From an early age, Naomi knew she would pursue a career in the sciences. “My Dad was a physicist, so I grew up around science," explains Naomi. She completed her schooling in Australia, where she studied physics, chemistry, and maths. Afterward, she graduated with an integrated MEng in Materials Science from Oxford University in 2013. Naomi also has another MSc in Drug Delivery from UCL.
Naomi submitted her jointly managed PhD project on “Multimodal Imaging and Spectroscopy of Zeolites" in July of 2020 and completed her viva over Zoom in early October. The awarding institution for her PhD was UCL, but her project had an industry focus, which meant that she was also supported by the Central Laser Facility (CLF) and Johnson Matthey.
“When I was looking for PhDs, I noticed that this one offered by Professor Beale's group at UCL had an industrial component, which I found interesting. Unlike some of the other PhDs that I'd seen on offer, this one had multiple supervisory inputs and CLF was one of those parties," which is how Naomi became acquainted with the CLF.
She was able to carry out a variety of work throughout her PhD. “Initially you spend a lot of time shadowing and assisting other people and reviewing literature. Then as you become more independent, you learn how to use the equipment and eventually run your own experiments," says Naomi. She worked with the Lasers for Science Facility (LSF) and OCTOPUS Imaging Cluster, where she focused on confocal imaging, 3D fluorescence lifetime imaging, 3D multispectral fluorescence imaging, and Raman mapping for her project. She added, “Towards the end, you ease off on the data acquisition and focus on the write-up."
Naomi says, “The best part of my PhD was that I got a lot of freedom to propose different experiments and was able to take my research in whichever direction I wanted to." Conversely, when asked about the most challenging part she replied, “The nature of research is that there's loads of uncertainty. When you're an undergraduate there's a lot of structure to what you're learning because it follows a prescribed syllabus. When you're doing a PhD, instead of having this kind of structure to follow you have to go about acquiring your own knowledge, so I think coming to terms with that uncertainty was the most challenging part."
When asked about the most exciting thing she got to do during her PhD, “During the experience, it can be hard to appreciate when you are doing something exciting because you are stressing about making experiments work or figuring out how to analyse data so it can easily feel overwhelming especially when you are in the second half of your PhD. In retrospect, the work I did got published and when the viva examiners said that the project work was really interesting, I was glad that I had been able to contribute a little bit to the broader canon of research in the scientific community."
Prof Andy Beale, a user that sits in the Research Complex at Harwell, was Naomi's PhD supervisor and also has a spinout company called Finden where she currently resides as a research scientist. Finden advises businesses across different sectors by offering advanced characterisation and data analysis techniques, which can be implemented in long-term research projects.
On a day-to-day basis, Naomi tackles questions that Finden's clients have around catalysis, an industry-relevant topic, which usually revolves around the team trying to optimize and improve the performance of a catalyst. “In a deeper sense, it's probing the unknown since most of the expertise we provide can't be found in a textbook and we work on projects that sometimes involve new areas of research," added Naomi when asked about her role at Finden.
When we asked about her hobbies she said, “I'm a competitive ballroom dancer in my spare time, although that's been a bit compromised the last year. I also enjoy sewing, drawing, and reading in my spare time."
As for the future, “I'm not sure if I'll be in industry or academia, but hopefully, in 10 years, I'll be working in a supervisory position with greater autonomy."
Read about Naomi's research here.