A few questions for Michael Rae

CSIRO Scientist Michael Rae in front of Solar Field 2

Michael Rae is an Experimental Scientist with the solar thermal research group at CSIRO. In between writing software, working at heights and spending time as the unofficial CSIRO Solar Facility tour guide, he found time to answer some questions about himself for the solar blog.

How would you briefly describe your work?  I take care of all the industrial control systems and instrumentation for our solar facility. What does this mean? Well, all our experimental rigs need to be operated and monitored remotely. I’m responsible for designing and implementing all our automation systems to allow this to happen safely. Plus various software work, plant design, plant operation and giving the occasional guided tour.

How does your work impact on the ‘real world’?   Being able to successfully automate these plants is vital as they scale up to commercial size. In a large plant with multiple towers the ultimate goal would be for an operator or team of operators to be able to run the entire facility from a central control room in a supervisory role. To do this we need systems that allow operators to know exactly what is happening in the plant so they can respond to changing conditions or problems.

“Everything starts out as an idea over coffee and a sketch on a whiteboard then actually seeing that built and working is a fantastic feeling.”

Describe a typical day at work for you.   I spend a lot of time in my office doing design work, sourcing equipment and writing software. The fun part is getting out in the field and actually making this stuff work. This can involve anything from diagnosing equipment that isn’t doing what we want, to commissioning and operating the field and plants.

Michael, at left, adjusting a calibration target plate on the Solar Field 2 tower.

What is the most exciting thing about your job?   Being able to see something you’ve been designing for ages actually working. Everything starts out as an idea over coffee and a sketch on a whiteboard then actually seeing that built and working is a fantastic feeling. Also, being able to get up the tower and do some field work on a nice warm sunny day after being trapped in the office for ages is great.

What is the worst thing about your job?   Having to get up the tower to do field work to meet a deadline when it’s freezing cold.

At what age did you realise you were interested in science / engineering? Why did it interest you?   I always enjoyed pulling things apart. Eventually they started going back together.

What’s your educational background?   I graduated in Computer Science at the University of Newcastle with a mixture of Software Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science studies under my belt. Given the chance to change things I’d probably have dropped some of the big software development studies and taken up some more heavy engineering courses in Electrical or Chemical Engineering.

“I always enjoyed pulling things apart. Eventually they started going back together.”

How did you end up in the field of solar energy?   I was working at CSIRO doing computer simulation of airborne emissions and the opportunity came up to do a few odds and ends for the solar team. That slowly became more and more industrial control and plant engineering work until I was full time solar. Since then I’ve played a part in almost every project on the solar towers.

What is the strangest thing you’ve found yourself doing as part of your science/engineering career?   Releasing weather balloons off a carpark roof at the crack of dawn to identify local wind patterns as part of an air quality measurement campaign.

What do you like getting up to on your weekends?   I’m a revhead at heart and have owned, raced, broken and spent far too much time under old Toyotas. Love the outdoors, hopping in the ute and finding that camping spot with no-one around for miles.

What else do readers of the CSIRO Solar Blog need to know about you and your work?   I’ve never owned a lab coat, or ever plan to.

Mick and ute in Oodnadatta

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