One year into a graphene PhD and making science engaging
Research 1st December 2016
One year into her PhD Fiona Porter talks about her experience in the Graphene NOWNANO Centre for Doctoral Training programme (CDT), and the importance of public events to engage people with science.
Having been introduced to nanochemistry during my Masters project at the University of Oxford, I wanted to continue in this area for my PhD, but move into a field that has immediate applications in the development of new products and processes. This ultimately steered me towards graphene, and the prospect of studying under a prestigious CDT programme at The University of Manchester. Not only that, I would be moving to an exciting and dynamic new city.
A significant benefit of the CDT is being a part of a cohort. Being new to Manchester I valued the first six-months working with a group of fellow scientists from different disciplines and knowing that I will continue to work with them, either directly or indirectly, for the duration of my PhD. Knowing 17 people in the same situation as myself and being able to call on them for advice, is very special.
In addition, the training at the start was an excellent crash course in all things graphene, from theory, experimental techniques and applications. Without this I would have struggled to gain such a broad overview of the field and know what facilities are available to me in different departments of the University. It also provided me with a clear picture of the work involved in each of the PhD proposals, which allowed me to make an informed decision when it came to choosing my particular PhD project.
Extra activities such as participation in outreach and the summer conference enrich the CDT experience as a whole as they create fun opportunities to work alongside other postgraduate students. Having received generous support from the Nuffield Foundation when I was at school, I have a huge appreciation for how impactful outreach can be on a student’s life. My own experience kick-started my ambitions in chemistry, and it created numerous opportunities, which I talk about on my profile on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s ‘175 Faces of Chemistry’ to celebrate diversity in the field.
Now, as joint Outreach Representative for the CDT, I am very excited about promoting graphene and the science of 2D materials at public events. Manchester is “the birthplace of graphene” so it is vital that everyone living here appreciates the significance of the discovery and are excited by the cutting-edge research going on in their own city! I hope that our presence at Bluedot Festival, Science Uncovered and Science Spectacular at Manchester Museum, as well as our contributions to the Museum of Science and Industry, such as the Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond Exhibition, has not only informed the public about the research going on at the University but has also inspired students to strongly consider further study in science; I highly recommend it!
In April I moved into the Organic Materials Innovation Centre in the School of Chemistry. I am working on the design and synthesis of molecules that can stabilise graphene flakes in water with the hope this work could increase the efficiency of mass-production and processing of graphene. My interest is trying to understand how different features of these molecules alters how it interacts with the graphene surface in solution. I immensely enjoy the multidisciplinary aspect of this project as it exposes me to a range of areas such as molecular dynamics simulations, thermodynamics and organic synthesis, and forces me to understand the intricate links between them all. I am looking forward to the inevitable challenges I will face over the next three years!