Favourite Thing: Creating new and exciting materials that could have a real impact on the world!
University of Nottingham (2006 – 2011), University of Manchester (2011-present)
MSci (Hons) in Chemistry
AkzoNobel (Research Student)
PhD researcher in Polymer Science & Engineering
University of Manchester
Me and my work
Working to make paints more environmentally friendly, and making sure the Dulux dog continues to stay on your screens……
My PhD research is all about solving a big problem that paint companies face – How to keep the same level of performance of the paint without all the solvents that are in it currently? There are a lot of laws about what can and can’t go into products, and these are becoming stricter and stricter every time they’re updated causing big problems for the companies that make paints, such as Dulux who sponsor my research.
Paint is a lot more complex than you might think – there are lots of different parts that go into it: pigments to make it coloured and opaque, a polymer to bind it all together and make sure it forms an even surface, and solvents and other additives that help it to dry and look good when the drying is done!
If these solvents and additives can’t be put into the paint because of laws, the surface created by the coating won’t form properly. This is where I come in…..
I work with a type of polymer called a ‘soft-soft nanocomposite’. Polymers are long chains of molecules bonded together, and are everywhere in the world from carrier bags to the ink in your pens to the gel you put in your hair.
Soft-soft nanocomposites are made up of many of these polymer chains tangled up together into a particle which has both a core and a shell – a bit like Smarties.The core and the shell are made up of different polymers, and it’s due to this difference that they stay separated from each other and don’t combine. You can choose the two different polymers specifically to have whatever properties are needed – flexibility and softness, hardness, resistance to chemicals, easy drying…….
When they are in a paint the particles exist individually in water, just like Smarties in a box, but when painted onto a surface the shells bind together easily to form a layer with the cores dotted around in it. The shell polymer can be designed so that the particles bind together easily with no help needed from other molecules – This is the idea I’m using to solve the problem of having to add extra chemicals into the paint to do this!
My Typical Day
Never the same twice!!
There really is no such thing as a ‘typical day’ in a research lab – sometimes I’ll have my white coat and safety glasses on making polymers in the lab, other times I’ll be using different pieces of equipment to test what I’ve made.
As no-one has done exactly the same work as me before, I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen all the time or how my materials are going to turn out – So I get both good and bad surprises! Either way, it’s always exciting.
What I'd do with the money
Organise events promoting just how much science there is involved in everyday life
Part of what I find so exciting about science is that it is absolutely everywhere in everyday life. Take getting up in the morning – there’s the biology in your body that wakes you up, the physics of moving yourself to get out of bed, and the chemistry of that first cup of tea. I’d like to organise events that explain these seemingly simple things and hopefully get more people involved with science!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I love to travel and to go to festivals – Glastonbury festival is amazing and is surprisingly full of science communicators!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
What did you want to be after you left school?
It tended to change every week…… from lawyer to architecht to teacher to archaeologist – funnily enough, scientist was the one thing that never ever appeared on that list.