What do you do?
I work at a large scale research facility, a particle accelerator called a synchrotron. Electrons are accelerated up to very close to the speed of light, and forced to change direction. When this occurs they give off beams of X-ray radiation. I am a Scientist on the beamline for powder diffraction experiments. Powder diffraction is used to investigate the atomic structure of materials, and gives you information on the whole phase, not just on the elements.
There are two parts to my job: (1) Setting up experiments for the users that perform experiments at our beamline, and (2) my own research. For each user group that visits our beamline, I need to align the optics and setup the samples so they are optimised for the specific experiment. This can take all day, depending on the setup. I also need to fix any issues that arise during their experiment, and provide advice on data collection and analysis.
For my own research, I am interested in catalytic materials and disordered materials for energy applications. Disorder add another level of challenge to the scientific investigation. I also want to understand the short range ordering of materials, as this can be different to what is happening on the long range scale, and can be used to improve how we synthesise materials.
Why did you choose this field?
In school I studied a lot of art subjects, but also enjoyed chemistry. I didn’t do that well in school, but at university I found I loved science. I found science explained so much about the world, and the further I went in university, the more I wanted to continue. For me, there was never a particular moment I realised I wanted to pursue science as a career, or a specific person that contributed to my decision as my family are not academic.
During my PhD I performed powder diffraction experiments, as well another technique - electron microscopy, so I was looking at work in either fields. After applying for many jobs, I was offered one in the diffraction group at the CSIRO, which really started my career in diffraction. After a few years I moved to the Australian Synchrotron. I love powder diffraction as I am interested in what’s happening on the atomic scale of materials as the structure often governs the materials properties.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I received a prize for the best overall oral student presentation at the Australian Microbeam Analysis Society (AMAS) XIII symposium. This award included a funded trip to attend the European Microbeam Analysis Society (EMAS) workshop in Slovenia. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet with other researchers overseas and present my work. I didn’t realise such opportunities existed.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love the challenge and always learning something new! I also find working out scientific problems very satisfying and rewarding, and through experiments you can discover new and fascinating things that have real world applications, such as tackling climate change. I always look forward to interacting and working with our users and my colleagues as they are all very passionate about what they do.
Best advice for next generation?
You are smart enough and good enough to pursue a career in STEM. Like any field, you need a certain skill set, which just comes from studying either at a technical college or university. The skills you learn can also be used in a variety of careers. I am not sure why STEM is considered ‘hard’ either, as if you love what you do, its enjoyable and requires a lot of creativity to come up with solutions to scientific problems.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” - Mae Jemison, Astronaut, Engineer & Physician