Schrödinger's Kitten

Irreverent Science for Everyone

Monday 22 September 2014

What I Did In My Three Years As Engineering-Cheerleader-In-Chief

  • personal
  • macro

I just came to the end of three years as the communications, events and marketing manager for UCL Engineering — 11 departments, 1,000 staff, and 3,500 students, working on things ranging from testing new biofuels to spotting browser insecurities. I did a lot of things for UCL Engineering, including writing about their discoveries and projects, taking photos, editing films, working out sponsorship, and commissioning merchandise. A few highlights...

During my time at UCL, I have...

A birthday cake in the shape of the ARPAnet, showing UCL, the first connection outside the US

Once I'd finished, it was a tiny hide-scraper. But since I'm vegetarian and would only use it on kiwis, it was no problem.

  • Trained to use a wavetank
  • Heard Stephen Chu, Nobel Laureate and former US Secretary of Energy, speak
  • Played with ferrofluids
  • Stroked aerogel (surprisingly brittle)
  • Performed standup at Bright Club about building toilets
  • Pointed out to a number of staff their tendency to assume everyone is a straight male (and then complain about the lack of females in the department/industry/their social circles)
  • 3D printed and assembled a Mars Rover, and made a film of me doing it
  • Turned UCL Engineering’s website from this to this
  • Filmed a high voltage wound-healing gun sealing a cut in a side of pork

A modified glue gun that shapes and fires fine polymer strands using high voltages, to seal wounds

Iron ore is heated to 2,700 degrees to release the pure metal at the Whyalla Ironworks

In a bizarre attempt at royal flattery, the pumping engines at Crossness are named after members of the Royal Family. I believe this is Princess Alexandra

Most of all, met a tonne of interesting, passionate people who want to change the world, making exoskeletons, decision making processes, medical device interfaces less prone to error, ways to clean industrial waste gas, electronic components, and generally having too much fun. And this is what's driven me into the next stage of my career: back to research. There's only so much one can take of seeing people using their brains to build things, find things out, and make a difference before you want to pitch in as well.

So, I've signed up for a PhD in the EPSRC CDT1 for Functional Nanomaterials at the University of Bristol, aka the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials. From now until 2019 I'll be learning how different people understand, make and use nanomaterials, and coming up with a way to do so myself that's never been seen before. At the moment, I'm particularly interested in the use of biomaterials or the ability to learn from nature, but in terms of applications I think I have a total obligation to cut into our ecological damage: not sure how these are going to work out.

This starts with some extended projects, as well as lectures, practicals and writing assignments. I don't know how much spare time I'll have to write (I couldn't find any time to run this blog while at UCL), but is all goes well the site will be overhauled by 2015 to remove my more embarassing decade-old writing.

I should also say I am available for freelance writing/comms to supplement my student income. I offer blogging, copywriting, live-tweeting, PR, website copy and illustration, on a sliding scale depending on purpose. See my about section for info and my experience.

1. Alphabet soup translation: EPSRC means it's funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, one of the seven bodies in Britain responsible for doling out govt research cash. CDT is a Centre for Doctoral Training, which means that instead of joining one student to one supervisor to look at one thing, funding decided on a case by case basis, I'll be learning and studying with 11 others in a topic that EPSRC broadly think is important (in this case Functional Nanomaterials) with a cadre of supervisors and projects from different disciplines who touch on that problem (so, biologists wanting to understand how organisms make and use nanomaterials, engineers wanting to make things that use nanoproperties, physicists working on new ways to take nanoscale measurements and understand them, chemists creating and using nanothings).

Content: Scary Boots — Design: Canis Lupus