Bonnie Tsim: My Graphene Journey
We caught up with NOWNANO CDT alumna, Bonnie Tsim. Bonnie completed a PhD in 2021 while working on research in the electronic properties of twistronic graphene. She now works in a corporate role but still has her sight set on entrepreneurship.
Hi Bonnie, lovely to catch up with you. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Bonnie Tsim, 28, from Wolverhampton. After completing my master’s in Theoretical Physics at Lancaster University, I joined the Graphene NOWNANO CDT to continue my studies in graphene and other related 2D materials.
Why did you originally choose the NOWNANO CDT at Manchester, and what did you enjoy most about the course?
I was attracted to the NOWNANO CDT because of the opportunity to work with world-renowned professors in graphene and 2D materials, as well as the numerous collaboration opportunities with experimentalists at the National Graphene Institute.
One of my favourite experiences was participating in the world’s first Graphene Hackathon at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre. I had a lot of fun staying up for 30 hours with my friends and colleagues to work on a graphene ink sensor chair. After the hackathon, I wrote an article about it for the Institute of Physics’ flagship print magazine, Physics World. This experience gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to launch a startup, which is a very different experience from academia.
A key part of the NOWNANO programme is the opportunity to participate in outreach and public engagement activities talking about nanoscience. I took part in Bluedot Festival, European Researcher’s Night, Manchester Science Festival, and many other outreach events with local schools. The programme offers many opportunities to participate in science communication activities and interact with the public.
I also enjoyed the three-month commercialisation training programme during the third year of the CDT programme. It sparked my interest in business and consulting, and it was invaluable to connect with patent attorneys, business developers, start-up founders, and other professionals in the industry. It also helped me find an external mentor who worked with me for a year to help me navigate the next steps of my career.
I have fond memories of living in Japan for three months in 2019 on the JSPS Summer Fellowship scheme. During this time, I collaborated with the Koshino Group at Osaka University to analyse the electronic properties of small-angle twisted bilayer graphene. This experience was culturally enriching and was a brilliant opportunity to form an international collaboration that resulted in a published paper.
Tell us a bit about your PhD research.
My PhD research focused on the electronic properties of few-layer twistronic graphene, with a particular emphasis on electron transport in twisted bilayer graphene. I showed that the electronic properties in twisted bilayer graphene are different for varying twist angles. I was particularly excited to start my PhD research because it was only one month after the publication of a ground-breaking paper on the unconventional superconductivity in magic-angle graphene superlattices. This paper drove the direction of my research, and it was a privilege to work in a cutting-edge field that researchers all over the world were excited about.
What do you see as the future of graphene research?
An exciting area of graphene research is in the construction and infrastructure industry. Graphene concrete does not require steel rebars and can reduce carbon emissions by a staggering 30%. It will be fascinating to see how the industry will scale graphene concrete production. In addition, there is a lot of promise in graphene research in biotech applications, for example, in graphene brain interfaces, drug delivery, and graphene health sensors. Graphene electronic tattoos have recently emerged as a solution to personalised healthcare to monitor electrophysiological signals such as brain, heart, and muscle activities as well as skin temperature and hydration levels.
Can you tell us a little about your career post-university, and the role you’re in now?
After my PhD, I joined PUZZLE X as Director of Communications to create the inaugural edition of the PUZZLE X event focused on frontier technologies for the future. The role was entrepreneurial in nature, and I was able to connect with industry leaders, scientific leaders, startup founders, and many other key frontier tech stakeholders in the role through business development and partnerships. The role allowed me to stay connected to the scientific community whilst I explored my creative outlet with marketing and communications, as well as event organisation.
In the second year of the PUZZLE X event, I was particularly excited to be hosting the UK panel on ‘Graphene, Infrastructure + Sustainability’ welcoming Chris Barton (UK Trade Commissioner for Europe) for his address. I also had the pleasure of welcoming my PhD professor and Director of the National Graphene Institute, Prof. Vladimir Fal’ko to the panel to showcase cutting-edge research from the University of Manchester.
At the end of 2022, I joined Turner & Townsend in a corporate role, and I am thrilled to leverage my technical, scientific communication, and problem-solving background in the infrastructure industry. Traditionally, the infrastructure industry is slow-moving and I am excited to see where there are areas for innovation and how I can apply my data and storytelling skills. As a digital consultant, I’m also helping the company form an AI strategy and approach; it’s a hot topic right now and an exciting field to be in!
How did your time at The University of Manchester help with this?
During my PhD, I had many opportunities to get involved with Graphene Flagship and attend conferences and workshops around the world. After meeting many entrepreneurial individuals and those from academia who transitioned into industry, I knew that I wanted to explore how I could leverage my PhD in other settings. I wanted to be in a fast-paced environment and develop skills such as sales, partnership building, design, and copywriting. I particularly enjoyed public speaking, which is something I wanted to continue with after university. This led me to join a startup, after which I wanted to experience the corporate world.
What’s next for you in the short and medium term?
In the short term, I am focusing on developing myself in a corporate environment. Everything from operations and people culture to growth. I also like to continue to lean into my entrepreneurial passions, take ownership, and create something from scratch.