Siobhan Tobin ANSTO Graduate

Siobhan Tobin

Australian National University
ANSTO Graduate, Radionuclide Metrology
Siobhan studied Bachelor of Philosophy (Science Honours) at Australian National University (ANU)

What's your job about?

Currently I am working in ANSTO’s Radionuclide Metrology group. Radionuclide metrology is the measurement science of radioactivity. Our chief task is to maintain the Australian standard for the Becquerel, the unit of radioactive decay. The variety of decay modes across isotopes used for medicine and research means that my group has many specialised instruments and unusual scientific capabilities. We work with hospitals, radiopharmacies including ANSTO Health, and researchers across many disciplines to ensure the integrity of their nuclear measurements. In some cases we also provide certified reference sources of radioactive material.

Metrology work facilitates the trade of radiopharmaceuticals and is the starting point for the successful running of experiments including drug trials. As the national standards lab for radioactivity, we participate in international comparisons under the auspices of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). These happen every few years and are taken very seriously!

So far as part of my rotation in this area I have worked on a dosimetry calibration project, standards for quantitative PET scans, and quality control work with ANSTO Health. To get the best measurements, you have to get the best out of your instruments. I enjoy the instrumentation side of Radionuclide Metrology which includes heaps of different detectors (some operating at cryogenic temperatures), coding for data acquisition and analysis, optimising electronics, and more. Plus there is the fun of sample preparation, which is quite specialised in our lab. Later this year, I’ll be part of the Radionuclide Metrology team for a BIPM intercomparison.

What's your background?

I attended high school in Ballarat and then studied physics at the Australian National University. During my degree I did quite a bit of work in physics education including tutoring a university course and teaching with the Australian Science Olympiad program. I also took on community outreach opportunities such as the World Science Festival, the Australian Museum Science Festival and more. 

For fun I like outdoors activities such as rowing, running, and rogaining, and I have had part-time jobs in supermarkets and fast food outlets.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

In my current rotation, a background in physics and/or chemistry is needed; however, ANSTO takes graduates from many streams: engineering, maths, other scientific research disciplines including life and environmental science, science communication, as well as less obvious areas such as politics and law. The great thing is that your rotations are tailored to your interests and aptitudes rather than being more general.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

Doing science everyday is fantastic, particularly in an organisation that is far reaching and that aims broadly. Metrology is a good mix of theory and experiment. My group has strong collaborations and great people. Overall the coolest thing about my work is that I get to play a part in enabling diverse nuclear medicine treatments and new experiments across Australia and the region.

What are the limitations of your job?

As the national standards lab we have quite a lot of work to do, and some of it is time dependent, owing to the nature of short-lived radionuclides! On the face of it, metrology can seem complicated and particular, but I think this is true of any academic field – there is a lot of technical, discipline-specific knowledge and practical skills to be gained while on the job. Some of the lab work requires dexterity and a lot of practise and patience to get right, but it’s satisfying!

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  • Local volunteering opportunities are invaluable, whether related to your field of study or not.
  • Try and study broadly within your discipline or degree. I’m now in nuclear physics but did my honours project in a completely different area of physics.
  • It might not work for everyone but sticking to your hobbies and interests even when you don’t feel you have time for them is good for your wellbeing and productivity.