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Dr Emma Carter

 Name: Dr Emma Carter

 


Age range: 36-40


Research institution: School of Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham


Research career length: 8 years


Research Council: Previously funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)


Location: Birmingham, England


Salary: £35-39k


Brief summary of research: I deliver workshops into schools to explain what engineering is and the science behind it using real Chemical Engineering research projects


School qualifications:
A-levels: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, General Studies


Qualifications post-school:
MEngMan in Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing and Management, University of Birmingham
PhD in Vehicle design for pedestrian safety, University of Birmingham


Career path:
Development Engineer, Churchfields Components Ltd
Development and Customer Liaison Engineer, Lloyds Brierley Hill Ltd
Process Engineer, Universal Steel Tube Co
PhD student in Automotive Safety, University of Birmingham
Research Associate / Crash Investigator, University of Birmingham
Research Fellow in Micro-Engineering, University of Birmingham
Outreach Officer for Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham

Please give us a description of your job / research, and tell us what inspired you to do what you're doing...

I'm a researcher at the University of Birmingham's Nanotechnology Research Group where I'm currently investigating how the Casimir force can be used in MEMS (micro electromechanical systems) machines. I've just finished my PhD which involved numerical modelling of pedestrian and cyclist accidents - very different from my new job! While I was at school, I actually really liked the arts subjects, as well as the science ones - I played the French Horn and Piano all through secondary school and loved acting - but since the age of about 14, I really wanted to find out how everything worked so I decided to focus on science for academic subjects, and keep the music and drama as more of a hobby. In 6th form I entered an industrial design competition, and we won; this went down really well at my university interviews and even got me a lower offer. The degree I chose was one of the broadest engineering degrees I could find as I wasn't sure exactly where I wanted to specialise. I felt that the management element of my degree would be useful for all sorts in the future. It was quite an intense four years, but so worth the effort, and I still managed to make time for extra-curricular interests such as going to church, joining the TA and learning new sports. After graduating, I worked in small manufacturing companies in the West Midlands, which gave me loads of experience and responsibility early on, and some great opportunities to travel. After about 6 years, I decided I needed a new challenge and went back to university to do a PhD in pedestrian and cyclist safety research. After 18 months I was offered a job to carry on doing what I was doing for my PhD, then in April 2006 I switched to investigating car crashes and researching the effects of vehicle manoeuvres.

How does your job or research contribute to the world we live in now?

My research involves improving micro-engineered devices to pave the way for smaller and more sophisticated sensors (which measure stuff) and actuators (which do things). These can be applied to medical diagnosis and treatment, environmental monitoring and 'smart' materials.

Describe your typical day...

I either drive, get the train or cycle - depending on the weather and how much I need to transport - and arrive about 9am. I may spend some time working in the clean room, which is a special lab for micro and nano engineering that means dust doesn't get into you components (this can be a real problem when they're so small!). There are various pieces of equipment that I'll use including an electron microscope for taking images of the things I've made. I've started doing some lecturing now so one afternoon a week I teach a hall full of undergraduates, which can be quite daunting.

Do you have a 'pet project'?

I've just started it - it's all about the Casimir force (look it up on the internet - it's really interesting!), which was discovered fifty years ago but there is still lots to investigate. My job is thinking about how we can use it in micro-mechanical systems (i.e. really tiny machines).

What do you love most about science / engineering or maths?

I love the fact that I get to work on my own initiative most of the time, and I'm always doing something that really challenges me. I also appreciate being able to do almost any sport I fancy at lunchtime or after work.

What do you remember most from school science?

My chemistry teacher throwing a pile of magnesium filings on the bench in front of me and setting it alight (I don't think they'd be allowed to do that these days).

What do you think is the most significant scientific / engineering / mathematical development in the last century?

The silicon transistor – because it's the fundamental building block of all modern electronics including computers.

Name one quirky / crazy fact about your job...

Most of the people who work in my micro-engineering research group are really quite small!

Where I live...

I love music, and I enjoy playing the keyboard or the drums at church, or just playing the piano at home on my own. I try to keep fit with a bit of swimming and running every week, circuit training when I'm feeling very energetic, and Pilates (great for firm abs!). To relax, I like to go to the cinema or to La Verde - my favourite restaurant. If I have a week or two to spare, my ideal holiday would involve either scuba diving with my husband, or skiing with a bunch of friends somewhere in the Alps.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love music, and I enjoy playing the keyboard or the drums at church, or just playing the piano at home on my own. I try to keep fit with a bit of swimming and running every week, circuit training when I'm feeling very energetic, and Pilates (great for firm abs!). To relax, I like to go to the cinema or to La Verde - my favourite restaurant. If I have a week or two to spare, my ideal holiday would involve either scuba diving with my husband, or skiing with a bunch of friends somewhere in the Alps.

About me

Subject: Mechanical Engineering
Job: Research Fellow
Works for: University of Birmingham
Interests: Music (piano, drums, vocals) scuba diving, drama, dance, skiing, snow-boarding, hill-walking, films, books.

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.


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