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Engineering Atoms

at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2015

Some of us discovered Materials Science early on …

Caroline, PhD studentWhy Materials Science?

I studied Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Product Design for my A levels. When I had to think about University degrees I sat in front of the UCAS website and thought 'what do I like? - I like materials', as at the time I happened to be studying it in 3 of my A level subjects. So I typed it into the search engine, not expecting any results. I discovered that it was a subject I could study. The more I read about it, the more I liked it.

What were your favourite subjects in school?

I liked Product Design and Physics (but not the theoretical particle bit). I also liked studying German.

What fascinates you about Materials Science?

I like how properties of metals depend on the atoms they are made up of. Small change in its chemistry or in the processing can drastically change the strength, ductility etc.


Some a bit later ...

Were your degrees in Materials Science?Sarah, PhD student

No, I specialised in Chemistry. The degree program allowed me to take courses in many different sciences in the first two years, and in my first year, I decided what options to take based on my A level courses (Chemistry/Physics/Biochemistry). A lot of my friends took the Materials option and it sounded really interesting, so I opted and battled to take the second year course (against my Director of Studies’ wishes) and didn’t regret it at all! I also did a materials science summer research project, which was a great experience and I really enjoyed it, so when I had the chance to continue it for a PhD project, I did!

What made you change your mind?

Materials Science explains so much about what we see in the world around us; why materials are used in the ways they are due to the properties that they possess, and then why they possess those properties. Before studying materials, I had never appreciated the complexity of metals and the fact that there was much more to the formation of alloys other than throwing different elements together and seeing what happened! Even after a few years in the UTC, I realise that there is still so much to learn, and many questions to still be answered in order to improve the alloys that we use day to day.


... and some even worked before:

Steve, PhD studentHow did you come to work in Materials Science?

Originally, I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leicester, with a year in industry. That year I spent at Corus Steel in South Wales where I worked on plant improvements in the Hot Strip Rolling Mill. I continued on after the bachelor's to get a master's in Mechanical Engineering.

After graduating I started a graduate scheme for an aerospace engineering company called ITP-Engines UK. My first appointment afterwards was a position in design where I worked on Rolls-Royce, Pratt and Whitney and General Electric projects. I was seconded to the ITP headquarters in Bilbao (Spain) for 1.5 years to become a materials specialist, which is what sparked my interest in Materials Science. After working for ITP for three years I left to start my PhD – in Materials Science!

What do you like about working at the RR UTC?

I am passionate about learning new things and understanding how everything works, I therefore really enjoy the depth at which the science of my work can be investigated and furthered. In industry, the budget and timescale rarely allow such in depth analysis.


Sometimes others help in making the "right" step:

Did you plan to study Materials Science?Kathy, PhD student

No, I was aiming for a degree in Aerospace Engineering. However, when I turned up for my interview at Imperial the professor interviewing me suggested that Materials Science would be a better fit for me and referred me to its department where I ended up studying for my degree towards Aerospace Materials Engineering.

Why do you like working on your PhD in the RR UTC?

The interaction of academia and industry that the UTC enjoys is one of the reasons why I chose to continue my career here. My favourite subject during my undergrad years was high temperature metallurgy, which is why I chose to follow through with this area for my PhD. Working at the UTC meant that I could earn my PhD while working on a subject with real-life applications that could someday find their way onto a Jet Engine.


In the end, inspiration is all that is needed!

Olivier, PostdocWhat were your favourite subjects in school?

I particularly enjoyed Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Therefore Materials Science was a very good fit as it has components of all of them.

What do you like about your work?

To quote a Daft Punk song title, we are trying to make materials “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.

We need to find better materials and understand how existing ones behave. We have state of the art equipment at our disposal that enables us to investigate them on a scale that has been out of reach until now… Such a challenge, what not to like?


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