Spotlight: Dr Claire Thring, Applications Specialist, Novosound


Tell us a fun fact about yourself.


I love circus and I’m happiest dancing upside-down in a set of aerial silks.


Tell us about your career journey so far.


I studied Maths, Further Maths, and Physics at A-level because I liked their structured logic. I studied Physics at the University of Warwick where I met an inspiring lecturer, Dr Rachel Edwards, whose speciality was Ultrasound. This led me to doing a summer scholarship program with her, and later a masters and PhD with the Warwick Ultrasound group. My PhD research specialised in electromagnetic devises for the generation and detection of ultrasound to detect cracks in jet engine turbine shafts. I did a one-year post-doctoral project at the University of Glasgow, also in ultrasonics however this time working on a Cancer Research UK funded project. After this I gained my current position at Novosound, where I research and develop novel ultrasound sensors for monitoring of industry assets such as boilers.


What was your favourite subject in school and why?


I did not have a favourite subject when I was younger, really enjoying most of my subjects (except for sports!) but as I grew up I gravitated to Physics and Maths due to their structured logic, and due to my strong dislike of memorising facts and figures often needed for other subjects.


What subjects/qualifications/skills are useful for your role?


Maths is important for my job: I regularly perform calculations of sound travel time and the like, although I’m very glad I can always have a calculator. Good computer skills are also important and I do a lot of data processing with python. Physics also gave me a good grounding in the required mathematics and physical principles for my work


What is your favourite thing about your job?


My favourite part of my job is getting be hands on with brand new technology: designing, creating, and testing something that has never been made before. I get bored easily so this variety is key for me, and we constantly have new and challenging projects coming in. I have also always loved to work with my hands, and I love how this work combines both my love of science and my more artistic love of building and creating.


What is a normal day in your role like?


It is hard to describe a ‘normal’ day in my job as there is a huge amount of variation depending on what projects we have on. My usual work however can be split into four main parts: planning, making, testing, and analysis. I will start by planning a ‘project’ often involving a prototype sensor design, or set of testing, then manually creating the prototype sensors, involving cutting, soldering, and gluing, and research for what parts are needed to order in, then testing these sensors involving high power and voltage drive electronics, and then recording and analysing the results in python, and writing up a test report. Most test results end in creating further plans for more research!


And what does your job title mean?


My title ‘Application’s Specialist’ is what is used for all the members of our research and development team. We research the application of our thin film technology in new products. My focus as a specialist is the Novosound high temperature sensor, the Belenus. This is a device that is clamped to a sample of interest (usually a pipe), when it is driven it sends out an ultrasonic pulse and then listens to the echo. The time taken for the echo to return to the sensor is then used to calculate the wall thickness of the sample. This allows for monitoring of the wall thickness of key components, giving early warning if they are likely to fail and need replacing.


Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?


A simple home experiment that helps highlight how ultrasound works is to wait for a thunderstorm and observe the lighting. Record the time between the lightning flash and for the thunderclap to reach you. You can then calculate how far away it was using distance = speed x time, and with the knowledge that the speed of sound in air is 331 m/s. If you also saw the direction from which the lightning came from you can plot on a map the progress of the storm as it moves past you. I also regularly use python for my work. A more in-depth at home activity for this that does not require a well-timed storm can be found here: https://codecombat.com/