Delighted to have won! Thanks so much to the students and my fellow scientists for making this so much fun.
Gowerton Comprehensive School, 1999-2006, University of Bristol 2006-2010, University of Bath, 2010-Present
11 GCSEs, 3 A Levels, M.Sci (hons) in Chemistry, M.Res(hons) in Sustainable Chemical Technologies
I’m guessing you mean relevant jobs, but I’ve worked in Argos, Yates and Shakin Stevens (smoothie bar). I’m a PhD student so haven’t had any relevant jobs unless you count lab demonstrating to undergraduate students.
PhD Student in the Doctoral Training Centre, within the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies.
University of Bath
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love to talk to people about science. That can range from talking to colleague about current work and possible problems we’re having in the lab, from talking to fellow scientists in conferences and seminars and learning what research is going on, and talking to young people about science and finding out what they’re enthusiastic about.
I study microbial products, to see if they could be used as fuel for cars and planes
So, from the one sentence about my work you can see that my research is about fuel. Now, I’m pretty sure you’ll know about why we’re trying to get away from using fossil fuels for power generation – there’s global warming, the fossil fuels themselves are running out, and they’ve becoming more expensive. So we’re trying to use biofuels. The work “biofuels” just means fuel we can get from biological sources. Currently, there’s two major biofuels. There are ethanol, the alcohol present in beer, that we get from fermenting plants which have a lot of sugar and starch in, and something called “biodiesel”, which we get from vegetable oil that you use to fry food in.
Though these fuels are currently mass-produced, they’re not ideal. There’s certain problems with how they function, and certain problems with how they differ from traditional fossil fuels that mean we can’t use them in their pure form – we have to mix them with fossil fuels. Also … because we’re using food resources to make them there’s arguments that we shouldn’t be using them to make fuel when there’s millions of people dying of starvation around the world.
So … my work is about trying to solve those problems. I research chemical compounds we could get from microbes to see if they could work as fuel. There’s a lot of problems that need to solved along the way though. I try to make a fuel which is as close as possible to what traditional fuel is … while feeding the microbes with food that doesn’t compete with human food production. And that’s quite a challenge.
I took part in a video discussing some of the technical problems behind diesel and diesel engines. Give it a look if you’re interested;
A bit more about me, I suppose – I got into science for two reasons. Firstly, I was good at it in school. Secondly, I was curious. I was the kid in class who always asked questions which weren’t related to the subject we were doing – “Sir … what is fire?” “Miss … what is colour?” “Miss … did Robin Hood actually exist?”. Okay, maybe the last one isn’t science but you get the point. There were so many things I wanted the answer to … and I knew the only way to do that was to carry on studying it. And the reason I study biofuels is because I wanted to do something worthwhile. Something important. Whether I’m successful with it or not … that’s another issue.
My Typical Day
My typical day includes reading, writing and spending a significant time in the lab.
As a PhD student, and one doing science, the main trust is to do the research itself. Do experiments, spend time in the lab, analyse the results and find out what (if anything) has happened in the experiments. As a fuel scientist, a lot of the work I do revolves around analysing the fuels themselves – what their physical properties are, how they would act in an engine. Another part of my work is actually engine testing the fuels we deem suitable, which is exactly what it sounds like. We put the fuels in an engine (a Ford Transit, actually) and measure all the things we can.
A major part of research, however, is finding out what other people are doing. This is a huge help because you don’t want to do something someone has already done … and something someone has already done can lead you to an experiment to prove a hypothesis, or to a way of thinking which allows you to consider your own work differently. Because of this, reading academic literature such as journals and articles is vital.
After you’ve done the work … you have to write it up. This can be difficult as some scientists don’t write very well. We’re also taught to write in a very specific, very accurate way, so that there is very little room for interpretation and we mean exactly what we write. It’s a slight problem with the English language is that it’s a bit too expressive. We want to be exact, we want to be scientific. It can, therefore, be incredibly boring.
What I'd do with the prize money
My project and research are quite well funded themselves, so I imagine I’d donate the money to a cause that needs it more.
To try and solve the problems that we face in the world today, be those environmental, economical or sociological, one of the main resources we have are people. Which is why education is so important. An educated person is much more likely to make educated choices, to contribute towards solving one of the major problems we face. So if I was to win, I would donate the money to a charity which helps educate children who might not get the chance otherwise. Specifically I would donate to Outreach International (http://outreach-international.org/).
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Liberal. Gamer. Foodie.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Discovered some novel biofuels, and published papers discussing them.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My chemistry teacher, Mr Croft. He was so scary when I was in year 7, but by the time I was in sixth form he was almost a good friend.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
A couple of times. Not majorly in trouble … I was just a bit arrogant with teachers sometimes.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Either … a doctor, a brewer, a barista or a chef. I love food.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Bon Iver or James Blake
What's your favourite food?
Strawberries. And rare steak.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Three week road-trip down the west cost of the US.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
First wish – to remember everything I read. Second wish – to be able to stop time. Third wish – to automatically be able play any musical instrument I picked up.
Tell us a joke.
An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar. The barman says “Is this some sort of joke?”.