“My superhero has the power to manipulate atoms at will”.

Nanochemist and Broadcaster

Suze is a researcher and teacher in the field of functional nanomaterials. She is also a prominent science communicator writing for Forbes and Standard Issue. Suze is a previous winner of the I’m a Scientist competition and is now based at the University of Surrey. She is a presenter for the worldwide Discovery series Outrageous Acts of Science.

My superhero has the power to manipulate atoms at will. This is great because in a real life situation as a materials nanochemist, that’s kind of the superhero power that we are hoping to achieve. If we can manipulate atoms at will we can create any material that we want to with any material that we want to, whether it is what I’m doing, capturing  sunlight energy and using it to split water to make a clean fuel, or whether it is to save lives, make new materials, anything is possible.

Being a nanochemist

A nanochemist is someone that works with materials that for one dimension fall within the nanometre range. A nanometre is a billionth of a metre, so it’s incredibly tiny. And it sounds a little bit futuristic, being a nanochemist, but nanotechnology is everywhere. The great thing about nanotechnology is that things start to misbehave on a very small scale, at least that’s what I always tell people. The great thing about that is that we can harness some of these weird properties that these materials display and find new applications for them.

Examining the tiny

You can use transmission electron microscopy, you can use scanning electron microscopy and you can use atomic force microscopy. So the atoms and the electrons that we’re using are effectively the smallest that we can use to probe a material. It’s incredibly difficult to actually see what we’re doing. The atomic scale is even smaller than the nano scale and it’s incredibly difficult to really see anything on such a small scale. So what we do is we see the effects of these things, the way that these materials start to misbehave and we try and tweak things about those materials to give rise to a whole range of new properties.

Encouraging girls into nanochemistry

The great thing about nanochemistry is that it’s not just about chemistry: it’s about chemistry, physics, biology and maths. So it’s the kind of subject where you wouldn’t have to choose your favourite subject, you can actually hold on to all of them. I think sometimes school kids these days are forced to choose subjects very, very early on and that can be difficult. Careers advisors will say: if you like chemistry, do chemistry, if you like physics, go and do physics, and that’s if they’re very good careers advisers. Some will just say: you cant do anything with that, go and do something else that’s more vocational. So I think one of the things that we can do more of is showcasing the range of careers that are available to somebody that would study something like nanochemistry. It’s a great thing to do as well because it bridges the gap between science and engineering. So it’s not just about poking and prodding science, it’s about finding awesome ways to use the science that you discover. So I think another thing that we can do is actually showcase just how much stuff you can do with nanochemistry. It has impacts in all areas of life, from healthcare to energy and all the things in between.

Visit the exhibition at Conway Hall until January 31st where you’ll be able to purchase a limited edition comic book featuring all the interviews and images. Or alternatively order online by emailing superhero@cosmicshambles.com