From Vienna to Aberdeen via Santa Fe: plans for research and science communication activities

It’s still fairly early March, but I’m currently busy planning for a research visit next month, a conference in June and a Science Festival in September.

In April I’m spending a few days in Vienna, working with a group at the University of Technology, on designing materials for nuclear clocks. The idea of these devices is to radically improve the accuracy with which we can measure time, and their construction involves embedding nuclei of thorium-229 in a transparent crystal. Here’s a picture of one of the first crystals to be prepared:

My role in this work is to use computer modelling to determine where the thorium nuclei are located in the crystal, and how their addition affects its structure and properties. This information is important for successful device fabrication.

In June, I will be travelling with my PhD students to Santa Fe in New Mexico, USA, to present our work at the International Conference on Defects in Insulating Materials. We will be describing our research on optical materials for the development of new lasers, and modelling studies of nuclear fuels. Now nuclear energy is once again on the agenda, it’s important to have a thorough and detailed understanding of the structure of the materials used as fuels. This conference is ideal for presenting such work, and we hope to get lots of interest and enquiries as a result.

As well as doing research, and presenting the results at conferences, science communication to the general public is really important. So the final stop on this journey is the British Science Festival, held this year in Aberdeen in September. There I am organising a programme of Chemistry-based activities, including a session on New Medicines from Nature, which looks at how chemists are extracting new compounds from natural sources which may have uses in medicine, as well as sessions on Forensic Science and Air Security, and a full day on Scotland’s Energy Future. With independence being discussed, this latter session promises to be interesting from scientific, environmental and political angles!

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