Rathduff NS (1994-2002), Scoil Mhuire gan Smal Blarney (2002-2008), University College Cork (2008-present)
BSc Chemistry with Forensic Science (Hons)
O’Flaherty’s Quik Pick (2003-2006), Costcutter Grenagh (2006-2010), Coca Cola (Jun-Aug 2008)
University College Cork
Favourite thing to do in science: Sit down with data from my reactions and see how all the pieces fit together to figure out if all the work in the lab has paid off and I’ve made the compound I want: there’s nothing like the glow of satisfaction when you get it right and everything falls into place!
I’m an Irish chemistry researcher, currently studying for my PhD in organic chemistry.
I live in the south of Ireland, currently at home with my parents (and siblings) while I finish up my PhD. We’re big into animals: at the moment we have two cats, a dog and a few hens! My favourite foods are pretty much all kinds of Indian food, and also lemon cheesecake, chocolate and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Outside of my job, I love photography, cooking, singing (I sing in a local choir) and sport (I play Ladies Gaelic Football), along with reading and watching TV when I have a chance.
I work in Impurity Profiling, which basically means seeing if you can track how criminals are making illegal drugs by looking at the by-products that are formed while making them.
I make the by-products (or impurities) that are formed when you make illegal drugs and see if I can detect them in reactions: this tells me more about how criminals make illegal drugs and this kind of information can be used by the police and the government to figure out what shipments might be suspicious, and what chemicals they should restrict access to.
Another part of my work is testing the compounds I make to see if they might be useful in other ways: for example, recently I sent off a series of compounds to see if they might be useful as antibiotics. Other things they can be tested for include anti-cancer, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity.
My Typical Day
My day tends to be split between researching online, running reactions in the lab, and taking the data from those reactions and trying to analyse it.
I’ll be honest, my day starts with a LOT of coffee: I am not great at getting up in the mornings! Then once I start work, I tend to spend my time in the lab, putting on my reactions, taking them off, and purifying the compound I get back, then taking the pure compounds and analysing them, and finally sitting in front of my computer looking at the data I get back and/or researching what reactions I should put on next.
Some days I also do some teaching, or ‘demonstrating’, when I help supervise the undergraduate college students when they’re working in chemistry labs. This can be very rewarding as you get to help them understand the chemistry they’re working on, and you get to watch them develop as scientists.
What I'd do with the money
I would use the money in conjunction with UCC Chemistry Department’s ‘Spectroscopy in a Suitcase’ scheme to fund continuing chemistry outreach to secondary schools in Ireland.
‘Spectroscopy in a Suitcase’ (SIAS) is a scheme that is jointly funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry, Science Foundation Ireland, and the Chemistry Department in University College Cork, which aims to give school students the chance to engage with science and learn about spectroscopy through hands-on experience provided by the SIAS team, who travel with the equipment to schools throughout the country. SIAS tries to focus on real-life applications of science, and encourages students to think about studying chemistry and generally to engage with science more on a day-to-day basis. If you want more information on the type of activities they do, and how to participate, they have a web page HERE which goes through their work in more detail, along with pictures from the hundreds of schools that SIAS has visited so far.
SIAS is free to schools that want to participate, and is solely funded by the three partners mentioned above: this means that money is always necessary to keep the scheme up and running, and, if I won the prize money from ‘I’m a Scientist’, it would go towards maintaining/buying equipment to ensure that the students who participate can continue to benefit from a hands-on, interactive experience with science.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Happy, Enthusiastic, Nerdy
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Sia and/or Johnny Cash
What's your favourite food?
Butter Chicken (though all Indian food really).
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Visited Pompeii and climbed Vesuvius.
What did you want to be after you left school?
A research scientist! So that’s going pretty well.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
What was your favourite subject at school?
Chemistry! Although I also really enjoyed Physics and Applied Maths.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Managed processing a fake crime scene, complete with blood, fingerprints, “drugs”, etc.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My chemistry teacher in secondary school, she was wonderful.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) Have a really nice camera (my phone one just doesn’t cut it sometimes!). 2) Visit and tour New Zealand (not gonna lie, this has been on my list since I saw Lord of the Rings aged 12). 3) Have the money to buy some seriously fancy equipment for my lab.
Tell us a joke.
Johnny was a chemist’s son, but Johnny is no more, what Johnny thought was H2O was H2SO4!
My desk, where I work and live (well, maybe not, but it feels like it sometimes)! Not the tidiest area in the world, but it’s organised chaos: I can generally find what I’m looking for.
This is the lab I work in, complete with glassware presses, hotplates, chemicals and pretty much anything else we might need to get on with our work.
This is the view from the window of our lab: it’s pretty gorgeous on a sunny day!
This is one of the more complicated reaction set-ups I’ve ever dealt with, involving two separate reactions at different temperatures (one at 0°C and one at -78°C), connected by a canula that fed one reaction mixture into the other.
This is quite an old photo of mine, but it remains one of my favourite images of chemistry, a reminder that we can make some truly beautiful things with science.