Nanotechnology is unbelievably small. A nanometre is one billionth of a metre, roughly the length a human hair grows in the time it takes to pick up a razor.
Nanotechnology lets you create substances as small as one molecule thick, giving enormous surface area for speeding up chemical reactions. You can also miniaturise computer components, potentially storing a terabyte of data per square inch.
And you can achieve quantum confinement, where particles are so small that electrons behave differently from normal, enabling new optical, electrical and magnetic properties to be realised.
My big breakthrough concerned the creation of “perfect” defects in very thin films of superconductors. My brainwave was to create nanoparticles within a thin film superconductor using a different material that I knew the superconductor wouldn’t react with.
It worked right away, achieving very much higher currents in the superconductor and opening up a whole new world of applications in power transmission, conversion and storage, and in high-power magnets for important science experiments such as the Large Hadron Collider and fusion research.
Nanotechnology may be tiny but its potential is huge. It could give us much more efficient solar power, better storage of renewable energy, cancer-killing drugs delivered to just the right cells in the body, biotechnology to clean polluted environments, even molecular-scale robots called nanobots.
My latest research involves making new kinds of composite thin films that mimic how the brain works.
Being a senior academic is rather like running a small business. Your “product” is your research output and you have to raise funding, manage the lab and the people, supervise the work and “market” your work to other academics.
The wonderful thing about my job is the freedom. In my research nobody tells me what to do or when, and when my daughters were young I was able to work very flexibly.
You need to be really passionate to succeed in science. If you’re not the type to give up your weekend to really understand something then you’re probably not cut out for it.
STEM Awards 2016
Change your future. Improve the world
Are you a STEM student with dynamic ideas, ambition and the determination to make a difference in the world? If so, the STEM Awards 2016 is a unique opportunity to prove your talent to some of the biggest names in the industry – and put yourself in the running to win £25,000. Visit the homepage for more information: