Louise Mc Grath
Keep those interesting questions coming! =)
Your Scientist ID:
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
About Me: I am the biggest child at heart, who loves going on adventures both at home and far away! I am trying to conquer land, sea and air by skydiving, scuba diving and hiking! I love science but it can be challenging at times, but I love taking on any challenge! :) More details about me are given in the read more section!
So you want to learn more about me? Well keep reading!
I currently live with my mum, dad and brother at home. I have set up my home office in the kitchen using some reams of paper and a box file,which you can see in the photo below. Not your typical desk set up but it works! 🙂
In a way, this desk describes my work perfectly, as I usually find a way to fix a problem that may be unconventional but if it works, then everyone is happy!
I have a lot of interests (reading, gaming, anime, etc.), as I like trying new things all the time. I would try anything once, and that applies to food too as I have had some unusual dishes such as reindeer, frogs legs, pigs tail, camel, crickets, cactus, crocodile and kangaroo! I do quite a bit of baking too so will try many different recipes to see how they turn out (and taste!)
I have flown both a helicopter, and a small airplane. I have conquered both sea and air as I have gone scuba diving, and sky diving, but not at the same time! (Although that would be epic!) I also go hiking and love finding new places to explore!
I love travelling, and have been to cool exotic places such as Mexico and Japan. I am planning lots of trips once we can start travelling again, perhaps to Thailand or Vietnam! The last country I visited was Turkey, which was a unique experience as I had to meet my boyfriend’s parents! They don’t speak English, so I am currently learning Turkish. It is really cool, and very different to English.
Besides Turkish, I also speak a little German and sign language. I am also trying to learn other languages such as Italian and Japanese! Someday I hope to live and work abroad so hopefully one of those languages will help me!
I love martial arts, and currently am on my way to get my first degree black belt in Kuk Sool Won. It is a Korean martial art, where we get to learn how to use weapons such as staff and sword. It is super cool! We are doing classes online at the moment to keep on track with our training schedule, which is an unusual experience. All going well I should get my black belt before I’m 30!
Of course I love science.. otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. I fell in love with it when I was young, and I had a chemistry kit which to me was amazing! When I got to secondary school I did both biology and chemistry, and I loved every moment of it. Even in college I loved doing science, but chose chemistry over biology because I wanted to chase my dream of doing forensic science and chemistry. Currently, I am doing an electrochemistry (chemistry that requires electricity for reactions to occur) PhD, and I couldn’t be happier!
On top of my PhD research, I also carry out outreach activities where I basically get to talk about science and energy, while demonstrating experiments with really cool gadgets. One example of some cool gadgets that I get to use is a car that uses hydrogen gas from water to drive, that’s my favourite piece of kit and it really demonstrates how beneficial science is to society. I have given public talks at science festivals, during energy week, and other fun venues. It is such an amazing experience!
Check out the below video for a demonstration of the fuel cell car!
My Work: I have to design and build a teeny tiny battery (1mm or smaller) that can be very powerful, environmentally friendly and safe. These small batteries will be used to power tiny sensors for the Internet of Things.
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 purchase a cool battery demonstration kit, and donate the rest of the money to our wonderful outreach officer so she can purchase more demonstration kits for outreach activities! I would be happy to have contributed in some way!
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 my outreach officer, as she spends a lot of time organising events and activities, which I have been proud to take part in. She can use the money to buy any demonstration kits she would like!
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 she has a great voice, isn't afraid to speak her mind and stand out from the crowd!
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 or skydiving.. I can't choose!
What did you want to be after you left school?
A researcher, 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!