When Alex Anderson was a teenager growing up in Waiuku, he read a lot of science fiction and dreamt of one day “building futuristic things like robots”.
Today Alex has arguably done even better than that.
At 30 years old, he has graduated from the University of Auckland’s Bioengineering Institute with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and now builds rockets for a living.
“It’s a dream job,” he says of his role with Rocket Lab.
Rocket Lab is a US company with a base of operations in New Zealand.
“They are developing launch vehicles to put small satellites into space,” Alex says. “These satellites traditionally have to compromise on orbit to ride share with larger satellites.”
Rocket Lab’s Electron will lower the barrier to commercial space by offering frequent and cheap launches direct to orbit from the Mahia Peninsula on the North Island’s East Coast.
Alex is a vehicle test engineer with Rocket Lab and says his role “involves testing all the various components and systems which make up a launch vehicle and feeding the results of those tests back to the designers”.
He has drawn on his general engineering background in instrumentation and electronics, as well as the training he’s received in scientific method (for example striving for rigorous tests) to do his job.
“Alex is a good example of how transferrable Bioengineering skills can be to a broad range of industries and applications,” says his PhD supervisor Associate Professor Andrew Taberner.
For his PhD, Alex developed a new scientific instrument for studying tissue extracted from a living heart.
In this device, a pulse of electricity causes calcium ions to be released into living muscle cells. This stimulates the cells to shorten, change shape, release heat and perform work.
“Alex’s instrument is the first to allow all of these events to be observed together,” says Associate Professor Taberner. “It will enable a deeper study of the relationships between the systems driving the heart, in health and disease.”
CAPTION: Alex Anderson, formerly from Waiuku, graduated with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering.