Favourite Thing: Set up a new and exciting piece of equipment, a bit like when you get a new gadget to play with at Christmas.
2000-2005 Lakers School, 2005-2007 Royal Forest of Dean College, 2007-2016 University of Bristol
GCSEs, A Levels, Swimming Teacher Qualification, MSci in Chemical Physics with Industrial Experience
Five Acres Leisure Centre (Lifeguard and Swimming Teacher), Black Sheep Events (Race Marshall), City Technology (Industrial Trainee)
University of Bristol
Me and my work
I grow carpets of zinc oxide, 1000s of times smaller than hairs and measure how they absorb light and give off electricity.
I am doing a PhD in “functional nanomaterials”. This means I am at university as a student learning about and doing experiments on “functional nanomaterials”. Functional nanomaterials is an area of science that is interested in things that a very small, much too small to see with the naked eye, and usually too small to even see with an ordinary microscope. I “grow” zinc oxide nanorods onto glass; this is a bit like how you can grow colourful crystals in saltwater. The nanorods grow as vertical pillars, if you could shrink yourself down to walk between them it would be like walking through a forest of hexagonal trees. I shine light on the nanorods and depending on which colour light I illuminate them with I can get different amounts of electricity out. One day my work will hopefully lead to cheap solar cells, much thinner than the big black ones you often see on people’s roofs so that they could easily go on peoples cars or if they were to be made slightly transparent they could be used as windows that also generate electricity.
My Typical Day
I tend to spend some time in the chemistry lab heating up my samples so that they grow, then measuring them with different pieces of electronic equipment and then doing some maths to work out how well they are working.
Growing my nanorods requires putting on a lab coat, safety glasses and some purple rubber gloves. Firstly I have to cut the glass that I will be growing onto, I use a sharp tool that looks a bit like a pen, then scratch it across the glass using a ruler before carefully snapping it to get a piece of the right size. The small pieces of glass then go into a beaker of water and a placed into an “ultrasonicator”, this is a bath of water which is vibrated really quickly, the only way you can tell it is working is the ripples in the water; the rippling water cleans the glass. Whilst the glass is being cleaned I can weigh out the chemicals that will eventually grow into my nanorods. Once the chemcials are weighed out, I dissolve them in very clean water and pour it into another beaker. I place the clean glass into the beaker full of chemicals and put it into a hot bath which causes my nanorods to grow. On other days I will take the nanorods I have grown and I will place them into a different beaker of chemicals and shine light on them with LEDs; the nanorods absorb the light and generate electricity, they use this electricity to make a chemical reaction happen. How fast the chemical reactions happen can be measured with an ammeter and a computer; I then have to use this data to see how much of the light was absorbed and how well the nanorods cause chemical reactions to occur.
What I'd do with the money
Develop an interactive demonstration of how solar cells work.
I want a kit that allows secondary school pupils to make their own working solar cell in under 2 hours. There is one available which I would purchase to test how successful it is, and then either purchase more to take around to local schools, or develop a similar product that is appropriate. I hope to demonstrate how materials absorb different coloured light, and how they can turn that light into electricity.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, helpful, relaxed
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Chicken and Chips from a Chip Shop
What is the most fun thing you've done?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Once for throwing paper and a few times for correcting the teacher in maths.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Science (Unless we were playing Tennis in PE)
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
A trip to CalTech in Los Angeles to learn “photoelectrochemistry” from the world experts.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
A TV show called rough science, similar to Mythbusters, lots of very crude science experiments.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A computer programmer probably, hopefully designing video games.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To live in a castle with swimming pool/moat (including slide), tennis and squash courts. To be able to breathe underwater (without having to learn how to SCUBA dive). To play real life mario kart.
Tell us a joke.
I just built a car out of sugar, it’s a sweet ride.
I forgot to put the most important image of my work, the actual material I was making, so I have changed this and it is now included:
The image is a scanning electron microscope image, instead of bouncing light off a material and looking at it, we have to use electrons instead. We are looking down on top of the rods, each of them being almost vertical and most of them are nice hexagons.
Here is my desk, it’s not the tidiest, but has been worse. I have a nice convenient laptop and a big screen so I can do twice as much work.
In the lab there are a few areas I tend to use most often and a few bits of important equipment. I quite like the laser area, we have a laser that fires a blue and green laser. We have to wear very dark glasses to use it, as well as shutting the curtains to make sure no one else accidentally looks at it.
There is another area very similar to the laser area, but instead of a laser we have a bright lamp which we can choose which colour we use from it by shining it through a monochromator like the one shown in the picture above. the measurements can take a few hours to take, but the longest time is usually setting it all up, making sure all the cables go in the right place. Most of the time we keep everything plugged in the same way, but if it changes it can take a long time to work out which cable has been plugged into the wrong hole.
A useful ability within a lab environment is to know where to hide if your supervisor comes looking for you and you’ve forgotten to give him the latest draft of the paper you were supposed to be writing. As a demonstration here is one of my colleagues proving how easily you can hide yourself if required.
Finally here is the fantastic view you can get from the top of the chemistry building. It does require a few flights of stairs from my lab, but it’s worth the trek for the lovely view across South Bristol.