Favourite Thing: I like finding out new things and figuring out how things work… Conferences are always fun as well: you get to travel to new places, meet lots of people and talk about what everyone does.
I graduated from school in 1999 in my home town Barquisimeto, in Venezuela. I did a gap year (2000) studying French at the University of Perpignan in France, before going to study Chemistry at the Universidad Simon Bolivar in Caracas (Venezuela’s capital city). I graduated in 2006 and moved to the UK to do my PhD at the University of Manchester, finishing that in 2010.
I have a BSc in Chemistry (undergraduate/first degree) and a PhD in Physical Chemistry (also called a doctorate, as you become a “doctor”, it means I did extra studies/work after university in order to properly learn how to do research/investigate things).
I’ve mainly worked as research assistant, but I also worked as a teaching assistant while I was doing my PhD, helping students learn to do experiments in Chemistry labs. When I was younger, during some summers breaks, I worked at my grandad’s bookstore.
I’m a Postdoctoral Research Assistant or “Postdoc”… this means I mainly do research and help students with their own research
I work in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol
Me and my work
I combine electricity and chemistry to do different things like: clean up contaminated water, transform greenhouse gases into useful things or put metals on different things
The thing about electrochemistry is that it can be used for many different things, we actually use it every day, as it is what makes batteries work, by producing electricity from the chemicals inside them…
When I first started learning about it, while doing my degree at uni, I used it to see if we could clean up contaminated water by using electricity (applying a potential) to oxidise the nasty stuff in the water (like dyes or things left over from pharmaceutical companies), transforming them to things that are not harmful.
During my PhD, I studied a technique called “electroless deposition”, which is used for many things like making small metal wires on electronic circuits like ones inside computers or phones. Although it is used a lot, people are not 100% sure how it actually works, so I tried to learn more about it by doing lots of experiments putting copper (a very common metal to use for wires and such, as it conduces electricity really well) onto different things and trying to make the process go faster/slower, making different shapes or patterns, etc.
Since I’ve been in Bristol, I’ve worked on several different thing, mainly trying to transform greenhouse gases (the nasty ones that cause global warming like methane or CO2) into useful things like fuels. Essentially, I bubble the gas into water, then apply a potential (or sometimes shine some light on it!) and see if I can transform them into things like methanol. Methanol can then be used as fuel in devices called “fuel cells”. I’ve also worked a little bit with fuel cells, which are bit of kit which take a fuel and produce energy/electricity. A lot of the work I do in the lab starts with making materials to “catalyse” or speed up these processes: whether we are trying to make the fuels from methane/CO2 or produce electricity, we want to do it well and fast!
My Typical Day
Not every day is the same, which makes it fun… sometimes I spend all day in the lab doing experiments, but other days I work in the office looking at results. Sometimes I have meetings with students and other scientists or help students with their research…
What I'd do with the money
I’d use it to set up experiments that can be taken to schools and fund the visits to show them off!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
curious, stubborn, helpful
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I like all kinds of music… except maybe really heavy metal!
What's your favourite food?
Anything with chocolate!!!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I have fun every time I travel, so I do it as often as I can and to as many different places as possible!
What did you want to be after you left school?
I was pretty set on doing science by the time I finished school… but when I was little I wanted to be a teacher
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Yeah… mainly for talking too much! I always had trouble being quiet in class ;-)
What was your favourite subject at school?
Besides science, I always liked languages (French and English, as my native language is Spanish) and literature (we called it Spanish, I guess you guys call it English!)
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
Curiosity… I’ve always wanted to know how and why things happen… doing science means I get to try to figure things out every day! As inspiration I had a great Chemistry teacher in school.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I think a teacher or a writer… I like sharing what I know and helping people learn new things.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
mmmm…. that’s a hard one… I’ve always wanted a superpower, like being able to teletransport myself. But If we are talking science, I’d like to have enough money to do any research I want, travel to work in different labs, with different people and win a Nobel Prize!
Tell us a joke.
In the lab, I mostly work with a potentiostat, which you can see below the computer on this picture. This lets me control the amount of electricity I put into my experiment or it can measure electricity that is produced. Some of the things I work with are a bit toxic, so I usually work in a fume hood (like the one in the picture), which has an extraction at the top and a glass window between me and the experiment.
In order to do my experiments, I usually to bubble a gas (argon, methane or carbon dioxide) through my set-up. In this picture you can see the cupboard where we keep all the different gases in big cylinders.
I use many kinds of machines to look at the materials we make… I use different microscopes, because we mostly use “nanomaterials”, which means they are really, really small and we can’t actually see them. If you look at the picture here you can see some really tiny diamonds with metal nanoparticles (the little round dots all over); this was taken with an electron microscope. Mixes of things like diamonds and metals can make really good catalysts, which help speed up our reactions and make them work better.
Another equipment we can use is the one you can see here, which is called Raman Spectroscopy It combines a microscope with a laser it can help us know what molecules (chemicals) are being formed as we do an experiment.