Spotlight on: Roy Gardiner

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Alumnus Roy Gardiner
Alumnus, Roy Gardiner

Following a recent trip down memory lane on a visit to campus, alumnus Roy Gardiner (BSc Hons Physics with Mathematics 1965) shares the story of his time at the University of Liverpool during Beatlemania, his career at NASA and his advice for recent graduates:

The city has changed enormously since I was last here and it is clear that the city’s economy now is transformed from the way it was more than 50 years ago. At that time, manufacturing and shipping were far more important than they are now and education and tourism sectors now underpin the economic health of the city.

As for the University of Liverpool, it is obviously much larger now, in terms of the student numbers and indeed the numbers of associated buildings to teach and accommodate them.

When I was a student here the Reilly Building was just known as ‘The Union’, although the ‘new Union’ building was built while I was a student. In the 1960s, central heating in homes was really unheard of and I lit a coal fire each evening when I returned home from my work in Port Sunlight, using firewood and pages from the Liverpool Echo as a starter. I remember the then luxury of being able to go to the ‘new Union’ and, after being issued with a bright green towel, having a lovely hot shower!

In the summer of 1964, at the end of my second year at the University, I worked at Speke Airport as an aeroplane loader. This involved loading and unloading passengers’ luggage, and other cargo.

The highlight of this stint was the day when the Beatles arrived at the airport to attend the Northern premiere of their film A Hard Day’s Night. They were greeted by, literally, thousands of screaming girls and were then conveyed through the city streets to Liverpool Town Hall, where they were given a civic reception. The link below will give some idea of the excitement and energy associated with occasion:

Life after graduation

Immediately after graduation, I remained in Liverpool and worked as a Research Assistant at Unilever Research Laboratory, in Port Sunlight. Later, I studied Applied Optics at Imperial College of Science and Technology, being awarded a Diploma of Membership of Imperial College. Later still, I did research in silver halide holography, in the School of Photography at the Polytechnic of Central London where I was awarded my Master of Philosophy degree.

I lived and worked in London for many years, including at the famous Dallmeyer Company in Willesden, London, where I tested the lenses that the company designed and manufactured. Thereafter, for about three decades, I worked in the defence and aerospace industries. Initially, I worked as an engineer in defence companies in Feltham, Middlesex and Rochester, Kent. In 1991 I first started working as a contract engineer. My first contract was at British Aerospace in Warton, Lancashire. Later, I had engineering contract employment in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Portsmouth and Somerset in England.

In 1997 I moved to the US and started work as a contract engineer in the Everett factory of the Boeing Company. In the US, I always worked as a contract Systems Engineer, for Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Washington State, Rockwell Collins in Iowa, Honeywell in Arizona and NASA, AMES Research Center in California. I have also worked aerospace contracts in Hamburg, Munich and Ueberlingen, all in Germany.

The project at NASA was the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) and was, in principle, a very interesting project.

This extract from the associated NASA website explains more:

“SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a 2.7-meter (106-inch) reflecting telescope (with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters or 100 inches). Flying into the stratosphere at 38,000-45,000 feet puts SOFIA above 99 percent of Earth’s infrared-blocking atmosphere, allowing astronomers to study the solar system and beyond in ways that are not possible with ground-based telescopes. SOFIA is made possible through a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).”

On my recent return to Liverpool, I was totally unprepared for the warm and friendly welcome that I received at the University, particularly by the two persons from the Alumni office! That includes the unexpected invitation to be escorted on the tour of the Physics department.

I should add that several days earlier, while wandering around the vicinity of the Chadwick lecture theatre, I had accidentally encountered a Physics Professor, Ken Durose. Although we were complete strangers he introduced himself to me and invited me to an ongoing gathering of numerous folk who had just graduated or obtained their PhD. This was very hospitable and I really appreciated it!

The gentleman who several days later took me on the tour, Peter Rowlands, is, I believe, a Teaching Fellow and was clearly a very erudite chap. The Physics department is greatly expended since my day and it was interesting and informative to hear of the accomplishments of current and past faculty members.

Frankly, I was rather overawed by much of the theoretical stuff but managed to understand the basics, as described to me! The fields of research described were very diverse.

At a more practical level, I particularly warmed to a highly skilled technician in a mechanical workshop in the Oliver Lodge building. His evident skills and enthusiasm reminded me very much of folk with similar, admirable qualities, whom I had worked with in my industrial career, and for whom I had the greatest admiration and respect.

Advice for future graduates?

I feel reluctant to venture too much advice as such for future generations. I am not an omniscient being, nobody is. We are all individuals and what will make us happy is different from individual to individual.

However, perhaps I would say that we all make mistakes in this life, both professionally and at a personal level. What matters is learning from those mistakes and benefiting from this experience.

Secondly, although it may sound obvious, I think it is most important to strive for personal happiness, to march to one’s own drum. Don’t be coerced into following a path that does not suit you.

Finally, in whatever capacities or projects you are engaged, above all, do the right thing. It’s not always easy but in the long run people will respect you for this, and you will respect yourself.