It’s a question everyone faces several times in their life, the first time this thought struck me was just after my AS results came through. It was a good day for me, I’d done pretty well and I was getting ready to start my second year of A levels when I realised that having good results wasn’t that worthwhile if I didn’t do anything with them… so what did I want to do with them?
I decided to get advice from the people who had already been there and went and saw some of my college teachers, and my physics teacher at the time proposed the Headstart program – the opportunity to go and spend 2 weeks living at a university studying an engineering discipline to give students a flavour of what life doing engineering was like. I took the list of courses and universities and looked down the list and at the bottom was one I didn’t recognise,
Materials Science at Oxford University
What was Materials Science? Why is only one place offering a materials course? A Google search that told me that Materials Science was a small and highly innovative branch of engineering which had applications across every sector I could care to think of. I went into college the next day and signed up, my application was accepted and I jumped on the bus to Oxford a few months later.
Over that two weeks the lecturers and students there showed me how materials impact all manner of areas in modern industry from cutting edge sports equipment through to prosthetics and body implants; nuclear power generation to super lightweight metal foams; carbon fibre race cars to space shuttles.
Almost any area I could think of had uses for material selection and design and I realised I’d got an answer to my question, I knew where to go from here.
After the UCAS process I chose Sheffield as my university and headed off to start my 4 years as a university student. The welcome was great and the city clicked with me straight away; the course started with introductions to all areas of materials, the basics of stress and strain, microstructure and chemistry of materials as well as sneak peaks into biomaterials and the not-so-tiny world of nanomaterials.
Through the second and third years I somehow managed to fit in modules on thermodynamics, functional materials, modelling and ceramics in between summer placements at Schlumberger, a 5 month accredited placement at Philips Research in the Netherlands (see Holly’s blog for more details on working in Eindhoven), numerous trips into the peak district, sports events, nights out, socials with MATSOC (Sheffield’s Materials Science Society), Varsity ice hockey, collaborative projects with National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) Sellafield and Rolls-Royce as well as all manner of other events.
Moving into my 4th and final year I started my research project, under the supervision of Dr Russell Goodall, I began an investigation into the development of new brazing alloys in collaboration with Johnson Matthey. For thousands of years humans have been making all manner of things from simple tools up to sports cars and skyscrapers. One thing that nearly all the amazing things we’ve made have in common is that they don’t come in one piece. Things come in many parts that must be assembled together before they are usable. From ancient Greeks using slaked lime as a mortar to mechanical fastening with rivets and bolts which hold together some of the greatest ships to ever have sailed down to the blue tac that holds your posters to the wall – we have a 2000-year history of sticking things together to make new stuff. Brazing is just another way of accomplishing this; it involves melting an alloy and pouring it in the gap between two pieces of metal and allowing it to solidify – joining the two materials together.
After achieving one of the highest overall marks in the Department I was awarded the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) prize and nominated by Dr Goodall to compete for the Royal Charter Prize offered by the Institute for the Best Materials student regardless of discipline. After a long and challenging interview and some very strong competition I took home the prize which was presented to me at an awards dinner in the Institute itself in London.
Just over 5 years ago I discovered the world of materials science and now I feel on top of it. Which leaves me with just one question, where do I go from here?
Thanks for reading,