Louise Mc Grath
Best of luck to the finalists today.. may the odds be ever in your favour!
Scoil Mhuire (1996-2004), Ballincollig Community School (2004-2010) and University College Cork (UCC) (2010-2014)
Bachelors degree (BSc.) in Chemistry with Forensic Science
PC World, and Tyndall National Institute
SFI CONNECT Centre and Tyndall National Institute/UCC
Favourite thing to do in science My favourite thing about science is learning new things. The way for me to learn new things is to carry out experiments! For my PhD I have to carry out lots of experiments to try and understand what is happening, and so every day is great fun! Scientific outreach activities are also great fun because I get to show people cool and interesting things, plus I like being able to inspire people! Science is all around us so why not try and learn something new everyday?
I have to design and build a teeny tiny battery (1mm or smaller) that can be very powerful, environmentally friendly and safe.
My PhD is funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s CONNECT centre, which means they are paying me to carry out research for them. They want research into the Internet of Things (IoT) to be carried out all across Ireland, and I was lucky enough to work in this wonderful centre. So what is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
Well….the IoT connects dumb devices like refrigerators to the internet and uses software to connect them to our daily lives. Can a car talk to a house? In the future, your car might tell your house that you are a few miles away and ask the house to turn on the lights and heating. This would mean that your home is nice and toasty when you arrive, which would be pretty cool! This is one example of an idea called the IoT. So the IoT, connects dumb objects such as refrigerators, washing machines, cars, etc to the internet using software, sensors and WiFi. Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? If you have any questions about this, please ask away… I’m still dreaming up possibilities for the Internet of Things!
In order for sensors to work they need power, and this is where my PhD comes into it. I am looking to design and build a battery which is very powerful, environmentally friendly and safe to use (I do not want any of my batteries exploding!). The batteries that I will be making are small, so I hope to have them even smaller in size than 1 millimetre, which will be a tough but rewarding challenge!
My Typical Day
Carrying out experiments in a glovebox, and then analysing the data. Once I look at the data, I make a presentation with all my data, and send it on to my boss for discussion.
As I must design and build a battery I have to use lots of different chemicals and materials. In order to carry out my research I have to make up an electrochemical cell which generally consists of:
1. Two or three electrodes
2. Electrolyte (generally a liquid)
I pass electricity through the electrodes which allows chemical reactions to occur. The reactions that I get depend on the electrolyte I am using and the electrode material. I am currently carrying out research on the electrolyte, which is the liquid part of the battery, which means I only have to use a metal such as lithium metal for my electrodes.
Lithium metal reacts violently and explosively with water and so I have to use a glovebox. A glove box contains only argon gas, so there is no chance that water can sneak in and make my electrodes explode! Once I construct my electrodes, I place them in a container which contains my liquid electrolyte, and I seal it tightly to stop the cell from leaking. Once that is made, I then connect everything up to a machine called a potentiostat, and using this machine I can apply different voltages, currents and techniques and this will give me different data.
Once I have the data, I then sit at a computer and make graphs. I then have to figure out what they mean by reading papers, and once I know what the results mean I send on the information to my boss. He looks over it to see if what I said is correct, and we then talk about it, and see what else can be tested. Everyday I am trying something different so each day is a new adventure! It never gets boring!
What I'd do with the money
I would buy some cool battery demo kits to go with my fuel cell car kit, and if I have money left over I will donate it to Tyndall’s Makerspace so more outreach activities can be carried out.
My lab already owns a fuel cell car kit which requires hydrogen gas from water to run, which is pretty cool. If I win, I would be using the money to buy a cool battery demo kit because batteries are just as cool as fuel cells. This is something I would like to show people, because a friend once told me before that batteries are boring… Of course I was shocked by that! So the money would be well spent buying a cool demo kit, as I would like to use the kit to encourage kids to look into batteries and maybe find a career with them some day!
If I happen to buy a kit and have money left over, then I will donate the remaining money to the Tyndall Makerspace. The Makerspace organises a lot of outreach activities, some which I have been proud to take part in. It encourages people to be inventive and to think outside the box. It helps unleash your creative spirit which I think is important too!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Quirky, adventurous, nerdy
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I guess it would be P!nk as my favourite singer, but I couldn’t pick a band.. too many good choices!
What's your favourite food?
Pizza, or anything mexican.. so tasty!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Scuba diving in underground caves, and snorkeling with whale sharks in Mexico
What did you want to be after you left school?
A chemist, or a forensic scientist
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I was never in trouble really..
What was your favourite subject at school?
Chemistry and Biology (Couldn’t pick!)
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Inspiring kids with my awesome fuel cell car, and forensic lab demonstrations (hair analysis, blood spatter, outdoor crime scene etc)
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My gran initially who bought me my first ever chemistry set, and then my chemistry teacher when I went to secondary school
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I always wanted to be a Formula one driver… or a rally driver. Both seem pretty cool.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I would wish for 1) a genie so I can get more wishes, 2) for cool outreach demo kits, and 3) I would want to be a famous scientist!
Tell us a joke.
Don’t trust atoms… they make up everything!
I work in a clean room lab, and this means that we have make sure that we don’t bring any dirt or dust into the lab. so we wear hair nets and booties. We must also wear our lab coats and safety glasses so we can avoid getting injured in the lab. I also have to “wear” the glovebox gloves as I wouldn’t be able to use the glovebox without them!