The science of small things

by YPU Admin on March 7, 2014. Tags: chemical engineering, nanoscience, PhD, and Research


Hi, my name is Lauren and I am a second year PhD student at The University of Manchester. I was lucky enough to be selected for the NowNANO DTC programme. A DTC (Doctoral Training Centre) programme is essentially a PhD and the NowNANO DTC is a programme that specialises in Nanoscience. For those that don’t know what Nanoscience is, it is science on a very very small scale – 10-9 m to be exact, that’s 1 million times smaller than a millimetre!

My particular area of research looks at the molecular interactions in organic crystals. Organic crystals are crystals that are made up of carbon atoms. My focus is on hydrogen bonding behaviour in these crystals. One of the main uses of these types of crystals is in Pharmaceutical tablets. The molecular interactions in the crystals are what determine the properties of the crystal and therefore how well the drugs work.

In Depth

In order to get where I am now, I studied Maths, Chemistry and Physics at A level. At the time, my plan was to become an engineer and work on renewable energy. I studied for 4 years to get my master’s degree in “Chemical Engineering with Environmental Technology”. In between my 3rd and 4th year at university, I decided to see how much I enjoyed Chemical Engineering by doing a 3 month placement with the Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. My job was to look at all of the water that was used on site and try to find ways to reduce their water consumption. The project was interesting and very challenging but for me it didn’t seem to fit my personality.

For the degree that I was doing I was required to complete a research project in my 4th year in order to get my masters. As soon as I started this project I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I spent a lot more time on my project than my friends did. I found myself reading about the research in my spare time. I was very fortunate to find a project that I enjoyed so much. My project was more chemistry and physics based rather than engineering and I felt that this suited me better. When it came to the end of the year and everyone else I knew was applying for jobs, I decided to apply for a PhD instead. And the rest, as they say, is history!

The research that I am working on now uses soft X-rays to look at molecular interaction in organic (carbon based) crystals. This has a particular relevance to the pharmaceutical industry as almost half of all pharmaceuticals are administered as tablets. The actual ‘drug’ part of the tablet is almost always an organic crystal. Learning more about these molecules helps the pharmaceutical companies to decide things such as; how much drug should be in the tablet, how quickly it will dissolve and how effectively it will spread through the body.

I like my research, firstly because I simply enjoy finding out new information. Though, I particularly enjoy my research because I feel like I am making a contribution to society and in a small way, helping other people. My research is fairly fundamental, this means that it is all about the pure science. I am a few steps removed from the practical applications of drug delivery. However, the scientists that are working on the drugs need to know about their science, which makes me feel like what I am doing is important, however small my contribution may be.

Going Further

Click here for more information about the course Chemical Engineering with Environmental Technology.

More information on Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science can be found here.

In my spare time I am also a STEM ambassador. STEM is an organisation that aims to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. If you wish to find out more about the various jobs and carers that are available through these subjects then have a look at this site.

If you have been interested in my work then all of the information about my research can be found on my research page.

Other pages you may find interesting that are related to my work include:

1.  I work with X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS). For those of you who want a challenge have a look at how it works, you can find more information here.

2.  What is a drug? Find out here.

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