(From left to right) Harry Rostron, Ekaterina (Kate) Kot and Ellie Payce
As the summer draws to an end, the days begin to grow colder and the nights longer, we bid a fond farewell to our summer placement students as they return to pursue their studies at their respective universities.
Every year the Research Complex welcomes young scientists from across the country to join our vibrant community for the summer. This opportunity is designed to enable students to gain access to the wealth of knowledge and expertise available at our facilities and then use this insight to decide on their future careers.
Over the years, Research Complex has hosted hundreds of students, and this year, we welcomed Ellie who was able to work with Andy Beale at Catalysis Hub, and Harry and Ekaterina (Kate) who spent their time with Frank von Delft's group.
Before they, left they spoke with Communications and Engagement Officer Alison Oliver about their experience.
Q. It has been wonderful to have a chance to get to know you all over the past few months. We have over 30 different universities from across the UK collaborating here at the Research Complex, where do you all come from and where are you studying?
Ellie: I am from Bristol, but more specifically a small town along the coast called Portishead and I am studying Chemistry (MChem) at Cardiff University. I am currently a fourth-year student in the final year of my master’s degree.
Kate: I’m local to Oxford and I’m reading Biochemistry at University of Oxford.
Harry: I’m from a little village called Edenfield which is just North of Manchester but for the last three years I have lived in York. I am going into my fourth and final year at the University of York studying for an MChem in Chemistry. My final year project will follow the same lines as my placement at Research Complex, using robotic systems to perform reaction optimisation on palladium catalysed coupling reactions.
Q. The placement here sounds like it was ideal for you Harry.
Harry: I was in the process of applying for Year in Industry placements and came across Diamond’s Summer Placement schemes. After searching through their list I found the robotic one at Research Complex which was perfectly suited to me as I had prior experience with a similar system. I was offered the position and because there wasn’t any industry placements elsewhere which particularly interested me, I decided to accept and stay in York to do my final year project.
Q. Kate and Ellie, what brought you to the Research Complex?
Ellie: I was looking for a summer placement that would give me some insight into either/or spectroscopy and/or catalysis. I decided to apply for the Royal Society of Chemistry Undergraduate research bursary, which required a supervisor and project of my choosing. A lecturer recommended I get in contact with Dr. Beale (based at Harwell) given my interest in catalysis. I decided to find out more about Harwell and Dr. Beale’s group via the internet, which gave great insight into the vast research they do there - which not only includes catalysis, but engineering, spectroscopy and imaging too.
Kate: As part of my Summer Placement based on the XChem Fragment Screening Platform, I had to do crystallisations. Later I used those plates/crystals to investigate crystal failures during fragment screening. Therefore, I was coming to Research Complex to set those up, using Mosquito and to image them with a Formulatrix.
Q. Describe the work that you did here in one sentence.
Ellie: DRIFTS-MS study for CO2 hydrogenation over Pd/Al-oxide catalyst.
Kate: Setting up and imaging crystallisation plates for fragment-based screening.
Harry: Developed and executed general, pharmaceutically relevant recipes for an Opentrons 2 robot using a JSON dictionary structure written in Python.
Q. What did you enjoying most about working here?
Ellie: Working at Research Complex was a particularly fun experience because I was able to work in a gas lab for the first time. The thing I enjoyed the most was definitely working in the lab and operating different spectroscopic equipment, such as DRIFTS, which also required liquid nitrogen filling (which was very cool). The experience was made so much more enjoyable because of the kind and friendly environment created by the PhD students, who supervised me and helped me whenever I was confused.
Kate: I loved being submerged in a real working environment of scientists. It was extremely valuable and inspiring to me, to see and be around all the cutting edge science taking place.
Harry: There are two answers to this question and I can’t separate them. Firstly, the equipment and facilities that Research Complex had was an amazing part of the placement, using the OpenTrons robot and LCMS machine was great experience for myself and I don’t think I would have had that opportunity elsewhere. Secondly the people in Life Sciences made my time at Research Complex even better, everyone is friendly, willing to help and all around really interesting.
Q. What will you will take away from your experience here?
Ellie: I have gained a variety of skills that I could never have learnt at university alone, hence why my placement at Research Complex was such a useful one. The facilities at Research Complex are so vast that I was given several opportunities to understand and operate different instrumentations, such as DRIFTS, FT-IR and ChemBET. This hands-on experience gave me the confidence to conduct my own DRIFTS experiment, which required research of prior research articles to form the basis of the experiment. I was also able to analyse DRIFTS and Mass Spec data in Origin to determine results and conclusions about my chosen catalyst. I believe this experience has allowed me to improve my communication, team-working and critical/data analysis based on current (and relevant) research.
Harry: I will take away many happy memories and an experience that very few students can say they’ve had which I treasure dearly.
Kate: I learned how to do crystallisations, which I never had done before – and how to work with advanced machinery like Mosquito and Formulatrix. I also learned a lot about the inside workings of a scientific facility, which is very useful.
Q. Finally, has working here helped you in any way to making decisions about your future?
Ellie: Yes! Undergoing a placement at Research Complex was an extremely valuable experience. Working amongst PhD students allowed me to obtain experience on what PhD life is all about. I now know that I am definitely going to pursue research by carrying on my studies after my master’s degree. This research may involve catalysis, as it was evident throughout my placement that catalyst development for a variety of chemical processes is a vastly growing field of research, one that I hope to contribute to in the future.
Kate: Yes, it confirmed for me that I want to pursue a career in science and more specifically, structural biology. It’s a very valuable experience which inspires me to keep working hard at university, and hopefully be back in the future.
Harry: Yes definitely, it’s really interesting because before this placement I enjoyed physical chemistry and thought that’s what I wanted to do in the future. But after the placement at Research Complex, I’ve done a full 180 degree turn and want to go into process / synthetic organic chemistry (inspired by Warren!)
We are proud to support the next generation of scientists here at Research Complex and we have helped three students in making definitive decisions about their future in the community. We wish them all the very best and if you are an undergraduate or Master's student at the moment, and would like to experience working at Research Complex, please keep an eye on our Job Opportunities page and those of our collaborators, Diamond Light Source, Catalysis Hub, Central Laser Facility, ISIS Neutron and Muon Source and the Rosalind Franklin Institute.