Photo:

Laura Schofield

I'm gutted I can only make one live chat today! They're so much fun!

Favourite Thing: I love discovering new things, whether that’s trying out a new experiment or working out how a piece of household technology works, I am still fascinated by science!

My CV

Education:

I went to Springside Primary School (1993-2000), Bury Church of England High School (2000-2005), Holy Cross Sixth Form College (2005-2007) and The University of Nottingham (2007-2011 and 2011-Present)

Qualifications:

I have a First Class Masters Degree in Chemistry, A Levels in Chemistry, Physics and Psychology, AS Levels in Biology and Maths and GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry, English Language, English Literature, Food Technology, French, Geography, History, Maths, Physics and RE.

Work History:

I’ve only ever been a student!

Current Job:

PhD student

Employer:

The University of Nottingham

Me and my work

I make plastic from fruit peel

I work for a guy called Martyn Poliakoff (google him! He looks just like Einstein!) Martyn has specialised in Green Chemistry for over 20 years and when I joined his team I took over some research into making plastics from biomass (or materials from plants).

Plastics are normally made from chemicals taken from oil which will run out in our lifetime so we need another way to make it. My work looks at taking fruit peel and mixing it with special kinds of bacteria to produce different carboxylic acids (chemicals with lots of carbons, hydrogen and oxygen) that I can react to make plastic. I have to run my reactions in high temperature (up to 300°C) and high pressure water (about 250 times the pressure here on Earth) so I don’t work with glassware. All of my work is done in steel pipes, called a rig, (it’s more like plumbing than classic chemistry) so I can’t actually see my reactions happening.

To check I’m making the right things, I use spectroscopy to see what the molecules look like. The molecules are too small to see by eye so we need to hit them with energy and see how much they move. Unlike most chemists, I work on a pretty big scale and am hoping to make a block of clear, colourless plastic before I finish!

My Typical Day

I run experiments on my rig and also work in Undergraduate labs helping first year students run their experiments

I get into work for 9am and make my plan of action for the day ahead. If I’m running an experiment, I’ll turn my rig on and set the temperature and pressure I need before starting my reaction. Then I’ll check emails and update my supervisor, Martyn, on my results. At 10.30 I go for a coffee break with my work mates. At around 11 I email my industrial supervisors and let them know my plan for the week and do some reading while I wait for my reaction to finish. At 12 I take off my reactions and cool the rig down before I go for lunch and relax, catching up with friends or checking out what is going on in the world by surfing the net.

The afternoons very much depend on what day of the week it is. I work in the Undergraduate labs 2 days a week so my afternoons are spent in there helping first years run their experiments. On the other days, I work on data analysis and more reading. I’m coming to the end of my PhD now so I’m starting to write up all of my work when I can.

My days at work end at 5.30 when I go home and put my feet up!!

What I'd do with the money

I would put on a series of talks and demonstrations for schools that link in with their studies

At the University of Nottingham, we have an awesome outreach programme but I would use the money to support it and build a series of talks and demonstrations (with as many experiments as we can run!) They would be designed to fit in with what students are learning about and be as hands on as possible!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Silly, organised and clumsy!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Frank Turner and Twin Atlantic but I have to admit I am very excited about the S Club 7 reunion!

What's your favourite food?

Mashed potato

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I travelled around Italy a few years ago with a friend. We had such fun! And ate a LOT of pizza!

What did you want to be after you left school?

An elephant keeper

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Once…I forgot to do my IT homework!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Physics

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

Showing my supervisors a set of unexpected results and being able to explain them when no one else could understand!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My A-Level Chemistry teacher, Miss Smith

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

An events planner – I’m super organised!

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

1) Find someone else to write my PhD thesis. 2) To get an awesome job after I finish! 3) To travel the world and the seven seas.

Tell us a joke.

If the Queen farts, is it considered a Noble Gas?

Other stuff

Work photos:

myimage1

Welcome to my lab! There are four of us that work in this lab and while it may not look much, this place has been my home away from home for the last 2 years!

myimage2

This is my rig. As you can see, it doesn’t look like any bits of equipment that you would use in school. It is mainly made of stainless steel pipes because my reactions require high temperatures and high pressure!

myimage3

This is one of the bits of equipment I use for analysis. It is called a high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC for short) and separates molecules out by how acidic they are. Once they are separated, a UV light is shone on them and they release a pulse of energy. By detecting this energy, the machine calculates the concentration of each molecule and so tells me what I have in my solutions.

myimage4

This is a selfie of Martyn and I. When I asked if I could have a photo of the two of us, he said “ooh will it be a selfie?” He even let me choose which one of his periodic ties he should wear for this photo!