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2023 IOP Technician Award: Dr Steve Collins and Richard J Webb

Team: University of Sheffield

Dr Steve Collins and Richard J Webb for their outstanding technical expertise and support to students and staff as part of the undergraduate physics laboratory at the University of Sheffield. 

Dr Steve Collins and Richard J Webb have consistently provided outstanding and compassionate support to students and staff at the University of Sheffield as part of their role as teaching technicians. They oversee the day-to-day running of all undergraduate experimental physics practicals in the physics department. This not only involves making sure the kit is in working order, but also extends to training staff and PhD student demonstrators on various experiments, planning Honours-level projects and commissioning highly specialised kit such as gamma ray spectrometers and muon detectors. They are ensuring health and safety principles are always adhered to (for example, Collins is the departmental chemical safety officer) and are there to help diagnose faults with kit quickly and efficiently, always ready to offer an alternative solution.

They have been fundamental to the redevelopment of the teaching labs and curriculum, which in most cases is now focused a lot more on project work and planning rather than strictly scripted experiments. Their deep knowledge of the lab and the kit available ensures these projects have a high chance of success, and students consistently report enjoying them. Oftentimes, Collins and Webb are the first port of call for students when it comes to their experimental design, which shows how much students trust their expertise and their technical skills. They take part in planning work ahead of each academic year, including the acquisition and later commissioning of new experimental kit.

Collins and Webb always help with setting up the undergraduate labs for open days, ensuring a range of demonstrations are available to inspire potential applicants to join the department and pursue a degree in science. Staff are able to provide high-quality demonstrations for open days, safe in the knowledge that everything has been set up to a high standard and will work well. The instructions they wrote for setting up some of the kit have been incredibly useful, particularly for staff who do not work in the labs as part of their regular job.

All lab teaching staff  are beyond grateful and fortunate to work with such outstanding technicians as Collins and Webb, and are in agreement as to just how important they are as an integral part of the department. 

Images left to right: Dr Steve Collins and Richard J Webb