My PhD project looks at the waste products that are produced by industrial coke ovens, specifically tars. Every day, 90 tonnes of coal tar comes out of the coke ovens at Tata Steel’s Port Talbot site. Currently, this tar is disposed of to an external company, who extract the different compounds from the tar, sell it on and make a considerable profit. My research is developing a way for Tata Steel to keep this process in house.
The compounds within the tar can also be used in medicines, so it’s exciting to be exploring a solution that not only has economic benefits but environmental and societal ones too.
I chose to do a PhD for a number of reasons: firstly, the chance to work under the guidance of Dr Gareth Owen, who was my lecturer during my Chemistry degree, and always encouraged me to explore a career in research. At the time, I was working as a secondary school teacher, and whilst I enjoyed it, I always felt like a piece of me was missing, the piece that came alive when I was hands-on researching in a lab.
The second reason was to make my Mam and Dad proud. They have always pushed me to reach the top of my field and this is my motivation to push on to the end. A PhD would open so many opportunities for me in my early career.
My PhD is conducted in collaboration with TATA Steel, who are fantastic to work with. I have great contacts there and get to work with real industrial materials rather than model compounds. I’ve been on site a few times to see the coke oven operation. Standing on top of a gigantic tar decanter really brought home the scale and potential of my research!
The element of discovery that comes with doing research is exciting, especially when what you are doing is new. I have made nine compounds so far and they are all novel. It’s a proud feeling to know that you have contributed something new to science.
With research, every day is different. You don’t know if what you’re doing is going to work. When it does, it’s such a great feeling, it’s hard to describe but it’s definitely addictive!