Scoil Mhuire Lourdes, Carrigaline (1995-1998) Bishop Foley N.S. Carlow (1998-2003) C.B.S. Carlow (2003-2009) University College Dublin (2003-present)
B.Sc. in Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology (UCD). Currently working on PhD thesis.
Summer Process Chemist internship with Takeda Pharmaceuticals Grange Castle in 2012. Once upon a time worked in Gamestop to get through college.
Full time PhD research student, with some undergraduate teaching on the side.
Centre for BioNano Interactions, UCD
Favourite thing to do in science Seeing the particles I make under a TEM microscope, to be able to see a “photo” of the tiny nanoscopic things I prepare.
I try to understand the types of interactions between nanoparticles and the environment, and am developing a technique to detect their benefits and dangers.
I’ve been involved in a few different projects over the course of my PhD, but the main overarching one that I’m trying to finish now is looking at what we call the bio-nano interactions of particles.
Nanoparticles are tiny constructs of material that show very unique and odd properties due to their small size. For a simple example, gold as we know it is normally yellowy when large. But at a very small size, gold particles actually appear very red, due to how they interact with light at a small size.
They’ve been studied in detail now for many decades, and have shown loads of promise as super materials for batteries, lubricants or solar panels, as well as showing great promise as next generation medical treatments. However, scientific research being scientific research, it’s very difficult to really make things work as we’d like. If a nanoparticle enters your body or the environment, all the proteins and fats and anything available will cover it and give the particle a new “appearance”, like a cloak. This cloak, or “corona” as we call it, is then what the environment sees, and as a result can interfere with how the environment acts towards it, in the same way someone with a scary Hallowe’en costume would be treated very differently to a normal person. This can be a nuisance, interfering with the job we designed the nanoparticle for, or dangerous, if your body or the environment reacts badly to what it sees.
My work is based upon trying to understand why the particles act the way they do, and trying to see if we can control the interactions as best we can. To do this, I make lots of different sizes, shapes and types of gold nanoparticles (which involves a lot of really nice colours). At the same time, I’m developing a technique that will hopefully one day allow us to very simply decide whether a nanoparticle type is dangerous or beneficial in an easy and quick manner, as currently this requires a lot of effort and experiments.
My Typical Day
My days are very varied, which is one of the best parts of being in a PhD (never boring or repetitive)
On an average day, I’ll come into the lab sometime before 10am. There aren’t any set hours in my lab, once you do your fair share of the work my boss doesn’t mind when I show up or leave. Being a PhD student is very freeing in this way, but you have to have a lot of self discipline to make sure you do your work and don’t get lazy. I spend the morning planning my experiments at my writing desk, doing calculations, estimating how much time things will take and booking machines that I’ll need at the right time. I’m in a large group of 30 PhD students, so there’s a lot of working around other people. After this we’ll have a coffee break; there’s a lot of coffee drank every week, I used to hate black coffee but I’ve since gotten used to it.
After coffee, I put on my lab coat, gloves and goggles, and start to prepare the standard stock solutions I require for the day or week, different acids, protein solutions and pH buffers. Every week I must prepare a few new batches of nanoparticles, in whatever shape I need. I then look at the different ways they interact with certain proteins or other targets, and how the interactions of the particles are affected. I try to see if the ways they act can be made to be beneficial for human health, or if there’s any possibility that they could be dangerous, which is important in case they are released into the environment.
To see this, I use a special machine that I stick different types of targets into, the small protein receptors in peoples’ bodies that the particles could end up interacting with. By adding my particles in, the machine is then able to tell me if they hit the target, how much and gives me an idea of what type of interaction it is. I then use this information to try and identify what other types of interactions may be looked at, and any further challenges to be investigated.
What I'd do with the money
I would love to use the money to collaborate with AMBER to bring a nanochemistry workshop to my old school and schools in the area
Nanochemistry is a huge and well funded area of research, but outside of computer chips and science fiction, few people I ever speak to realise how much money is going into looking how it could be beneficial to human health. I would love to use the money, in collaboration with AMBER who already have a program for nanoscience for primary schools, to develop a small workshop based upon the broader applications of nanochemistry and what makes it so interesting, varied and challenging, for a secondary school level. I would like to start in Carlow, with my own school and other schools in the town, and use the feedback and experience to improve and apply for further funding, depending on how well it goes.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious, excitable, interested.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I have a really broad music taste, my favourites playlist on Spotify is a mess. Currently listening to a new album from an American band called Vulfpeck, but always find myself going back to Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, and Arcade Fire.
What's your favourite food?
A Boojum burrito.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Spent 2 weeks last year on the Tall Ship Morgenster sailing around the Irish Sea with a random gathering of other young people from all over Ireland. I’d never been sailing before!
What did you want to be after you left school?
I knew I wanted to be some sort of scientist, but was torn between Pharmacology, Chemistry and Astrophysics. My marks were better in Chemistry so I stuck with that.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
A few times, mainly for being late on cold mornings…bed was too comfy
What was your favourite subject at school?
History at Junior Cert, then Chemistry at Leaving Cert.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Got to work in Sweden as part of my project, tied in with a small company over there which makes a specialised bit of equipment that could open new ways for us to understand nanoparticle interactions.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
I always wanted to work in a career where what I do could have a positive impact on people’s health and lives, but being a doctor or nurse never appealed to me. I found scientific research interesting, so decided to work on being a chemist, hoping to work on some helpful discovery.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Definitely still something science related, a science teacher or journalist of some sort.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be able to travel the world, for my research to make a difference, and to someday own a golden retreiver or 7
Tell us a joke.
Can’t think of a decent joke. All the good chemistry ones Argon ;D