University of Edinburgh, University of Strathclyde, St Aidan’s High School (Wishaw)
Ph.D. – Chemistry, MSci – Chemistry
GSK, University of Edinburgh, Fujifilm Imaging Colourants
Process Development Chemist
Fujifilm Imaging Colourants
Favourite thing to do in my job: I like working in a laboratory rather behind a desk. In the lab I can see the chemical reactions taking place, machines working and pots of all the new chemicals that I have made.
Try to improve chemical reactions to make colourful dyes.
Many of you I’m sure have used a printer. The most common type of printer is an injet, which fires dye from a cartridge, through a nozzel, and onto the paper.
My company make the dyes that go in the cartridges.
These dyes are made by mixing chemicals together. In a research laboratory, chemists mix small amounts of chemicals in a small glass flask, about the size of a mug, and produce grams of chemicals. However, to make many tonnes of the dye you need a massive reactor – the one my company uses is 20 cubic meters – 20,000 litres (60,606 cans of irn bru!).
Sadly, you cannot simply add more chemicals to the reactor (one tonne where you added one gram before), and at the same speed that you add them in lab (over a few seconds).
On reason for this is that many chemical reactions produce heat, and in a small flask, the heat given off is cooled by the surrounding air quite easily. However, it is very difficult to cool thousands of litres very quickly – it is easy to cool a cup of tea down by adding a few ice cubes, but would take AGES to cool a kettle of boiling water. If the massive reactor gets too hot, it could explode!
My job is to study the chemical reaction BEFORE it is put in the massive vessel, to make sure that it will be safe, but also using the most efficient process (could we use cheaper chemicals? Could we make the dye faster? etc).
My Typical Day
I mix chemicals together and examine the results.
I work in a laboratory, and use jacketed reaction vessels. These look like fancy glass buckets with a glass lid. Inside is a propeller that stirs the chemicals. We use glass as it does not dissolve in strong acid (like a chocolate teapot). The jacket is actually a cavity in the the wall of the bucket, that has flowing oil, that can be cooled or heated. I then add chemicals to the bucket and see the dye form magically before my eyes.
I record changes in temperature, look at crystals that form (using a microscope) and check the purity of the final product. I check purity as sometimes by-products (or the WRONG chemicals) form and I also have to see that the chemicals I added at the start have disappeared and the new product has formed correctly.
What I'd do with the prize money
Give a talk that answers questions
I would ask the audience before hand for questions that start with “what would happen if…” and see if we could test them out LIVE!
When I was younger I was a fan of the Christmas Lectures held at the Royal Institute, so to hold a similar talk in a similar old building where great discoveries took place would be fantastic. Most of the money would be on the chemicals/safety equipment for classic chemistry fizz/bang demonstrations, maybe with a twist, but I would like to try new experiments suggested by non-chemists.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Happy, Cheeky, Geek.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I studied for a PhD which felt like climbing mount Everest, but the feeling after completing it was fantastic.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Great scientists and engineers like Thomas Telford, Michael Faraday, George Stephenson, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie…and just being curious about everything around me.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I once got caught by the head of Chemistry doing an impression of another Chemistry teacher. He did not see the funny side…
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Musician or Film director
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be happy, to see most of the world, to always have something to laugh about.
Tell us a joke.
My Mum accused me of being immature – I told her to get out of my fort