playing snooker with atoms


Clara Barker

Epi. #11 Meet the Curator | playing snooker with atomsPranoti | Clara
00:00 / 03:24

Oxford University 

Epi. #12 Meet the Curator | playing snooker with atomsPranoti | Clara
00:00 / 20:32

Please explain your research in simple words

I am a thin film materials scientist, who loves to see how i can change the structure of the films I make. I make materials, often less than a micrometer thick, that can be used as superconductors, solar cells, solid state batteries and even opticl coatings on spectacles.

Monday - intro to me and who i am.
Intro to think film deposition, and an overview of some of the products i make.
tuesday - simple overview of the techniques i use
wed - more about me, my story and the need for active diversity inclusion
thurs - some of the things i love, great initiative and projects or conferences
fri - some more random things i love, and discussing any toppics that may have come up and not addressed already

What can the followers expect in your curation week?

How did you end up in your current research field?

I carried out an undergrad degree in electronic and electrical engineering and did a year placement with a company that made machines for the food packaging industry. I was not great at sitting at my desk, so i asked if i could take a break from designing the electrical circuits to working on the machines practically. Once I had been doing that, I starting chatting about the machine and what it does, and got involved in the material engineering side - figuring out how to improve the barrier properties of the materials we made so as to keep food fresher for longer. That sparked an interest in me for material science and threw that project I was recommended for a PhD in material science. And I have not looked back since.

My main area is thin film deposition, which means changing the properties of materials in terms of micro structure when we are making them. The films we make are often less than a micrometer in thickess and is is amazing what differences you can make to materials depending on, say the gas, pressure, voltage or temperature of the deposition process.
My group is a high temperature superconductivity group so this is one of the areas where i am trying to change the structure of thin films in an attempt to change the temperature at which materials superconduct. However, i have worked on hardness coatings for tools to make them last longer, layers for solar cells and conductive layers for items such as touch screens. I really enjoy the process of making films, rather than being to worried what the end use is and that is where my expertise comes in.

How and where does your research fall in the domain of materials/nano science?

Which research project are you most proud of and could you explain it in simple words in the section we call #InOtherwords?

I once put a thin film onto some items that are used as spinal implants. When people have issues with their spine, they can ave implants inserted and these can be made of various ceramics and metals. The company I worked with was using a plastic and they wanted to improve the biocompatability of their products, so it was an interesting engineering challange as the products were really intricate shapes, with all sorts of gaps and crevices and they all needed coating with the thin film. It wasn't a long project, or really as much of a challenge as others (as the material engineering was quite straight forward), but i love the idea that a company may be selling products coatedusing my technique and putting them in peoples bodies.

I would like to see longer contracts for early carear researchers. Working on one short project after another makes it difficult to really put your full attention on what you are doing. With some stability for ECRs we may actually see them have more freedom to explore an try inovative ideas that they otherwise ignore in preference to projects that they know will be easier to publish / fund. Similarly I'd like to see us start funding researchers in some cases rather than projects. we have some amazing people doing a lot of great outreach and science communication but they often do this in their spare time as they have deadlines. I'd love to see us fund these people as it would show that we value outreach in STEM. If we have someone doing amazing diversity and outreach - we should want to keep them. Finally, i'd like to see universities given more money for equipment for projects. often a project comes with one new piece of equipment meaning that most of te work is done on breaking down old machines. I lost at least a third of my PhD and postdoc postions just trying to fix equipment. If we gave Uni researchers better equipment, they would have more time to actually try new things!

If you had 3 wishes to improve your research experience, what would you ask for (not promising anything here!)?

What are you most looking forward to in the next 3 months?

I'm enjoying my current role, as i get paid for running a lab and any research i do can be completly for interest. i'm currently making new superconducting thin films and it would be great if i was to figure out a few questions that are outstanding on certain materials when it comes to thin film superconductors. I am also working on an interesting project with another group, making various thin films for them. The research looks promising and i would love it if they were able to get some great results from that. Mostly, i am just really enjoying working on new thin films right now.

Which challenges/questions is the nano/materials science field facing at the moment?

We still have lots of outstanding questions with superconductors. the higher the temperature we can get them working, the better. Superconductors can have lots of potential uses if we can just unlock them. Also, there are some questions that are materials based revolving around the generation of fussion power generation. There are superconductors used to shape the plasma inside tokomaks (the fussion power generators) and we also need slightly different materials for the insides of tokomaks, to stop them melting when they run. It would be great to improve these are so that we can make fussion power a real source of energy, and help us get away from fossil fuels.