Photo:

Jemma Rowlandson

I can't believe it! Thank you all so much for your fantastic questions :-D it has been an awesome experience!

Favourite Thing: Saving the world! The world has lots of problems and although I can’t turn invisible, fly or shoot cobwebs (although how great would that be!) I am one of the many superhero scientists trying to make it a better place.

My CV

Education:

Cranbourne School (2002-2007), Queen Mary’s College (2007-2009), University of Southampton (2009-2013)

Qualifications:

A-levels (Chemistry, Physics, Maths and History) and a Masters degree in Chemistry

Work History:

Lots of places! At a company called Merck Chemicals (they make materials for flatscreen and 3D-TVs), as a swimming teacher, a lifeguard and in a keyboard factory.

Current Job:

PhD Student

Employer:

University of Bath

Me and my work

I am researching cars that could one day run off water.

Can you imagine how cool it would be to run a car or a plane off water? Normally we use petrol or diesel to power our cars but they’re not very good for the environment and they actually harm the planet, using water instead would solve a lot of problems. Water is actually made of three atoms; one oxygen and two hydrogens. Normally it swims around pretty happily, but if you use electricity you can split the water apart to make oxygen gas (which we breathe) and hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas is pretty cool stuff, it’s what they use to power space shuttles, so how great would it be to use it to power your car!? The problem with this stuff however, is that it’s normally a gas and so takes up a lot of space. In fact to drive your car from London to the beach at Bournemouth you would need 600 party balloons of hydrogen! Now it’s not very practical to drive your car around with 600 balloons above your head so instead we have to store it somehow, and that is exactly what I am working on. I am looking at materials that act like sponges to soak up the hydrogen and make it easier to fit in your car (or plane, train, bus, boat, space shuttle, whatever you want really!).

My Typical Day

There’s always something new every day. Normally I spend a few hours in the lab every day freezing my samples then seeing how much hydrogen gas (which you can make by electrocuting water) they can soak up.

My day (and that of every scientist) normally depends on which experiments are working! In the morning I usually read a couple of science papers to see what other scientists in the world, researching similar things to myself, have been up to. This is really important because as a scientist you always want to do something new, exciting and untested. If someone has already done it then there’s not much point doing it all over again (unless you think they are wrong of course!).

After that I normally go to the lab to do some experiments. Most of my experiments have to be done at very very cold temperatures, otherwise they do not work very well. In fact I have to cool my samples to -320°C! This is pretty chilly if you think the South Pole is only -30ºC. To do this I put on a pair of pretty thick gloves and put my samples in liquid nitrogen, which is one of the coldest substances on Earth. It smokes an awful lot and freezes almost any container you put it in straight away. Then I put my sample on a very expensive machine which (despite my best efforts) I have not managed to break yet, and then measure how much hydrogen it soaks up.

What I'd do with the money

Go back to my old school (where I first became interested in science) and hold a massive science event.

When I was at school I did not really like science, but then in year 10 (when I was about 14) I had a really great science teacher and ended up loving it instead! If it was not for my science teacher it is very unlikely I would have become a scientist (which would kind of suck as I really love what I do). So if I won I’m a Scientist then I would go back to my old school and hold a science event for all the students to join in and just have some fun messing around with science. And you never know, maybe someone just like me will have a great time and realise there is so much more to science than what you learn sat in class.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Friendly, sarcastic, optimistic.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Tough question! Probably Katy Perry although my iPod is full of lots of Taylor Swift, the Scripts and general pop music.

What's your favourite food?

Chocolate.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I went to New Zealand a few years and got to go tobogganing down a volcano! That was really fun and also quite scary.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be an Astronomer, so I could study the stars and planets.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I was pretty good at school. There was one time though when my best friend and I were pretending to be James Bond in the school corridors. We jumped around a corner with our hands like a gun…only to come face to face with the headteacher. She was not very happy about that.

What was your favourite subject at school?

When I started school it was PE but that changed to science in my last year.

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

Using liquid nitrogen (one of the coldest substances on Earth, around ten times colder than the South Pole) to make ice-cream.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My year 10 science teacher, Mrs Carstens. She was an awesome teacher and always used to hand out sweets in class.

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

A pilot! I love planes and really want to travel the world.

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

I wish for a superpower (being able to move stuff with my mind or fly would be awesome), an unlimited supply of chocolate and to speak a second language.

Tell us a joke.

What do you call a penguin in the Sahara desert? Lost!

Other stuff

Work photos:

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This is the machine I use to measure how much hydrogen gas my samples soak up. This is me attaching my sample tube to the machine (it’s quite fiddly!). See the grey tanks on it? That’s where the liquid nitrogen goes! Speaking of which…

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The grey tank holds liquid nitrogen. See how thick the gloves are that I’m wearing? That’s because otherwise it would freeze my fingers. One of the best things about being a scientist working with liquid nitrogen of course, is that you get to play with it occasionally!

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So what happens if you stick one of the coldest substances on Earth in a mixing bowl then put a balloon in it? Let’s find out! See how much it’s smoking? That’s nitrogen gas, it’s so cold it evaporates at room temperature.

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So here’s our balloon! Ready to be dunked in a bowl of liquid nitrogen. What do you think happens?

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Here it goes…

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It shrinks! The gas gets so cold it contracts, bringing the balloon with it. What happens when you warm it up again?…

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It returns back to it’s normal shape. That’s because as the gas warms up it expands again pushing the sides of the balloon out. Yay liquid nitrogen!

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This is what happens to my samples when they get put in liquid nitrogen. The sample tube freezes completely so you can’t even see my sample sat inside!

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It’s not all about being a lab! This is my group and I at Cheltenham science festival. We all love going out and talking to kids and adults, showing them how fun science can be. Remember, science is better with balloons!