University of Bristol 2002-2006, Queen Mary University of London 2009-2013
MSci Physics, PhD in Optoelectronic devices using nanostructured ZnO
Throughout school and university I worked part-time, in shops or bars (mainly customer service roles). After university I worked in non-science related jobs… but I missed science so I went back to university for my PhD.
University College London
Favourite thing to do in my job Seeing something I have made finally work and knowing that no-one else has done this before – it is very exciting!
I can use single atoms to make nanowires which are 1000x thinner than your hair! These are used to make devices that either create electricity from light (solar cells) or use electricity to make light (light-emmiting diodes, LEDs).
I always thought of myself as different… the odd one out. I found that I enjoyed learning, especially maths and science. When it came to sixth-form/college, I was the only girl that was interested in studying physics in my year, and so I had to go to a separate boys college to study this subject. It was from this point onward that I was in the minority being a female. But this did not bother me in the slightest! In fact, I was finally surrounded by people who had similar interests to me and I felt a connection with.
After I studied physics at university I travelled around the world for a year. It is probably because of my curious nature that I am a scientist/engineer which also led to my desire to experience every corner of the world. Whenever I have the chance I try to visit somewhere new, to experience a different culture, meet new people, try different foods, and open my eyes to how different we all are.
In my position as a researcher, it is my job to to create something that no-one else has made before.
The first stage is THE IDEA!
This needs a good understanding of what you are trying to do and how it will work.
Second stage: Growing the material
Once we have the design in place, it is a matter of growing the material from single atoms to create layers. This is done using a huge machine shown above with a vacuum similar to that of outer space! This equipment is not cheap either, it costs around £2 million!
Here are some images of nanowires I have grown (not using the MBE). The first image looks like a carpet and when you zoom in, then you can see each one of the nanowires.
Compare this to the size of your hair – see the image below. The image also shows the thickness of spider silk (image from http://www.optics.rochester.edu/workgroups/cml/opt307/spr07/luke/).
Third stage: Finishing touches
This structure won’t work as a device until we can connect it to a power source. This requires putting a metal on the surface like gold, as it is a very good conductor. The image below shows an example of two completed devices with a gold contact.
Forth stage: Testing
This is the exciting stage that I enjoy most… where I finally get to see whether the idea is a success! I connect my device to equipment that allows me to measure the output. I then shine a light as bright as the sun onto my device to see how much energy I can generate.
If it was successful … then I need to tell everyone! This is done in a number of ways, firstly we write a report that gets published in a journal so that other scientists/engineers know what we have done. Another way of telling people is at conferences, where a lot of scientists gather (who work on similar things to me), and you give a talk about your work. This is a great opportunity to meet people and often a lot of your ideas come from these conferences.
Unfortunately it is often that your idea is not successful. This is where the problem solving comes in. I think this is one of the most important parts of being a scientist.
My Typical Day
Check my e-mails, and then try and tick off as many items on my “to-do list”. This is normally separated into a lab day (doing experiments and testing devices), or a reading/writing day where I try and analyse the data and work out what is going on.
What I'd do with the money
I plan to come to the classroom and show our solar cells in action!
We will look at how much power we can produce with light and see how the different toys work…whether we can get them to move or produce light of their own.
We can also look at how the brightness and different colours of light will affect how well our toys work.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Inquisitive, friendly, and perseverant
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Created a new self-powered device that could detect UV light, this is useful for space applications as everything needs to be very light.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Rarely…I think once I started laughing in class, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stop – my teacher was quite annoyed.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I would love to be a food critic because I like eating delicious food, or maybe a travel writer because I like visiting different countries.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Anything my mum makes! Her home-cooking is the best I’ve tasted.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Hiked around the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand.. or maybe when I jumped out of a plane.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1. Make a significant contribution to the scientific world (publish in a Nature/Science journal- which is the best journal for scientists), 2. Become a professor 3. Have a brain that could hold infinite knowledge without forgetting anything.
Tell us a joke.
What did the male magnet say to the female magnet? From your backside, I thought you were repulsive. However, after seeing you from the front, I find you rather attractive.
This is where we can grow material from single atoms, making very thin layers or nanowires or “quantum dot” which is a small clump of atoms.
This is me in the cleanroom where we do some of the final touches to make the device work. Because we work on such a small scale, we need to be sure the environment we work is as clean as possible. That is why I am covered from head to toe so that I don’t make the laboratory dirty. This laboratory is therefore called a Clean room.
This shows some of my friends in the Clean room, they are about to evaporate gold onto their device using the equipment next to them.
This is in the clean room again, but the lights are a yellow colour. This is because some materials can change their properties when they are exposed to ultra-violet (UV) light.
Both of the above images show equipment I use to measure the properties of solar cells. On the top, we have a solar simulator which shines a light as bright as the sun on my device. On the bottom, this machine tells me how good my device is at producing energy for each of the different colours/spectrum of light.