Last webchat done - still plenty of time to ask questions though! :)
Reigate Grammar School (1995-2002), Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh (2002-2007), University of Sheffield (2010-today)
A-Levels in Chemistry, Physics, Biology and French, a Master’s degree in Chemistry with Forensic Science, currently studying for a PhD in Chemistry
I worked for AstraZeneca (a medical drug company) for 3 years 2007-2010
University of Sheffield
Favourite thing to do in my job: Anything where I get to use lasers!
I create artificial leaves that use sunlight to make hydrogen – a super explosive gas packed with energy that could power the cars of the future!
That’s the goal anyway!
The artificial leaves don’t work without having a dye in them which can absorb the energy from sunlight (very similar to the role chlorophyll plays in plants – that’s what causes them to be green). At the moment I’m making lots different dyes to see which one works best. All of my dyes contain platinum – a metal rarer and more expensive than gold! They all tend to be quite brightly coloured too:
You know how white clothes glow under ultraviolet light? That process is called ‘fluorescence’ and we use that very same effect to test whether the dyes are doing what we want them to. This means that they too glow really bright and it’s very exciting (for me anyway…) when they do as it means all your hard work has paid off!
My Typical Day
I spend most days in the lab making new chemicals to blast with lasers!
I have to start my day with a large cup of coffee to get the brain going again, and I try not to spend too long on Facebook! I usually have to start by looking over any tests that were run overnight to see if the things I made the day before are what I thought they’d be. This sounds dull, but it can be quite good fun as it’s all about solving puzzles which is really satisfying when you get the right answer.
Most of my day I spend in the lab (with the radio on) making new and interesting chemicals. This is the best part of the job as you get to make things that have never ever existed before! This makes me happy:
Every now and then I have to test the dyes I’ve made to work out how they’re going to perform in the artificial leaves. We use lasers to do this (what’s not to like about lasers?!):
When all is done, one of the things I like to do to relax is shoot arrows at things!
What I'd do with the prize money
Work with local school science clubs
I’ve done some work with local schools running science clubs. A lot of them have said that they don’t have a lot of money for materials such as chemicals or gadgets for the kids to work with. I’d like to put the money toward setting up some more varied and interesting experiments for everyone to have a go at.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Tall, enthusiastic, GEEK!
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Teaching undergraduates in the lab has been the most rewarding thing
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Reading and watching science fiction as a kid – I always wanted to know how it all worked! My first science teacher encouraged me to separate the fact from the fiction
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Occasionally, nothing too serious though. The excuse ‘the dog ate my homework’ definitely doesn’t work!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
At the moment, probably Muse
What's your favourite food?
You can’t beat a good Lamb saag (curry)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
A road trip round the south west of the USA
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
The amazing guitar skills of James Blackshaw, amazing archery skills, and the ability to function without sleep!
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a fish with no eyes? Fsh.