ambassador
  • Headstart Materials Course Superviser

Sarah Connolly 

Sarah Connolly, a Nuclear Materials DPhil Student at The University of Oxford, has high aspirations for a bright career within the nuclear industry. Her work in the development of novel materials for use in the next generation of nuclear fission and fusion reactors combines her passion for manufacturing with the interesting challenges faced by the Nuclear Industry.

Route into nuclear
Sarah first became interested in engineering through the Engineering Development Trust’s (EDT) Engineering in Education Scheme. Working alongside graduates from GE Aviation, her team developed a tool to demonstrate flight at educational fairs for school children. It was then that she found a passion for materials selection and product design, stimulating research into careers in engineering. Her subsequent attendance at the EDT’s Headstart Residential Course opened her eyes to the vast opportunities available within materials science, cinching her choice to study the subject for her degree. 

During her undergraduate studies, Sarah completed a summer placement at the Nuclear Submarine Division of Rolls-Royce. The challenges faced by materials within the nuclear environment further shaped her interest, leading her to choose a thesis subject about the micromechanics of advanced steels for the first wall of nuclear fission reactors.  Her post doctoral studies (DPhil) at the University of Oxford investigate alternative manufacturing methods, which potentially offer scale-up to industrially required levels, with a focus upon Gen IV fuel cladding applications. 

Alongside her research, Sarah has developed a keen interest in Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and the advanced manufacturing opportunities these could bring to the UK. She says she is, “excited for the change in pace that will be necessary to meet the economies of scale required for the SMR market, the modular manufacture and assembly processes that can be deployed, in addition to the opportunity to explore export markets.”

Nuclear professionalism
Sarah sees the Nuclear Delta and Nuclear Institute’s standards of professionalism as an aspiration for her career progression. She is currently an Associate Member and has been making the most of Institute conferences, such as the SMR Conference in 2016, and Central England Branch local lectures on Materials in Fusion Power and Robotics.

To stimulate YGN and University activity locally, Sarah became a member of the Central England Branch of the Nuclear Institute, organising University and YGN careers and networking events. She has also set up a schools outreach team within the region and is actively involved in promoting careers within science and engineering, acting as a female role model for a number of local schools.  This year she was appointed Course Supervisor for the Oxford Materials Headstart Course, offering students the opportunity to visit the exciting JET (Joint European Torus) project at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. This gives a first-hand view of Fusion Energy, at cutting edge of nuclear science and engineering.  She is also part of the Nuclear Institute’s Fusion Energy Conference Organising Committee, acting as a technical content advisor and YGN involvement officer, to help increase the Nuclear Institute’s involvement in the Fusion sector. 

The future
With a passion for sustainability and efficient advanced manufacturing processes, Sarah hopes to build a career in the nuclear sector around manufacturing. She sees the potential of Small Modular Reactors as an incredible opportunity for the UK manufacturing sector and is actively participating in the national debate. Public engagement and outreach will remain one of Sarah’s key foci, aiming to increase the positive public perception of nuclear and to help stimulate the continued resurgence of young aspiring nuclear workers.