Robert Woolfson

Having a lot of fun, please keep asking the brilliant questions.

Favourite Thing: Figuring out how to do something that’s never been done by anyone before. It’s very difficult but when you know that you’re the first person to ever do something, the feeling is incredible.



Queens Park Community School (2000-2007), University of Manchester (2008-2016), University of California at Santa Cruz (2010-2011)


A-Levels: Maths (B), Physics (B), Chemistry (B), Music (E). MChem in Chemistry with Study in North America

Work History:

A couple of bars in London (2007-2009), a ski hill in Canada (2007-2008), Undergrad research placement at UCSC (2010-2011), Masters placement (2011-2012), PhD Student (2012-present)

Current Job:

PhD Student in Nanoscience with the NorthWest Nanoscience Doctoral Training Centre


The University of Manchester

Me and my work

Trying to turn molecules into a computer

My background is synthetic inorganic chemistry, which is a fancy way of saying I make things using the middle bit of the periodic table (the transition metals). My lab makes big molecules that look a lot like wheels (which is what we call them). My PhD is on nanoscience, which is the study of things that are bigger than molecules but small enough that the laws of physics are still very weird. I’m using my skills to take these molecules and try and stick them to surfaces in particular patterns so we can make a computer chip. myimage3 Have a look at if you want to see my group’s website and get some more information on what we do.

At the moment, the important part of a computer chip (the transistors) are about 20 nanometers, or about 1000 times smaller than a human hair. The size of the transistors is controlled by how we make them. As the transistors get smaller, there are a lot of problems with the laws of physics. If we can make a chip with molecules as the transistors, we can avoid a lot of the problems and make our transistors 10 times smaller.

My Typical Day

Coffee, try and read a paper, do some work in the lab, lunch, coffee, try and read a paper, do some work in the lab ………..

To be honest, I don’t have a typical day, apart from coffee. One of the good things about being a scientist is the constantly changing challenge. It’s hard to get bored. Often I’ll be working in my lab in Manchester, I try and split my day between doing new experiments in the lab, looking at the results from my last experiments to figure out what to do next, or reading work from other scientists to get new ideas. When a scientist publishes their work for other scientists to see, we call their work a paper. A lot of what I do involves reading these papers to understand the experiments they’ve done and if I learn anything from them. myimage1

Sometimes I get to go travelling as part of my job. I get to spend part of my time traveling to conferences to share my work, been to Spain (Cuenca) and America (San Diego) as well as a few conferences around the UK. I also go to visit research facilities around the world.  I’ve spent time working at a big facility near Oxford (The Diamond Light Source) and at a nuclear reactor in Grenoble (The Institute Laue-Langevin, a very, very cool place to visit). myimage2


What I'd do with the money

Make a workshop to show some of the amazing properties of light you can see using chemistry.

One of the most fun parts of science, and chemistry in particular, is all the different coloured things you can make. From dyes for clothes to materials with amazing properties, the chemistry of colour is all around us. I’d like to use the money to work with a science charity for children ( and make a workshop that can be taken into schools and public events to introduce kids to some of the spectacular chemistry of light that scientists get to work with every day. – Oscillating Chemical Reaction – Material that changes colour when it stretches.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Adventurous, curious and dedicated.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

A New Zealand band called Avalanache City –

What's your favourite food?

Nothing beats a good burger.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Sailing around greece for two weeks on a friends yacht. Four good friends, a very nice yacht and amazing surroundings.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A scientist, honest.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Yea, more than I should have been.

What was your favourite subject at school?


What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Outreach. Letting people, young and old, see it’s alright to enjoy and love science is the best thing most scientists can do for science.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I was about 8 and I was given a small chemistry set as a present. I threw out the instructions and starting mixing things together. It blew up pretty spectacularly in my utility room, my mum banned me from doing chemistry in the house again but I was hooked (not recommended, I got in a fair bit of trouble).

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Probably try and be a professional sailor

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Sail around the world, own an Aston Martin, find something important enough in science to have it named after me.

Tell us a joke.

“There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened” – Douglas Adams

Other stuff

Work photos: