Graduate Opportunity

Graduate Optical Engineer


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Part of the STFC, the UKATC is the UK's national laboratory for the design and development of astronomical instrumentation. The UKATC has a rich heritage of instrumentation development for ground-based observatories as well as space facilities. It employs a broad spectrum of engineers and scientists across the full range of disciplines required for contemporary astronomy (optical design, mechanical engineering, electronics, software, systems engineering, project management). It also has an extensive track record of successfully applying techniques and technologies developed for astronomy to other sectors (e.g. earth observation/remote sensing, environmental monitoring). The UKATC develops instruments for world leading organisations, such as the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the European Space Agency (ESA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 

What soft skills will you learn?

From teamwork to communication, and from technical learning to becoming a STEM ambassador – Ben Bealing from STFC reveals the variety of skills you can learn on the company's graduate programme. To watch the full Gradcracker/STFC webinar, click here.

The Applied Optics Group contributes to all stages of projects at the UKATC, from working with astronomers to define requirements, generating conceptual designs for new instrumentation, through to aligning and testing optical systems in the laboratory or even commissioning instruments at a telescope site. The Applied Optics Group is actively involved in many high-profile projects including MIRI (for the James Webb Space Telescope, JWST), MOONS (for ESO’s Very Large Telescope, VLT), HARMONI and METIS (for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, ELT) and LISA (space interferometer for gravitational wave detection for ESA). We also have an ongoing programme to develop technology for CubeSats to maximise the imaging capability of these small satellites. 

Summary of Key Duties and Responsibilities 

Within the Applied Optics Group at UKATC you will work on a number of different projects, mostly related to ground based astronomical instrumentation or space technology. These will range from small scale design studies through to large scale multinational instrumentation projects. 

  • Design and analysis of optical systems using ray tracing software, working with engineers from other fields (e.g. mechanical engineering, systems engineering) to contribute to a complete system design.
  • Laboratory testing and alignment of optical components and systems
  • Analysis of experimental and modelled data
  • Contributing to written reports and presentations.

As part of the graduate programme, it is expected that you will be enrolled with the Institute of Physics (or equivalent professional organisation) with the view of becoming a Chartered Physicist, which is a peer reviewed recognition of your competency as a physicist. 

You will work in close interaction with the other groups within UKATC including scientists, other engineering disciplines and project management. More broadly you will be part of international teams and therefore some national and international travel is expected.

You will be responsible for managing your own time across a number of projects. 

In order to apply for the role you must have: 


  • Obtained first degree bachelors or Masters, (not doctorate) in a relevant subject in either 2020, 2021 or be due to receive it in 2022
  • Expected or have achieved a 2:1 or above 
  • The right to live and work in the UK 
  • Understanding of basic optical principles 
  • Good laboratory skills 
  • Technical computing skills 
  • An interest in state-of-the-art astronomical instrumentation and methods 
  • Good communication and presentation skills (written and spoken) 
  • Ability to work collaboratively within a team both on-site, nationally and internationally 


  • Knowledge of a numerical coding language (e.g. Python, MatLab, etc.) 
  • Experience of optical design software (e.g. Zemax, Code V) 
  • Experience of designing and/or building optical instrumentation 
  • An interest in astronomy, space science and/or space technology 

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Opportunity Overview

  • October 31st, 2021
  • £27,938 + benefits
  • 2:1 and above
  • Edinburgh
    (Show map)

Preferred Disciplines...

  • Aerodynamics
  • Aeronautics
  • Aerospace
  • Avionics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Control & Instrumentation
  • Electrical
  • Electronic
  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Environmental Science
  • Mechanical
  • Mechatronics
  • Physics
  • Project Management
  • Science
  • Software
  • Systems

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