I went to the University of California Berkeley from 2001-2005, and the University of Pennsylvania from 2006-2011.
I got my Ph.D. in physics in 2011.
I’ve worked at Los Alamos National Lab, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and the University of Pennsylvania.
I’m a Research Fellow.
Trinity College Dublin
Favourite thing to do in science: Solving a puzzle! I love noticing something weird in an experiment I’m doing, and then figuring out reasons why it could be happening.
My Work: I’m a nanoscientist, so I take nanomaterials and apply light and electric fields to see what happens.
I’m really interested in materials and how they behave differently when they are nanoscale. So, if I have metal wires, how do they interact with electricity and light as nanowires that’s not the same as a normal sized wire would? Physics works really differently for objects that have a few hundred atoms instead of trillions of atoms, and that’s the focus of all the research I do.
So my current project is about making networks out of silver of nickel nanowires, and then measuring them electronically, and sometimes shining light on them to see what difference that makes in their electronic behavior. The goal is to use these networks to build electronics that operate more like the way your brain does, and possibly to create ‘smart’ or self-healing materials that could coat buildings or clothing but have some electrical function, too.
My Typical Day: I am usually found making devices, measuring devices I’ve made, or trying to figure out how my measurements make any sense.
I’m an experimentalist, which basically means I do measurements and then try to explain them using physics and nanoscience and whatever other sciences seem relevant. So in an average day, I might be spending a lot of time making devices to measure (depositing nanomaterials, evaporating metal for electrical measurements, or designing new devices). Or if I’ve got devices made, I could be measuring them in our electronic probe station. And if I have recently made a bunch of measurements, I’d be back at my computer trying to work out what they mean, either by analyzing the data looking for patterns, or searching through existing papers and books on physics to get some ideas!
I also spend time getting feedback from other people on the science I do. In early stages that means having meetings, talking to people who understand your work, or writing to scientists I know to ask for feedback. And later on that’s writing up papers, going to conferences to give talks, and that sort of thing. It takes less time than the actual research but it’s also pretty important!
What I'd do with the money: I’d run a nanoscience workshop for primary school students, something hands-on and fun!
I’ve always had more fun getting in there and doing science than I have learning it from a book. And I think it’s really key to be exposed to science at a young age, like I was, just to get the sense of what it’s about and why it could be a fun career. Even if you don’t go into science, it can give you a positive attitude about science and start a lifelong interest in it.
So I’d love to run a nanoscience workshop that was an afternoon of hands-on activities for primary school students. I participated in some of these as a kid, mostly through Scouting, and I think that a combination of games, little experiments, and discussions is great for sparking interest. Plus it would be a lot of fun for everyone involved!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Clever, creative, and enthusiastic!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Muse, at the moment.
What's your favourite food?
Guacamole, of course!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Either a scientist or a writer.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Occasionally, for breaking the dress code.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I liked learning about pretty much everything, eventually.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I’m very proud of my work on memory in semiconductor electronics, because it requires a lot of careful control of your experiment to get anything meaningful.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My parents, who are a biochemist and a mathematician.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I would be a writer!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Know everything, be totally open, have all the time in the world!
Tell us a joke.
I used to live in a house that ran on static electricity. If you wanted to run a blender, you had to rub balloons on your head. If you wanted to cook, you had to take off your sweater really fast.