‘4 things I’ve learnt as a chemical scientist, from robot bees to bendy phones’

Imagine a world where your phone battery never dies
‘4 things I’ve learnt as a chemical scientist, from robot bees to bendy phones’
LIZ GREGG
CosmoBy Cosmo -

There's nothing more annoying than when your phone battery dies in the middle of the group chat on WhatsApp. But, in the future, we’ll have phone batteries that last for days. We'll also have phones that bend, drinkable ocean water and robot bees. *Probably*.

We spoke to Aimen Fatima, 21, a lab scientist degree apprentice at The University of Manchester, about what first got her into science and what she's working on right now.

1. THERE'S MORE THAN ONE ROUTE INTO SCIENCE

Image via Liz Gregg

"Growing up in Pakistan, my mum was my biggest inspiration. She was an army nurse and really into biology. If someone asked me what I wanted to be when I was older, I would say 'Doctor', because it felt like the only career you can choose if you like science in Pakistan. Then, I moved here [in 2012] and found out that there are so many options. I chose an apprenticeship so I wouldn’t be limited to just one environment.

"It's a degree apprenticeship, so I'm doing a chemical science degree via distance learning at the same time as getting experience in the labs. So far, I’ve worked in the microbiology lab, a research lab that was working on cystic fibrosis and the mortuary, as well as the National Graphene Institute.

"Cancer research is one area I definitely want to work in. My mum had cancer last year. She’s fine now, but seeing the whole process has made me feel much more strongly about it."

2. SOMETHING CALLED GRAPHENE IS THE FUTURE

Image via Liz Gregg

"I'm in the third year of the lab degree apprenticeship and am currently placed at the National Graphene Institute, where I work in the clean rooms and the Energy Research Lab.

"Graphene was isolated in 2004 at The University of Manchester by two of our researchers who actually each won a Nobel prize. It’s a 2D material with amazing properties. It’s super-conductive, flexible and very light. It’s one atom thick but many times stronger than steel. It has so many potential uses.”

3. IT COULD MEAN EVERLASTING PHONE BATTERIES AND ROBOTS

Image via Liz Gregg

"Graphene can be used to make smart implants - chips that can be put into clothes, or into your skin to monitor your health. It can be used in membranes to filter water, so it can hopefully go on to provide clean water in third world countries on a much bigger scale.

"It can also be used to make batteries that store a lot more energy - they can be put into electric cars for faster acceleration and into phones so they stay charged for days. I think they're using it to make bendy phones as well, which will be so weird, but cool.

"One of the research groups in the energy lab was making mechanical bees with it. Graphene is really light and super-conductive, so it’s perfect for batteries in something as small as mechanical bees. I was making really small batteries that could go into the bees, so they were able to fly."

4. MORE DIVERSITY IS MAKING THE INDUSTRY BETTER

Image via Liz Gregg

"We don’t encourage girls enough to consider different careers. I feel like the media has a big influence. Even things like you have a policeMAN, not woman, a fireMAN, not woman. When someone says 'nurse', we think of a woman first.

"Equality is not always about having a 50/50 split between men and women. It’s about having the opportunity. As long as everyone has awareness - especially women - that they can go into this career, that’s what matters.

"It’s so important to have diversity in every workplace, to have ideas from different parts of the world, from different genders. And I do feel like it's changing. We have so many women coming into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) now. Recently, we saw a picture of a black hole for the first time and it was thanks to a woman. We have so many inspirational women to look up to right now, that perhaps we didn't have 10 or 15 years ago.

"It's a great environment to work in. I work in a building where you have a person who has won a Nobel prize. Not many people can say that."

Find out about all the apprenticeships available in STEM at www.apprenticeships.gov.uk

Via Cosmopolitan UK