I'm in the final two!? I'm so happily surprised!
Mount Temple Comprehensive School 2001-2007. Dublin City University 2007 to now
Degree in Physics with Astronomy
Forever in college
Ph.D. student in DCU
Dublin City University
Favourite thing to do in science: I still get a kick out of using my high power laser. Lasers are always cool.
My Work: I’m a Ph.D. student in DCU using lasers to make very tiny shapes with silver that can be used to detect disease
I’m a student in DCU working on getting my doctorate in Physics. I work in a field called Plasmonics (which is a really cool name) I use an ultra -violet (like what causes sunburn) laser to make wave patterns on little chips. The patterns are a few hundred nanometres (millionth of a millimetre) in size. I think it’s so cool that we can control the shape of things that size! I can cover these chips in a super thin layer of silver. The patterns in the silver have really weird effects on light. They can reflect light in weird ways, and sometimes they can absorb it completely.
We detect disease by attaching glowing molecules to certain chemicals in a blood sample, chemicals that are only there if you have a certain disease. By measuring how much glow, we know how much of the bad chemical there is. My silver waves can take the light they absorb, and use it to make each glowing molecule brighter, so we don’t need to take as much blood to get the same glow. So eventually, we won’t need very much at all, and we could do it all in your GP’s office.
My Typical Day: My day is usually spent in the lab with my laser, or in a super clean room in a big white jumpsuit.
My day starts in the morning, checking e-mails and doing the boring office type stuff that needs to get done. After that I make some of my silver waves, so I go down to my laser, and spend a few hours putting the patterns on little chips. I don’t dance in the dark room when I’m waiting for my samples. Nope. I never dance.
Then I have to go to the cleanroom. In the cleanroom there is absolutely no dirt allowed. Ever. At all. So I have to get into this big jumpsuit, with face masks and hair nets, and things to go over my shoes. There’s a lot of stuff to put on, but you feel like a proper TV scientist afterwards. In the cleanroom I bake my chips and put them in chemicals to stop the wave pattern fading away.
Sometimes I’ll spend a day on a really sensitive microscope to see what my chips look like, and sometimes I’ll spend the day putting silver on them. There’s so many different things to do that every day looks a little different, but each day you get to do something cool.
What I'd do with the money: My Sci-cus (That’s my Science Circus)
I’d love to put together a kind of science circus, full of bright lights, and fun interactive demonstration type things. All done with a really fun style.
You could have a ringmaster tell you how fireworks are made, and show you a little behind it. (Not too much, fireworks are dangerous after all)
There could be machines called Van de Graff generators, which make little bolts of electricity that you can do all kinds of fun tricks with!
There could be liquid nitrogen there, which is a super-cold chemical that can be used to make instant ice-cream!
Some of it people could be shown, some they could take part in. I still have to work out the details! The only detail I’m sure of is it should be fun!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Very slightly mad
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Probably something rock-ish, like Snow Patrol
What's your favourite food?
Spaghetti Bolognese. Now I’m hungry.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Briefly being on stage in Olympia was brilliant. I was working backstage and leaped into a group scene
What did you want to be after you left school?
I’ve always loved science, but it was only when I left school I wanted to do physics.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Nah, I was either very good, or very good at hiding it. Not sure which.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Physics, or History.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
There was a great feeling the first time I made my silver shapes all on my own: “See this? I made this” *Victory dance*
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
David Attenborough. I still occasionally speak in that animal documentary voice.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A vet or a historian. I’ve always loved animals (especially fluffy ones), and I love history.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
My own pet red panda. Acceptance into Hogwarts School, and my own Batman Batcave.
Tell us a joke.
Two muffins are in an oven. One says to the other, “Wow, it’s hot in here.” The other muffin says “AAAH! A TALKING MUFFIN!”
So here are a few photos from where I work
This is what my silver shapes look like. This was taken with a really sensitive microscope. I can make two kinds of patterns. I call them my silver waves (top) or my silver eggboxes (top). Each wave, or each eggbox is only 1/100th the size of the thickness of a human hair.
This is me, all decked out in cleanroom gear, ready to go in! I can do it pretty quickly now, but the sleeves aren’t allowed touch the floor, so when you start learning to put the stuff on you look like an elephant trying to ice ski upside down.
This is one of my little chips. It’s covered in silver, the same you’d get from a jeweller. You can see the part that has the eggbox pattern, because of the rainbow colour. I think these look really cool. Usually it just looks like silver though; the angle has to be just right to see colours.
This is the exact same chip, but now there’s a blue colour, because the angles are just a little different. You’ll often see me in a lab, walking in circles with my chip, like a little waltz, trying to get the angle right.
And this is my laser! It’s the big black box on the right. The light comes out and bounces off a load of mirrors (to keep it away from other people’s experiments) Before hitting the mirror on the bottom left. That’s where my chips go to get a pattern on them.