I am a Physics PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast, funded by the Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland (DEL). My work focuses on developing the new generation of hydrogen gas sensors. Why might we want that, you ask? There are loads of industrial applications, but perhaps the one that might affect you most directly is in your hydrogen-fuelled car. Sounds futuristic? A few major car manufacturers have announced plans to launch these as soon as 2015! You probably know that petrol and diesel are flammable, but did I mention that a mixture of just 4% hydrogen in air is explosive?
When I’m not in the Physics lab, I’m usually getting passionate about either music or business ideas (and sometimes try combining the two). I learnt some computer programming during my Physics undergraduate degree – I used this knowledge to build an iPhone app for guitarists that has been downloaded over 2000 times worldwide.
Science has progressed so rapidly in recent years that we can now engineer materials to have specific properties unlike any found in nature – like a super fast and sensitive hydrogen sensor! I do this by using tiny structures called nanotubes. On an area the size of your thumbnail and in a few hours, I produce billions of nanotubes – each one being about 10,000x thinner than a single hair on your head. These are great for acting like a hydrogen sponge!
I pursued Physics at university because I found it easy to get passionate about why the sky is blue, or how the Northern Lights work. The more I learnt, the more I could appreciate the fundamentals behind cutting edge science in the media – like invisibility cloaks (they do exist, but not quite like as in Harry Potter…yet). By the end of my degree I wanted nothing more than 3 years of funding for research. Although hydrogen sensors might not sound quite as “wizard-ing” as an invisibility cloak, you’d be surprised to what extent the knowledge from one lends to the other.