Case study

PhD student — Robert Thompson

Robert has an MPhys in Physics from Durham University and loves the groundbreaking areas that his job can cover

What inspired you to do your job?

I work at University College London in the London Centre for Nanotechnology and the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

While here I am studying for a PhD, which means I spend my days researching a specific project. This research could involve reading about some new ideas on the internet or looking up a piece of information in the library, talking to other scientists, working in the laboratory or spending time trying to understand the results from my experiments.

During my final year at Durham University I was researching organic electronics and I was amazed at how much there is still unknown in this field.

A relatively new area of research, organic electronics looks at crystals, plastics and small molecules which can conduct electricity (yes, plastics that can conduct electricity).

There are so many potential applications for this type of science and so many questions left to be asked and to answer. This is the main reason I decided to continue researching.

The rules of physics explain everything, from the things so tiny you will never see them, to the things so big you can't even imagine being able to see them

What impact does your research have?

My research is looking at organic electronics; I specifically look at a type of crystal which can conduct electricity. Hopefully we will be able to develop our knowledge of this crystal so it can be used in new electronic devices.

The area of organic electronics is a big new area of research and is already producing some of the thinnest TV screens available and soon will be producing flexible electronics, (TVs you can roll up and put under your arm), and more energy efficient light sources.

What is your typical day?

As a PhD student I have complete control over the work I do, how I spend my days and the way I run my projects. Because of this, no two days are ever the same, but generally I will arrive in the office quite early, I'll check my emails and do a quick search on the internet to see if there is anything new and of interest out there related to my work.

My day from here can involve anything, going to meetings with other researchers, working in the lab with lasers or expensive microscopes; sometimes I just spend the day reading interesting articles about some new discovery.

The thing that all my days have in common though is whether I am in the lab, the office or at another university, I know that whatever I am doing or thinking about, only a handful of other people in the world will be thinking about the same thing, and often I could be the only one who's ever seen what I'm looking at or thought about what I'm thinking about.

What do you love most about science?

I really enjoy the fact that the rules of physics explain everything, from the things so tiny you will never see them, to the things so big you can't even imagine being able to see them.

Studying science is about continually asking the questions no one has thought of yet, and by asking these questions we get to understand a little bit more about this miraculous world which we live in. It's this that I love about science; the way it can explain so much about the world and by pushing the science a little bit further we keep understanding more and more.

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