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News > Science, Technology & Medicine > Tonbridge's Scientists: Paul Nailor

Tonbridge's Scientists: Paul Nailor

OTs answer: What can I do with my science degree?
2019 has been an extraordinary year for Science at Tonbridge. To mark the opening of the new Barton Science Centre, we asked Old Tonbridgians with a science background to write to us with their story. In the next pages, we hear from 9 OTs, whose experience demonstrate the wide range of job options available to science graduates, and many of whom have exploited the positive characteristics of their science-trained brains in some unexpected sectors. 

Independent Consultant, and Partner, Baird Partners

Science and the scientific method have been part of my life since my earliest childhood. However, I also have a facility in languages and this resulted in my entering Tonbridge School on a Knightley scholarship. Whilst my love of languages, art and music have endured, when it was time to pick a subject to study at Oxford there was only one option: Physics.

Physics is the ideal subject area for those who do not blindly accept established wisdom. In some circles it is called Natural Philosophy and I think that encapsulates for me the allure of the subject: you learn how to question. That is the skill is what has provided me with such an exciting and broad career and, ultimately, the ability to network at the highest levels both at home here in Malta and internationally.


"Physics is the ideal subject area for those who do not blindly accept established wisdom."

The first stage of my career after studies was as a research engineer and later consultant at PA Consulting in Cambridge.  This was the idea of my PhD supervisor at Imperial College, the late Prof. Walter Welford. Having studied laser physics and theoretical particle physics at Oxford followed by an MA in Advanced Mathematics at Cambridge I was ideally positioned to go for an opportunity at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago, where a student was needed with knowledge of laser and optical systems and of high energy particle physics. During my time at Fermi Lab I had both lab disasters and successes. Before returning to my business career I want to recount a couple of these as they are important in what followed.

In Fermi Lab experiment E632 we were tasked with using the then most powerful particle accelerator, the Tevatron, to probe the predictions of various theoretical models of the structure of matter. We used the high energy proton beam to force proton-proton collisions in a large sphere of liquid hydrogen. The results of these collisions manifested themselves as trails of bubbles in the liquid. Whilst conventional cameras had been used historically to photograph these trails from a variety of angles, the unique aspect of E632 was to use a high power pulsed ruby laser and a holographic camera to take holograms of the entire volume, which would be reconstructed in a facility in the UK and examined by a robot camera exploring the recreated space. My jobs were to work on the design of the laser, the holographic camera and its optical system and on the reconstruction machine and its optical systems.

One particular situation comes to mind from this. In order to fire the multistage laser we needed to switch a bank of very large capacitors very quickly. The only device able to do this at that time (1985) was a Krytron switch. This is the same switch used in the detonation of a nuclear bomb. I was using these up fast during the development of the laser, so I ordered 20 from the supplier. The next day I got a call and then a visit from officials at the US Dept of Defence who wanted to know why I needed so many nuclear bomb triggers… There were also many highlights as what we were doing had never been done before, and I was allowed a lot of freedom and allocated a sizeable budget and the opportunity to present the work at international collaboration meetings and conferences.  All of this built up my confidence and presentation ability as well as achieving many scientific firsts and being comfortable at international senior levels.

Above: Photo included in Dr Nailor's PhD thesis, showing a very high energy proton-proton collision in a hydrogen bubble chamber, taken as a hologram and photographed from the reconstructed real image in the lab. The resolution is about 25 microns, far finer than any ordinary bubble chamber photo.

Whilst at PA Technology and latterly at Scientific Generics, a spin out from PA Tech of which I was a founder member, I used the skills and knowledge developed during my academic career to the full. I won and executed development projects for international clients based on my own ideas and was recognised as an expert witness in certain fields. I developed a love of the chemical manufacturing industry and took ownership of this sector for the consultancies and latterly at the five investment banks where I worked.  Bringing the mindset of the physicist to business and industry problems led me to develop new ways of analysing corporate strategy and a string of landmark merger and acquisition transactions across the world. I would present my ideas at Board level across the world and won clients due to the innovative nature of those ideas. Highlights would include: advising the Italian government and the state company ENI on restructuring its chemical industry business, and then executing the restructuring; performing the first ever UK stock market takeover deal for Salomon Brothers; winning a multibillion pound project to advise a Swiss chemical company in a contested hostile takeover of a UK speciality chemical manufacturer when at Credit Swiss First Boston – a first for the firm, won by my knowledge of the target company; and many more of which I have a shelf full of commemorative acrylic blocks and other mementoes.

The same mindset took me to join the management team at Elementis where I helped design and execute a 3-year turnaround which was a great success – and very remunerative… Now I have left the day to day business field, I still think up projects and plans in a variety of market spaces based here in Malta.

All of this stemmed from my love of questioning established wisdom and practices born of being a physicist, through and through. There are too many scientists that have inspired me along the way but I would pick out one. Richard Feynman was for me the ultimate physicist. His life and writings would inspire anyone. I hope I have been doing justice in my life to what I learned from his.

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