Here’s my very late contribution to See Arr Oh’s Chem Coach Carnival. The hashtag is #ChemCoach on Twitter.
Your current job.
I’m a PhD student at the Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London. I make metal nanoparticles of various shapes and sizes using flow reactors. Other researchers want them for use in organic electronic devices.
What you do in a standard “work day.”
Upon arriving at uni I immediately go for a shower because I cycle rather than take the tube. Riding my bike keeps me sane. Next thing: coffee.
After that I sit down and plan my day, most of which is spent in the lab. For my own research that involves analysing data, planning/doing reactions, ordering supplies/equipment, programming, building home-made equipment, doing electron microscopy, writing…
My work is very varied and I like it like that. I’m in a small group so everyone has to muck in and learn how to do lots of different things. Nothing is simply delegated to someone else. I think my work probably borders on chemical engineering/process chemistry.
I spent most of Friday running some preliminary tests on a new flow reactor. I also took delivery of a new optical microscope, then helped get rid of an old server rack because we’ve recently got a new optics table and need to make some space. After clearing up the mess I made in the lab I helped out our undergrad student with some MATLAB code.
I also spend one afternoon a week demonstrating for third year undergraduate physical chemistry labs. Teaching is fun, but sometimes very frustrating.
What kind of schooling/training/experience helped you get there?
I went to a comprehensive state school and sixth form before to Imperial for my undergraduate chemistry degree, where I’m now doing my PhD.
During my undergrad I did a summer placement with another group at Imperial, very generously funded by the supervisor. That confirmed for me that I wanted to do a PhD. I strongly recommend that students interested in a PhD do a summer placement.
I’ve also had a lot of non-chemistry part time jobs, mostly in bookshops. I’d like to think that’s given me a good try-anything, get-on-with-it attitude.
How does chemistry inform your work?
It doesn’t so much inform my work as form the core of it. It’s no good if I build the finest flow reactor in the world but my reaction doesn’t work.
I love running reactions, especially anything with a nice colour change. It’s so exciting when it works (and totally makes up for all the times it doesn’t). This Abstruse Goose comic sums up my feelings perfectly.
Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career.
Not funny, but I’m fairly sure I’m the only person to have ever modified an Argos mini oven to make silver nanoparticles.