Congratulations, Barbara. A well deserved winner; you've been fantastic all fortnight. Thanks to everyone who took part - you have all been wonderful!
Ferrers Senior School (1997 – 2003), Sharnbrook Upper School (2003 – 2005)
Cambridge Unveristy (2005 – 2009), MSci in Natural Sciences, Oxford University (2009 – Present), PhD in Materials
I’ve had summer jobs with Unilever, Pepsi, and various universities
PhD in Materials
My project is all about trying to understand mechanical properties of a common ceramic, called aluminium oxide. As ceramics are commonly brittle (you know that from practice – drop a ceramic mug on the floor, and you’ll know what I mean!), there is a lot of work being done to try and understand this, and then make them tougher. When a ceramic is put under stress, it can either start cracking, or undergo some “plastic deformation” (such as things called twins or dislocations). So, I am trying to use a microphone to listen to the sound of the ceramic breaking, and trying to work out when it starts to break/deforms. I then look at the sample in what is called a Transmission Electron Microscope (or a TEM) (see image) to try and find what sort of breaking/deformation has happened (see right hand image for example of this! This is what is called a “twin”. This is when the atoms rearrange themselves if a stress is applied. This is taken at 300, 000 times magnification. So these twins are around 0.00001mm across. Feel free to ask me about it!). With this work, we hope to have a better understanding of how these ceramics break, and so then we can work out a way to make them tougher!
There are other bits and pieces of my project which are related to this work – feel free to ask me about the work I am doing on the Focused Ion Beam (or FIB), the Scanning Electron Microscope (or SEM), the Optical Fluorescence Microscope (or OFM), or with cathodoluminescence! There is not enough space on here to describe all of these things, but I will answer all your questions if you are interested!
My Typical Day:
I’m either on a powerful microscope looking at deformed samples, or destroying bits of ceramics and trying to work out what happened!
There isn’t really a typical day doing my PhD, which is the really nice thing. Every day seems to be different. I’ll normally get in at 8:20am, check my emails and Facebook, and then head to the lab. From then onwards, I could be doing any number of things. Sometimes I’ll be making samples to put in my compressing machine: I have to make a powder, then squash it into a little disc, then heat it in an oven at 1600C (which is pretty hot!). Once I’ve done that, I’ll cut it up, polish it, and then head over to the big compression machine (see image on left).
If I’m not doing that, I might be taking those compressed samples, and turning them into things that I can look at in the microscope. I have to get the samples really thin (0.1mm across), then we grind a small bump in the middle to make the centre really really thin (about 0.01mm across), and then we blast ions at it to make a small hole. This can then be looked at in the microscope.
Sometimes I am not in the lab during the day, but am teaching students or helping to run an open day for people your age. This means that I get to do fun experiments all day, such as making silly putty or using liquid nitrogen to make things float.
What I'd do with the prize money:
Design some new experiments, and then take some experiments to the local schools!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
A science geek!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sometimes! I used to play football every lunch time (even at Sixth Form!), and we always got in late! (We used to play next-goal-wins, but we weren’t very good so games ran on for ages!)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Where to start?! The Flaming Lips, The xx, Wild Beasts, Kanye West, Wu-Tang Clan and all the solo albums, Pendulum … a bit of everything, really!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1.Be able to do free-running (you know the guys that run over roof tops, jump from wall to wall etc.) without ANY practice. 2. Grow a big beard. 3. Have time to watch all the films that have ever been made! People always recommend films, but I never find the time to watch them!
Tell us a joke.