#MondayMaterials Episode 16 – Dr Sarah Haigh
Can you believe it? Episode 16 of #MondayMaterials is here already! And after fifteen previous episodes, I finally get the chance to talk to Dr Sarah Haigh, somebody who was recommended to me by our Episode 1 interviewee.
It took a while to get this interview into both our calendars, but I can tell you now that is was well worth the wait. Sarah is doing some fascinating and important research, but I’ll let you find out more about that from her rather than me:
Hi Sarah – thanks for speaking to us. Can you start by describing your research, for the layman, in ten sentences or less?
So I’m an electron microscopist and that means that use electrons to interrogate the atomic structure of materials, particularly at very high resolutions.
So we’re looking at perhaps looking for solute atoms at a grain boundary to understand what makes that particular alloy really strong or not strong enough, or what is happening to make it corrode. Or we look at nanoparticles and try to understand why a single atom thick coating changes their catalytic properties by such a huge amount.
And how can your research benefit the general public?
So the properties of materials depend crucially on their atomic structures and on their chemistry. And in order to be able to make those properties better, we need to be able to understand those structure/property relationships.
My research directly allows us to see and visualise what’s happening inside the materials. And in that way we can make the materials better.
So we can make a catalyst more efficient and that saves energy, or we can make a material that’s both flexible and light, and really strong, so maybe we can make a mobile phone that you can fold up and put in your pocket and the screen won’t break.
Fantastic! So, can you tell us how you first got interested in your research area?
Well I did a Master’s Degree at the University of Oxford where I worked on something called a NanoSIMS, which at the time was the first of these instruments in the world and it was very, very expensive. And during that research year another microscope arrive just down the corridor and that was even more expensive! That one was a Transmission Electron Microscope.
And so for my PhD research decided I wanted to move to an even more expensive instrument, and that is something that I now use crucially in my research. And we’re really fortunate at Manchester to have some fantastic facilities, multi-million pound instruments which are allowing us to really get to new insights into materials.
That sounds very exciting, Sarah! Going back a bit further, then, could you tell us who or what first inspired your interest in science?
I don’t know. Both of my parents are mathematicians, but with a very strong scientific interest.
Well, some of my first memories are helping my brother to roll cars down a hill and then confiscating the ones that were too slow! And he then had to buy them back!
So you can see that this interest in science came from a very early age!
Moving away from work for a while then, could you tell us a bit about your other interests?
So I used to do a lot of martial arts; I used to do judo at the University of Oxford. Now I don’t have so much time for doing judo, but I do a lot of hiking.
Manchester’s fantastically located – it’s really close to the Peaks and North Wales and the Lake District, so we regularly get out walking at the weekends.
Sounds lovely. So, for the last question, could you tell us how being here in Manchester has helped your work and research?
Manchester works really well in terms of the different departments interacting with each other. There’s a strong push it feels, from the Faculty anyway, to interact with other academics in the University. And that works really well for someone whose research benefits lots of different areas of materials.
Well there we have it, Episode 16 done and dusted. Thanks so much for taking part, Sarah. And for giving us another example of the amazing work going on in the School.
For the rest of you, please come back for Episode 17 with PhD student Meera Dulabh. And in the meantime, you can expect to see posts on the Aerospace Research Centre, Chinese New Year, and an After Uni special with Seb Leaper. Keep your eyes peeled!