This might surprise you but my favourite thing is the people I work with. For me the best thing about research is that it’s collaborative – in other words you don’t do it on your own but in teams of people – and multi-disciplinary – which means that the team includes people with different interests and specialisms. I especially love working with people from very different areas from my own (engineering), like biologists or neuroscientists. I work closely with people from the arts and humanities – philosophy and art history for example – and that’s great too. It can be challenging but for me it’s the best part of my research.
If I have to pick one thing, I will say fieldwork. I love walking around in the jungle and finding interesting animals and plants. I will be off in Indonesia later this year looking at the swamp forests on the eastern coast of Sumatra. I visited in December and saw a few crocodiles, and even heard a tiger killing something (I think a pig) about 30metres from where I was sitting in the jungle. That was pretty cool!
Otherwise I like working in an area which is really relevant for policy making at the moment. Sometimes I get to meet people working in the government who decide how the UK manages the natural environment (both here at home, and in other countries).
I think my favourite thing about my research is some of the cool machines I get to use!
One of them is called an NMR machine and basically it’s like a giant CAT scan, but rather than putting a person inside, I put samples of my chemicals in it. It has a HUGE magnet and the magnetic field is so strong that you aren’t allowed to enter the room if you are wearing anything made of metal. And the machine is so big that you have to climb a set of stairs to put a sample in it, and I remember the day the NMR machine arrived because they had to take the roof off the building to get it inside!!
The NMR machine is really useful because it helps me figure out if my reaction has worked and what new product I have made because each chemical behaves differently when it is put inside a giant magnet!!
At the moment my favourite thing is that I am researching how babies learn to understand TIME and I am also researching how 4 year old children seem to have really good memory for where things are in SPACE. So I am researching TIME and SPACE with the help of the under-fours. I’d like to pretend that this makes me some kind of Ceebeebies Doctor Who. It doesn’t but then nobody under four knows who Doctor Who is anyway.