Answering your questions for Barcelona! I will be in the chat room between 2 and three for THE ENDDDD, keep me company? Remember to vote (ME*COFF*)!!! :D
Universita’ degli Studi di Pavia 2009-2014
Chemistry Bachelor of Science, Physical Chemistry Master of Science
Intern @ Aarhus University (DK), 2013-2014
PhD Research Student (2014- )
University of Edinburgh
Favourite thing to do in my job: That moment when after a lot of struggle the program you wrote for the computer runs smoothly and your results start to make sense!
Even the magnet that you use to stick stuff on your fridge behaves really differently when you put it under huge amount of pressure or really high/really low temperatures, so I recreate these conditions to figure out what’s happening!
Materials are a big part of our everyday life and a lot of challenges in technology are related to a generic “can we make this better? Can we use something else?”.
As a material chemist, it is my job to try to answer these questions either by creating new materials or find new behaviour in materials that we already know from other points of view.
In the field that I chose, the way we deal with this is by introducing “extreme conditions” in the mix. You might know what material you get and how it behaves in your “normal” conditions of temperature and pressure, but things tend to change quite a lot if you reduce or increase the temperature a lot, or you put strong magnets around your material, or you increase the pressure.
Pushing the pressure conditions towards the extreme is particularly interesting because we can make materials in that conditions and save them as they are, or we can study the way they change while we modify the conditions.
I particularly like to look at the way the atoms inside a material change their arrangement while you do all of this.
It’s usually the change in arrangement that makes the material behave different (maybe it was magnetic and now it’s not any more, maybe it conducts electricity better under pressure, you name it!), so if you want to actually find something new and then use it in a practical way, it’s a good way to go!
My Typical Day
Equally divided between making samples, chasing their behaviour and try to make sense of the data you get!
When you want to study a material the first thing you do is making the material!
In my group we have a lab that we can use to mix the starting elements and then heat them up to see if we can get something completely different afterwards.
We also have a huge machine that can not only increase the temperature but also increase the pressure to the point that you can recreate the conditions of 150+ km down the Earth! The material that you recover when you stop the machine is totally different from what you could get from just heating.
Once you have you material, you want to know how it looks like and how does it behave.
We use X-rays to see the way atoms are arranged inside the material, and we use other instruments to get the magnetic, electric and thermal properties of it.Sometimes if we need better results we can use bigger instruments that are available for scientists in places like the Harwell Laboratories in Oxfordshire, so we ask for some time there and travel down to perform the experiment.
All of these things leaves you with a pile of graphs, and numbers, and plots and picture.
The job is not done until you can’t make sense of them and give a complete picture to someone in terms of “I did this thing, in this way, I got this results and this means that the material is made like this, it behaves like this, it does it because of this reason and it’s really good and useful because of this other reason”.Getting the complete picture requires using the computer a lot, to use pre-made program or to write your own if no one else already did what you need to do for your stuff.
My usual day can sit me down on just one of these things or all of them together, it depends how it rolls!
What I'd do with the prize money
I would like to organize an event for highschool students where they can create their own material in the lab at school and then come over to study it in a one day workshop at the University!
I would like to give the opportunity for a “hands-on material science” to high-school students.
We constantly use materials in our everyday life, but grasping the way science deals with them is complicated because the equipment is expensive, not transportable, requires a whole dedicated setting and training.
With this hypothetical money, we can split the issue in two:
Crystal growing competition!
Team of students will be given instructions and “ingredients” to use their school labs to grow a crystal (and I will aim to easy, inexpensive, safe, but pretty!). We can then set up a competition to select the most successful creation.
One day University workshop
The winner team will come over to the University of Edinburgh with their crystal (or at least a piece of it :P) and we can spend one day using our fancy instruments to find out what’s inside it, how is it built and especially how would you tackle all these issue if you were a material scientist!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Determined, geeky, enthusiastic
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Use a microwave to synthetise a material (with only a bare minimum of things catching fire)
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I don’t have anything specific, apart from a general “this field looks enormous, I want to know more, I want to own it!”
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really, but I had a thing for sassing some of my teachers out…they weren’t pleased…
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I would probably be into History or Philosophy.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Florence + The Machine, Apocalyptica
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Rush away for a 3 days conference just before the disseration of my Master Degree, bascially ending up with a whole week of general craziness, parties and travel.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Find a place where I would like to settle for good. Have a science serendipity that will end up with a bang. Not to get frustrated with some struggles in life and work.
Tell us a joke.
I put my root beer in a square cup…now it’s just a beer :D