Learning about nanoporous materials

by YPU Admin on January 17, 2014, Comments. Tags: nanoscience, PhD, and Research


My name is Stephen David Worrall and I am studying for a PhD in Nanoscience through the North West Nanoscience Doctoral Training Centre (NOWNano DTC) working alongside an array of hugely talented researchers. This means I spend my time researching cutting edge science and trying to further our understanding of the world around us by performing experiments in the laboratory and reading up on the latest scientific developments. I work in the Centre for Nanoporous Materials (CNM) which is in the School of Chemistry here at the University of Manchester.

In Depth

Working in the CNM for Dr Martin Attfield means that my work focuses on the use of “nanoporous materials”. You will already be familiar with normal porous materials like sponges which contain a network of interconnected channels, where this network reaches the surface of the sponge can be seen with the naked eye. Nanoporous materials are very similar; the difference is that the interconnected channels are between 1,000,000 and 100,000,000 times smaller than in a sponge, around 1 nanometre (nm) wide instead of 10 – 1000 millimetre (mm) wide. The nanoporous materials I work on are called Metal – Organic Frameworks (MOFs) which are a new, large group of nanoporous crystals with a huge number of potential uses. I am interested in using them as moulds to “grow” metal wires which, with the network of interconnected channels in MOFs acting as a template, will be just 1 nm wide. Such small metal wires could find uses in fields as varied as the catalysis of pharmaceutically important chemical reactions and the fabrication of electronic devices. 

As well as working in the CNM, I also work for Professor Robert Dryfe in his “electrochemistry” group; where research is focussed on the interface between chemistry and electricity. It is the work in this research group that enables me to “grow” metal wires by a process called electrodeposition. The MOF crystals are attached to a sheet of metal which is negatively charged, the coated sheet of metal is then placed in a solution containing dissolved metal cations (which are positively charged). The opposite charges attract each other and the dissolved metal makes its way through the channels of the MOF crystals to reach the metal plate and deposit as solid metal, as this happens over and over again the metal wires eventually build up.

Before doing my PhD in Nanoscience, I studied for a MChem in Chemistry with Industrial Experience in the School of Chemistry here at the University of Manchester. To get on to this course I needed an A level in Chemistry and two other A levels, one of which was a science. As I’d done Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics, I was perfectly equipped! This degree was perfect for me as I got to spend my penultimate year working full time for a FTSE 100 Chemical Company and my final year working for Dr Andrew Horn as a Masters researcher in his laboratory. This gave me experience of both the industrial and academic career paths and helped me make the decision to carry on with research after I finished my degree.

It was the right decision for me as not only do I get to research new, interesting and exciting science but being a PhD researcher also gives me the opportunity to be involved in the fantastic outreach work that goes on at the University of Manchester, both as an Outreach Demonstrator for the School of Chemistry  and through my role as a Widening Participation (WP) Fellow. I get to work with school children both in their schools and at the university and enthuse them about my work and science in general through talks, workshops and practical demonstrations. There are not many other jobs where you can explode things on a regular basis!

Going Further

For a list of the researchers working in the NOWNano DTC, the fascinating and varied projects they are working on and the award winning academics they are working for see hereherehere and here.

For the latest research going on in the CNM, click here.

For details on all the different sorts of Chemistry degree the University of Manchester offers (doing a year in industry is just one of your options!), see here.

For a fantastic video showcasing a day in the life of an undergraduate chemistry student (and a little bit of the exciting stuff you can get up to as an Outreach demonstrator!), click here.


Tacking the global energy crisis

by YPU Admin on January 9, 2014, Comments. Tags: nuclear and Research


My name is Aneeqa and I am trying to help create the conditions of the Sun on Earth. Following my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, I decided to pursue a PhD in nuclear fusion and I am now in my second year. The world is undergoing an energy crisis and a variety of approaches need to be pursued in order to cope with this.  Fusion is the process by which two atoms collide and release energy in the process, and it is fusion which powers the sun where hydrogen and helium atoms fuse together, releasing huge amounts of energy. My work is focused on understanding what damage is expected to occur to tungsten (a candidate material for fusion) when it is used in a fusion reactor, so that components that will withstand the extreme environment of nuclear fusion can be developed and commercial fusion can become a reality and we can save the world. Not much to ask for then…

In Depth

So, the world’s demand for energy looks set to increase by greater than double the current usage by the year 2050. 80% of the energy used today is from fossil fuel sources, contributing unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gases.  We really need to find a way to provide enough energy for the exploding population, with as little cost to the environment as possible. There is no one easy solution to meet this demand. A combination of approaches must be developed to provide diversity and energy security, including solar, nuclear fission and also nuclear fusion.   Fusion is a promising approach due to the fact it has a limited environmental impact, requires limited space and unlike traditional nuclear fission (the splitting of atoms that occurs in nuclear power plants today), it is intrinsically safe. The fuel supply is also virtually unlimited. The lithium found in your laptop battery with a bath full of water could provide enough electricity for a single person for thirty years! Pretty impressive right? So why aren’t we already using fusion?

Well as I mentioned before, fusion is what occurs in the sun. So you can imagine the environment required for fusion power is pretty crazy. With temperatures at 100s of millions of degrees in the middle and thousands of degrees at the wall, as well as bombardment of the walls of the reactor with high energy neutrons and ions of helium and hydrogen, it is a tad tricky to find materials that can cope with all of this. Tungsten is one of the materials that should be able to handle this environment, because it has a high melting point, and is strong. But it still has some setbacks. It can fracture quite easily and is known to behave in a brittle manner at high temperatures. So it could break suddenly and cause a lot of damage to the reactor.  All these issues are made worse by the intense environment that is expected in a fusion reactor.  Therefore, my work looks at trying to understand the effect of the fusion environment on tungsten and what we can do to improve how tungsten performs.

My day-to-day work involves modelling things on computers, doing some experiments and looking at really small areas of tungsten, which actually looks pretty cool! The picture I have taken below is from a transmission electron microscope and shows the grain boundaries of tungsten. Just to put the scale in perspective, a human hair is around 100 000nm wide. So that image is pretty zoomed in!

Materials research is really important for the development of a nuclear fusion reactor which could eventually help provide energy to those in the world who are without!

Going Further

If you are interested in nuclear fusion check out the CCFE (Culham Centre for Fusion Energy) and ITER websites. CCFE is home to a fusion reactor here in the UK and ITER is the experimental reactor that is being built in the south of France!

The 'How stuff works' people have made an excellent summary on how nuclear fusion reactors work here.

If you are interested in splitting atoms (nuclear fission), then the Nuclear Hitchhiker blog and podcast is an interesting place to visit. This was created by some University of Manchester Students and they also have a Twitter page (@Nuke_Hitchhiker). 

The Dalton Nuclear Institute covers most of the nuclear related research that is happening at the University of Manchester (@DaltonNuclear).


Equality in death?

by YPU Admin on December 23, 2013, Comments. Tags: Classics, PhD, and Research


My name is Leo and I’m a first year PhD candidate in Classics & Ancient History, at the University of Manchester.  I also did my BA, in Classics & English Language, and then my MA, in Classics & Ancient History, here at Manchester, so it feels as if I’ve been here forever now. Actually, I grew up in High Wycombe, near London, where I worked for a while as a teaching assistant in a busy primary school. Besides my PhD, my main interests lie in teaching and in affecting educational policy for Classics in schools.

In my research, I am interested primarily in death, particularly in the Roman Empire. This is an important area of research, not least because of the universality of death, which removes (to a certain extent) social barriers between the rich and the poor – everybody dies. Also, the study of death is useful as a portal into the study of wider areas, including religion, archaeology, status issues and many others.

In Depth

My PhD is currently entitled ‘Burial Societies in the Roman Empire’, which is a little misleading. I am actually looking at lots of different kinds of ‘societies’ and examining the various ways in which non-elite people used these ‘societies’ to give themselves a feeling of ‘status’. Upper class people in the Roman World already had a high status because they had lots of money and came from important families, who engaged in politics or important businesses. That does not mean though, that all of the lower classes were necessarily ‘low status’ individuals. Rather, the lower classes were able to join ‘societies’ or clubs, through which they could rise in importance and feel good about themselves. These clubs also supported their members in death, by providing free funerals and holding feasts in their honour, which is how they tie into my overall interests in death.

Why do I care about death? I know, I know, this seems like SUCH a morbid thing to be studying not to mention being, frankly, depressing! In fact, studying death is an incredibly interesting and, believe it or not, lively pursuit! Philosophy on death and, particularly, the afterlife features in every society and religion throughout both history and the world and the study of these beliefs can be incredibly useful. For example, modern religions are, in many ways, more alike than people often think: the Abrahamic religions (that is, Christianity, Islam and Judaism) all believe in an afterlife of different realms, one of Paradise and the other of Hell. Dharmic religions on the other hand (Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism), believe more in the reincarnation of souls. I am particularly interested in where these various beliefs came from and how they have since diverged into more individual beliefs. Looking at religion in the Ancient World is a great way of going about this!

The great thing about studying Classics & Ancient History is that you get to study a very wide range of topics (including literature, history, politics, religion, art, etc) and that is exactly what I am doing in this research – which involves looking at philosophy and religion, archaeology, history, demography, status psychology and politics.

Going Further

The CLAH Department at Manchester is one of the best in the country and its student run magazine is full of fun things to do with Classics. Remember, it’s not just Latin! Click here to read the magazine.

If you’re still unsure about what CLAH is or the benefits in studying it, check out this article from The Guardian.

The Iris Project is a great programme, designed to reintroduce Latin into State schools. There is an enormous benefit in studying Latin, in that, weirdly, it teaches you all about how English works!

This is an interesting website for anybody who is interested in teaching Classics or learning more about the overall subject.


Exploring the biological clock

by YPU Admin on December 16, 2013, Comments. Tags: biology, Neuroscience, PhD, and Research


My name is Joe and I am a final year PhD student at the University of Manchester where I study Neuroscience. Having finished my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and History, I applied to study Zoology in Manchester.  Once accepted, I deferred the start of my degree for a year to fulfil a childhood dream to travel the length of South America while attempting to learn Spanish along the way - albeit pretty badly.

Having survived my travels, I finished my undergraduate course with a first class degree and decided to carry on my studies at Manchester through a research masters in Integrative Biology. It was during this time that I ended up on a laboratory-based project with my current supervisor and I became interested in the field of biological rhythms and their role in neurological disorders. Almost four years on, I am still focused on trying to understand how changes to your body’s biological clock within your brain can contribute to the unusual behaviour seen in bipolar disorder.

In Depth

As you have continued reading, I imagine you may be wondering what are biological clocks and what do they have to do with bipolar disorder?  As we live on a planet that rotates over a 24-hour cycle, all organisms are subjected to daily changes in light, temperature and many other factors important to life. Almost every species on earth has responded to these environmental changes with the slow evolution of biological clocks that allow us to anticipate these daily cycles. These clocks are made up of genes and proteins that strictly control the timing of cellular and body processes.

In humans and mammals, these biological clocks now exist in a deep part of our brains as two dense clusters of brain cells known as the suprachiasmatic nuclei. These tiny but intricate structures strictly control the timing of almost everything in our bodies, from when we wake up to when our hormones are released. They also they let our cells know when they need to do specific jobs at different times of the day. When these biological clocks go wrong, there is a growing amount of evidence that has shown you are much more likely to become ill.

Illnesses that have been linked to faulty body clocks are quite varied but include neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. People with these diseases very often have highly disturbed sleep-wake rhythms, often sleeping much less, or waking up a lot during the night and we think that faulty body clocks might be to blame.

My work focuses on trying to understand how molecular and electrical activity changes in the suprachiasmatic nuclei during bipolar disorder and whether any such changes in biological rhythms may contribute to disruptions in our daily behaviour. As many drugs that can change our body clocks are being rapidly discovered, we hope that this type of work will pave the way for the use of new medicines that improve body rhythms to help treat people with bipolar disorder and other similar neurological problems.

Going Further

Find out what’s going on in Manchester’s vibrant Neuroscience department here.

The University of Manchester’s Neuroscience course page, where you can find out about what you can study and what you need to do if you are interested.

Find out what type of body clock you have here and compare yourself to others around the world via this global questionnaire, set up by the world’s most prominent biological rhythm researchers:

The Guardian’s two Neuroscience blogs, with some nice articles on the most recent advances and stories in the field - click here and here.

Take a look at the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) for up-to-date news and information from the UK’s biggest Neuroscience organisation.

Only for the most intrepid minds out there! A link to the most prominent neuroscience journal out there including a weekly open-access article (you need to pay to read these normally). Don’t be put off by the crazy language as you will only really understand this after years of study, but you can get an idea of what real neuroscience looks like here.


Undergraduate Research

by YPU Admin on December 2, 2013, Comments. Tags: history and undergraduate research

As part of our series on undergraduate research, Jack Mollart-Solity shares his experience of completing his final year History dissertation. 


Hi, my name is Jack Mollart-Solity, and I graduated from The University of Manchester with an undergraduate degree in History. In my final year at university, I did a 12,000 word dissertation with my research focusing on Hungarian Refugees in Britain following the failed Hungarian Revolution in 1956; however, it also explored other immigrant and refugee groups who had come to Britain throughout the 20th century.

My research

I chose to focus on this topic for a number of reasons. Partly, the history of Hungarian Refugees had been overlook by historians, so my research was part of uncovering their experiences in Britain and how they adapted to their new surroundings. More broadly though, I wanted to examine the factors that influence both governmental and societal responses to refugees and immigrants, both positive and negative. I believe this is important to investigate these issues as it is extremely relevant to modern society as much political debate is focused on immigration, and its benefits and drawbacks.

In order to investigate these issues, I used a variety of sources. For much of my research, I had to be in the National Archives in London. While there, I examined old government files trying to find the reasons why the government chose to admit Hungarian Refugees. As well as this, I looked through newspaper reports from The Manchester Guardian and The Times between the years of 1955 to 1960; this helped to show me what influenced the public’s response to the incoming Hungarians.

The most difficult aspect of my project was trying to uncover how Hungarian Refugees themselves felt about their experience in Britain: most sources completely overlooked the opinions of Hungarians. However, I was able to build up a limited picture through looking at government files and newspapers. Ideally, I would have liked to have interviewed Hungarian refugees and their decedents but this did not prove possible.


It was hard to draw conclusions about the experience of Hungarian Refugees in Britain from the limited evidence available, particularly as it is likely to be highly individualised for each refugee. However, it appeared that many felt they had been lied to in order to get them to come to Britain, and this cost them a chance to go to America, a location which was for many their preferred destination.

My findings suggested that the government’s principle motivation to admitting Hungarian refugees was both to win favour with and help their potential new ally Austria, the country which the Hungarians had immediately escaped to, as well as filling vacancies in Britain’s labour market. 

Finally, the public’s reaction was influenced by ideas of ethnicity; the white Hungarians received a warmer welcome due to their perceived ethnic similarities with the British. Equally, the refugees’ flight from communism enhanced their reputation in capitalist Britain.

I really enjoyed doing my dissertation: it gave me a chance to research a topic I was particularly interested in and gave me a lot of control over the work that I did.

Going further...

For more information about the History course at the University of Manchester, click here.

Click here for information from the London School of Economics on why it is beneficial to study History.

The Guardian recently ran a feature about how to plan and write a dissertation.

Search the National Archives website for different documents you can look up: it is free to use the National Archives.

Access to Archives: search archives located near you.