Harriet Aitken

Favourite Thing: Help others! I want to be able to give people clean and safe water.



Harlaw Academy, University of Aberdeen, Brown University


MEng Chemical

Work History:

On a farm, a shop, a bar and at the University.

Current Job:

PhD student.


University of Aberdeen

Me and my work

I use scrap metal to clean up poisoned water.

How many drinks have you had today? Have you had any water? If you have had water, did it look clean?

I’m hoping the water you drank did look clean! Did it also taste ok, smell ok? Again, I’m hoping yes…but was it really clean? If you’ve ever had a bottle of mineral water you might find on the side a list of ingredients, maybe chloride (Cl) or sulfate (SO4). These chemicals are naturally found in water in tiny amounts and those small amounts are completely harmless. There are however other chemicals, like lead (Pb) and arsenic (As), that even in tiny amounts are very poisonous. So you cannot see, taste or smell them but they might still be there!

In the UK we have very strict laws on dangerous chemicals and so if needed the water is cleaned before it ever gets to you – other countries aren’t so lucky and cannot afford to clean water for so many people, especially those that live outside of cities. So I decided I wanted to try and make a machine that was very cheap and used thing that people didn’t want anymore – like scrap metal. Rusty nuts and bolts work great!

My Typical Day

I try to spend as much time in the lab as possible, and usually end up covered in rust!

What I'd do with the money

We have a great lab in our department and I’d like to run a science competition for some local schools.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Silly, stubborn, inventive.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

The Lumineers.

What's your favourite food?

Sausage, mash and gravy.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I went horse riding in the jungle they filmed Jurassic Park.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I knew I wanted to study chemistry, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I was always late for assembly and once slipped and fell on my way in!

What was your favourite subject at school?


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

Travelling to America to work with scientists at another university.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Definitely my chemistry teacher, he was absolutely amazing.

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

Maybe an exotic animal vet, travelling all over the world.

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

Tell us a joke.

Other stuff

Work photos: