Name: Dr Scott J. Dalgarno
Age range: 35
Research institution: Institute of Chemical Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
Research career length: 13 years
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Salary: £50 - 70k
A-levels: Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry
MChem, University of Leeds
PhD in Supramolecular Chemistry, University of Leeds
Postdoc at the University of Missouri-Columbia
Lecturer, then Reader in Inorganic Chemistry, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
Nature has produced all sorts of chemicals that shape our world and the universe beyond. Chemists, like Scott Dalgarno, make new molecular structures that contribute to better and safer technology, and that may in some cases help to reduce pollution that threatens our planet.
Research is an extremely interesting place to be, as long as you have the passion to continue through the lows in order to reach the highs. You have to want to be immersed in it and have a real interest in pushing things forward to succeed. Nobody can do everything, so collaboration is key to pushing things forward.
We make new molecular building blocks and try to put together novel materials that have useful properties. For example, we are now trying to form large molecular structures that absorb specific gases. Through collaboration with other researchers, we also form metal clusters that have interesting and useful magnetic properties – this includes single molecule magnets that have many applications, including improving storage on computers and mobile phones.
A typical day for me may involve doing some experiments, teaching undergraduates, grant-writing or management. I use various laboratory techniques to see the molecules that we make, including X-ray crystallography – a technique that has been used for many decades and which helps us to understand molecular structure. I also use more modern facilities such as the Advanced Light Source synchrotron (electron beam accelerator) based in Berkeley, California. In addition to managing my research group, I also examine PhD students, submit research papers to peer-review journals and present our findings to others at conferences and in seminars.
When I was at school, and particularly during my A-levels, I found that I had a good understanding of chemistry. I was lucky in that I had two very enthusiastic chemistry teachers, which undoubtedly helped me develop a passion for the subject. I also enjoyed my undergraduate degree in Leeds and decided that a PhD was the logical step; this was strongly encouraged by my supervisor who remains an incredibly enthusiastic chemist. My time at Leeds as a postgraduate research student was thoroughly enjoyable and after publishing my first paper from my work I got a real taste for the life in academia. My supervisors (Prof. Colin Raston and Prof. Michaele Hardie) were very influential during this time and I was fortunate to go on a 3-month exchange to a research group based in Missouri in the USA, headed by a very eminent researcher, Prof. Jerry Atwood, who in my opinion, has been the one person that has subsequently shaped my career the most; I took up a post in Prof. Atwood’s group following completion of my PhD. Prof. Len Barbour (who was also working over in Missouri during my PhD visit) was also very influential and assisted me with key structural studies, taking time to teach me various aspects of single crystal X-ray crystallography.
Some of my research I do alone, while some is collaborative. I find partnership working highly fruitful, and it also means I do a fair amount of travelling. Through work I’ve been to Australia, Canada, USA, Ukraine, Moldova, China, Spain and South Africa. As an academic, you have the chance to get the feel of a place - since you’re working there alongside local people and for longer than you might spend as a tourist. I’ve enjoyed so many trips and experienced such wonderful hospitality, it’s difficult to single out the most memorable visit.
My ambitions are to find out more about research in other institutes that will help shape future research, and ultimately my goal is to take up a chair in Chemistry. But my main belief is that you should enjoy what you do...and I do!