Name: Laurie Winkless
Research institution: Materials Team, National Physical Laboratory
Research career length: 6 years
Research Council: Previously funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Location: Teddington, England
Brief summary of research: 70% of the energy produced by a car engine is wasted, and mostly in the form of heat. I work on thermoelectric devices, which can harvest waste heat and transform it into electricity
Irish Leaving Certificate: English, Irish Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Further Mathematics, History, French
BSc in Physics and Astrophysics, Trinity College, Dublin
MSc in Space Science, University College London
Higher Research Scientist, National Physical Laboratory
Research Assistant, Queen Mary, University of London
Scholarship Student, Kennedy Space Centre, Florida
Please give us a description of your job / research, and tell us what inspired you to do what you're doing...
I work as a Higher Research Scientist at the National Physical Laboratory. I have worked on various projects while at NPL, from the characterisation of nano-engineered surfaces, to working with the European Space Agency to define the use of nanomaterials in the space industry. My work is now focussed on thermoelectric materials – these materials can capture heat and transform it into electrical power. Think about how hot your laptop runs when on your knee, or the high temperatures produced in a car exhaust – that is all wasted energy, in the form of heat. Thermoelectric materials can harvest this “waste” heat and produce electricity.
As a child I was always asking questions (my poor parents!), and loved anything mechanical. My dad and brother and I were often to be found tinkering with motors in the garage, and I loved learning how to use a telescope. At the age of about twelve, I first read a book about General Chuck Yeager, an American combat pilot and the first human to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. His story is fascinating..... He never accepted a “rough approximation”, he learned as much as possible about the hows, whys and what ifs. He was not a scientist or engineer by training, but had an innate technical ability, backed up by lots of hands-on knowledge and experience. People like Chuck Yeager show that you don’t have to be a trained scientist or engineer for technology to have an impact on your life. And that you shouldn’t just accept technology at face value, you should be curious, ask questions and learn for yourself
Describe your typical day...
I try to split my day in two, normally spending about half of the day writing reports and papers, and reading scientific papers relating to my research, and the other half on the science itself. I use lots of characterisation techniques for my nanomaterials work - Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), to name but a few. These techniques were all new to me when I joined NPL, but I have become a very experienced user. I have just designed a new piece of kit which will be used to characterise thermoelectric devices, so am busy setting up the lab in preparation for it’s arrival! I often have meetings about the science aspects of our projects, and on the management and organisation of the project. I might go and speak to some people with experience in my area or order new bits of kit for the lab, or disappear off to the lab when I’m going through difficult equations.
What do you love most about science / engineering or maths?
I love that you can ask really irritating questions, and play with / damage cool bits of kit and no-one thinks badly of you! I just love the inherent curiosity a scientist or an engineer has, and the fact that that same curiosity is what has given us the Internet, missions to Mars and the iPod! I love my job because I get to do something different every day. Also, getting paid for doing something I love is pretty cool. I have a really good work-life balance and am surrounded by good friends and family all over the world.
Where I live...
I'm originally from Dundalk in Ireland, but I’ve been living in south-west London for seven years
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
My parents have a stage school in Ireland, called Youth Groove. I was choreographer at Youth Groove throughout the time I was doing my BSc (balancing physics with dancing!). I still love dancing and try to get to lessons when I can. I also love to write, be it in my journal, or on my blog. Writing makes me very happy, and I have a dream of being able to do it full-time one day. I love travelling, which I do a lot of with work and, of course, in my spare time. I like to make the most of living in London, and most weekends can be found partaking in the many (and often random!) activities across the city. I walk everywhere, and enjoy a bit of hiking – even went to Peru in 2009. I really enjoy entertaining, so love baking and cooking for my lovely friends and my boyfriend
Physics / Nanomaterial
Higher Research Scientist
National Physical Laboratory
Work-wise: STEM technologies, Surface Engineering (Frictional / Wetting) Characteristics, Organic Electronics, Spacecraft Technology. Life-wise: Dancing, singing, reading, feature writing, watching rugby.