https://innovateuk.blog.gov.uk/2017/10/19/an-unexpected-journey-towards-innovation/

An unexpected journey towards innovation

Professor Kym Jarvis wanted to be a PE teacher, but after some decisive turns, ended up on a new career trajectory towards transforming nuclear decommissioning with Viridian Consultants.

There isn’t one route towards any particular profession, so individuals shouldn’t feel tied to their path, or put off if things don’t work out. I’m a professor working on changing the way the UK works in the nuclear decommissioning space by making it faster, cheaper and more efficient – but few would think this journey began with an ambition to be a PE teacher.

Professor Kym Jarvis alongside sampling instrument
Professor Kym Jarvis alongside sampling instrument

I left school at 16 ­­– in fact, I was asked to leave for disrupting classes ­– and went to technical college to do an A-Level in sports science. But thanks to some convenient time-tabling, I also ended up studying geography and geology. This was a major turning point and I became more and more interested in geology over sports. Why? It was simple really, the challenge was far greater, and I enjoyed taking the opportunity to go on trips all over the country.

Viridian’s sampling technology ViridiScope
Viridian’s sampling technology ViridiScope

Proving a point

Once I got my A-levels in geology and geography I decided to pursue this path over sports science and went on to do a degree in geology. But this isn’t a straightforward rise – the grade I eventually got was… disappointing. But I couldn’t give up and I decided I had to put it right somehow – to prove a point.

I eventually secured a starting position as a technician at the very same university I did my degree at. After putting in the hours, my supervisor offered me the opportunity to do a PhD in geochemistry on a part-time basis. I completed the whole thing in five years – a relatively short amount of time considering I was working alongside it. This is when I started to take everything more seriously and over that last summer before my PhD submission, I took three months off work and spent every day and night writing.

Viridian’s Professor Kym Jarvis at the company’s facility in North Wales
Viridian’s Professor Kym Jarvis at the company’s facility in North Wales

After my PhD, I received a postdoctoral Fellowship at University of Surrey working in a group that was pioneering a new analytical technique called ICP-Mass Spectrometry. The technique went on to win the Queen’s award for technology. Who knew that disruptive teenager would one day meet the Queen?

Back to the present

After working for more than 25 years as an academic, I got together with two colleagues and started Viridian Consultants within the nuclear decommissioning space. I’ve always worked on developing new methodology and problem solving for the measurement of isotopes in the natural environment – it’s a small jump to the nuclear industry. But eventually, we found we’d hit a ceiling with our consultancy services. However, when we saw an Innovate UK grant competition, we recognized an opportunity to design and create a new product for the very industry we consulted on.

Viridian's sampling instruments being tested at facilities in Corwen, North Wales
Viridian's sampling instruments being tested at facilities in Corwen, North Wales

We used this knowledge to win the grant and have now created a new sampling system called ViridiScope which significantly decreases the time it takes to retrieve data from weeks, to minutes. We’re now on the verge of starting field trials at 5 nuclear sites at Sellafield, Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR), Winfrith Dragon, Dungeness A and Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia. The trials will be complete by March 2018.

What I’ve learned is that to become a successful innovator, you don’t need to know your path from the start. What you do need to do is realise when there’s an opportunity, and make sure you take it.

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2 comments

  1. Comment by Darrell posted on

    Great example of an innovation champion! Further information on the Viridian Consultant's project for nuclear decommissioning can be found in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's R&D Brochure for 2014 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nuclear-decommissioning-research-and-development-brochures)

    Reply
  2. Comment by Steve Heeks posted on

    Good advice Prof. I enjoyed watching the trials at Silwood. Good luck.

    Reply

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