Graduate Opportunity

Graduate Adaptive Optics 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 fields required for contemporary astronomy (adaptive optics, 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 the 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 is involved at all stages of instrumentation at the UKATC, from working with astronomers to define requirements and generating conceptual designs for new instruments, through to assembly and testing of optical systems in the laboratory and installation and commissioning of instruments at their respective telescopes. 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, MOSAIC and METIS (for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, ELT) and LISA (a space-based gravitational wave detector for ESA). There is also an ongoing programme to develop technology for CubeSats, in particular looking at the use of deployable optics to maximise the imaging capability of these small satellites. Adaptive Optics (AO) is a crucial aspect of astronomical instrumentation and at the UKATC we work across a wide variety of AO projects, from R&D into novel AO methods to the creation of the next generation of AO instruments.

Summary of 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 and space technology. These will range from small scale design studies through to large scale multinational instrumentation projects. 

Adaptive Optics Engineer 

  • Design and analysis of adaptive optics systems using high-level programming languages and mathematical models.
  • Working with engineers from other disciplines (e.g. mechanical engineering, systems engineering) to contribute to a complete system design.
  • Develop novel adaptive optics ideas, solutions, and mathematical models.
  • Laboratory testing adaptive optics components, algorithms, 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 proficiency as a physicist. 

You will work in close interaction with the other groups within UKATC, such as the engineering fields 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 of 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 in optics, physics, applied physics, astrophysics or equivalent 
  • The right to live and work in the UK 
  • Experience in solving practical physics or engineering problems 
  • Good technical computing skills and knowledge of mathematical modelling (e.g. Python, Matlab) 
  • Ability of being creative, to innovate, and develop new concepts 
  • Good communication skills, able to influence people at all levels
  • Demonstrate good team working capabilities 


  • Master’s degree in a relevant subject 
  • Expected or have achieved a 1st Class Honours in a relevant subject 
  • A sound understanding of optical and electromagnetic waves theory 
  • An interest in astronomy, space science and/or space technology 
  • Experience with machine learning 
  • The willingness to learn new skills, both technical and non-technical 

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Opportunity Overview

  • October 31st, 2021
  • £27,938 + benefits
  • 2:1 and above
  • Edinburgh
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Preferred Disciplines...

  • Aeronautics
  • Aerospace
  • Analytics
  • Chemistry
  • Data Science
  • Maths
  • Physics
  • Science
  • Statistics

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