Kate Elliott

Favourite Thing: Working out why something isn’t working or how to make it work better.



East Ardsley Primary School, Woodkirk High School and Durham University 2006-2010


Masters (MPhys)

Work History:

Climbing and activity instructor for scouts, ASDA, University of Glasgow – lab demonstrator and research in theoretical particle physics.

Current Job:

Medical Physicist



About Me

Climbing, mountain biking, medical physicist with a slight chocolate addidiction!

I’m originally from Leeds but now I live in Watford. When I’m not at work I like climbing and mountain biking. I love going to the hills and also exploring different countries! In the last few years I’ve been to Japan and Malaysia. I’m hoping to go to India for work next year which would be really exciting!

I like reading fantasy books and really loved the Harry Potter books. The Lion King is one of my all time favourite films and Horrible Histories is a great tv show!

I’m terrible at spelling and I’m rather fond of exclamation marks!

My Work

Using x-rays to treat cancer

X-rays can be used to see images of the inside of our bodies (like for checking if a bone is broken). If we use much higher energy x-rays they can actually be used to kill cancer, this is called radiotherapy. In my job doctors tell me what they want to treat with the x-rays and I work out how to do this without causing too much damage to the rest of the body.

We use large machines called linacs (linear accelerators) to make the x-rays. Another part of my job is to look after these machines to make sure we can deliver treatment to within millimetres of the intended target.

Whilst x-rays can be used effectively for medical purposes there are some dangers in using them. Part of the role of a medical physicist is to make sure they are used safely.

My Typical Day

My day can vary quite a lot – it’s one of the great things about the job!

Some days I’ll be doing treatment planning. When I do this I get the CT images (pictures) of patients and the doctors draw on the areas they want to be treated and how much dose they want it to receive (how many x-rays it gets). I then use a computer to help me work out the best positions for the x-rays to enter the patient and make sure the dose received by other bits of the body is not too high. I’ll then talk to the doctor about the plan I’ve made once it’s as good as it can be!

When I’m doing quality assurance (QA), I’ll be playing with the machines all day! We do lots of tests on them to make sure everything is working correctly. We also test the individual patient plans to make sure the machines can deliver them correctly.

We also have projects and help bring in new techniques and treatments into the hospital. We’ll often have to solve problems that come up. Every day is a bit different because all our patients are different! I also drink a lot of coffee at work and there is usually cake in the department somewhere! (The NHS is fuelled by cake!)

What I'd do with the money

Lego linac videos!

Some friends made a video of the radiotherapy patient pathway (YouTube “Legolas gets radiotherapy”), we’d like to re do this for kids and with the money we could do a whole medical physics series! I’d maybe also get some better props for talks in schools.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Rubbish at this (sort of thing).

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I like lots of rock and folk music!

What's your favourite food?

Curry! And cake, it’s hard not to like cake when your name sounds so similar!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Cycling through France to a scout centre in Switzerland.

What did you want to be after you left school?

When I was seven I wanted to be a fairy, then an archaeologist, by about 14 I’d settled on scientist!

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Yes but only for silly things like uniform and being late to form!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Maths and science

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I had to climb on a roof last week to check for x-rays coming from the room below, that was unexpected! I also get to see and play with cool, expensive equipment all the time!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve just always enjoyed solving problems and had great teachers telling me I could do anything!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

I can’t imagine doing anything else :/ maybe a chocolate taster that has to cycle everywhere?!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

That I could fall asleep quicker, that I owned a castle and that there was a car-free way to cycle to work!

Tell us a joke.

What did the Cheese salesman say? That cheese may be Gouda, but this one is Feta!

Other stuff

Work photos:

Me and my favourite linac! myimage1

Because radiation can be harmful we control the linacs from outside the room. We have cameras and speakers to check the patients are ok though! myimage2

Sometimes we have to use a massive water tank! This is used to get information about the x rays for the computers that do the treatment planning. It takes a long time to set it up perfectly so that we get good results. myimage3

We have lasers on the wall so we can position patients in the exact same place everyday of their treatment. In this picture they are going through the water tank. myimage5

X rays are invisible. We use a light in the same position to check exactly where the x rays are going to go. In this picture you can see the shadow of some of our equipment in the light field! myimage4

This is one of our CT scanners where we get the images of the patient, ready for treatment planning.myimage6

Sometimes the linacs break and we have to get bioengineers to come and fix them!myimage7