Name: Mr Robert Thompson
Research institution: London Centre for Nanotechnology and Department of Electrical Engineering, University College London
Research career length: 3 years
Research Council: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Location: Brixton, London
Brief summary of research: Using lasers and Microscopes to understand new materials
A-levels: Mathematics, Physics, Biology and Music
MPhys in Physics, Durham University
PhD at UCL
What A levels did you study?
Physics, Biology, Maths and Music
MPhys hons, Master of Physics from Durham University
Please give us a description of your job / research, and tell us what inspired you to do what you're doing...
I work at University College London in the London Centre for Nanotechnology and the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. While here I am studying for a PhD which means I spend my days researching a specific project. This research could involve reading about some new ideas on the internet or looking up a piece of information in the library, talking to other scientists, working in the laboratory or spending time trying to understand the results from my experiments. During my final year at Durham University I was researching organic electronics, I was amazed at how much there was which was still unknown in this field. A relatively new area of research organic electronics looks at crystals, plastics and small molecules which can conduct electricity (yes, plastics that can conduct electricity!). There are so many potential application for this type of science and there are so many question left to be asked and to answer. This is the main reason that I decided to continue researching, a passion to answer questions which haven't been answered yet and to ask question which haven't been asked yet.
How does your job or research contribute to the world we live in now?
My research is looking at an area called organic electronics; I specifically look at a type of crystal which can conduct electricity. Hopefully we will be able to develop out knowledge of this crystal so it can be used in new electronic devices. The area of organic electronics is a big new area of research and is already producing some of the thinnest TV screens available and soon will be producing flexible electronics, (TVs you can roll up and put under your arm), and more energy efficient light sources.
Describe your typical day...
I work in UCL as a PhD student, this means I have complete control over the work I do, how I spend my days and the way I run my projects. Because of this no one day is ever the same as the other, generally though; I will get up and cycle across London arriving in the office quite early, I'll check my emails and do a quick search on the internet and see if there is anything new and of interest out there related to my work. My day from here can involve anything, going to meetings with other researchers, working in the lab with lasers or expensive microscopes; sometimes I just spend the day reading interesting articles about some new discovery. The thing that all my days have in common though is whether I am in the lab, in the office or at another university I know that whatever I am doing or thinking about only a handful of other people in the world will be thinking about the same thing, and often I could be the only one who's ever seen what I'm looking at or thought about what I'm thinking about. After I've finished in the lab or the office which is normally around 5 or 6 I like to head to the gym and then because there is so much to do in London I may go out and watch a play or listen to some live music.
Do you have a 'pet project'?
What do you love most about science / engineering or maths?
I really enjoy the fact that the rules of physics explain everything, from the things so tiny you will never see them, to the things so big you can't even imagine being able to see them. Studying science is about continually asking the questions no one has thought of yet, and by asking these questions we get to understand a little bit more about this miraculous world which we live in. It's this that I love about science the way it can explain so much about the world and by pushing the science a little bit further we keep understanding more and more.
What do you remember most from school science?
That it was pretty difficult, but I'm glad that I stuck with it. There's lots of fun things you get to do at school as well, making your hair stand on end, exploding soap bubbles of hydrogen and growing crystals are a few things I remember.
What do you think is the most significant scientific / engineering / mathematical development in the last century?
Wow that's tricky, there are a lot of pretty amazing developments that occur in 100 years. I guess the World Wide Web is a pretty good one, it makes my job a lot easier, I don't have to spend much time in the library as most of the information I want is a mouse click away. But I think in the development of how we understand the world, Quantum mechanics is possibly the most significant development of the 20th century. Quantum mechanics aims to explain what is actually happening on an extremely small scale and without understanding this a lot of recent developments and current research in science wouldn't be possible.
Name one quirky / crazy fact about your job...
One of the founding members of UCL (the university I am at) has his dead body dressed in his old clothes and on display in the corridor. Apparently he still gets wheeled into university meetings.
Where I live...
I live in London so it's pretty quirky and crazy anyway (especially if you're from the northern countryside like me).
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love music, listening to it, playing it and creating it. In my spare time I love to pick up my sax and give it a blast, or head off to a gig or a music festival. I'm fairly new at UCL but having been very involved in music at my college in Durham I'm hoping to join a band or two down here in London. I also enjoy heading out on my bike or going to the gym.
Researching the use of organic materials in electrical devices
I love music, whether it is playing it or watching it!
This career case study originally appeared on the NOISE (New Outlooks in Science & Engineering) webpage on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) website. NOISE is a UK-wide initiative to promote science and engineering. Originally funded by EPSRC, NOISE is now an independent platform for early career researchers to engage with the general public about the importance of research and inspire your people to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers.