Hannah Fowler

After finishing a master’s degree in chemistry at The University of Sheffield and graduating with a 1st, I joined the TMCS CDT as a member of cohort 4 in 2017. Whilst at Sheffield, I undertook summer and master’s year theoretical chemistry projects and, based on those experiences, had already decided this was the area I wanted to continue working in. After attending a TMCS open day at Oxford and researching the course, I was confident the TMCS CDT would be able to provide the training I wanted during the taught MSc, prior to commencing a PhD in my chosen subject area during the following three years.

The courses offered in the first year were broad and varied, with topics covering many aspects of theoretical and computational chemistry. Some of the modules built and expanded on material I had covered previously during my undergraduate degree, but most, especially topics such as the advanced mathematics and coding gave me the opportunity to considerably widen my knowledge base. Some of the courses are directly applicable to my area of research and the grounding in the topic of molecular dynamics, for example, has proved invaluable in starting me off in the first year of my PhD.

During the MSc year, there were a number of opportunities to familiarise myself with the range of research ongoing at the three universities prior to deciding which groups I would like to join. As academics from all three universities were involved in the teaching of the MSc course, this provided an ongoing opportunity to get to know them and learn about their research interests; in addition, a number of research seminars were presented by the academics. During the course of the year, there was also the opportunity to visit Southampton and Bristol universities and to undertake two short projects, all of which resulted in my being well-informed when it came to choosing PhD projects.

I now work in Jon Doye’s group which looks at using molecular dynamics simulations to investigate a variety of systems such as cholesteric liquid crystals, nucleic acids and DNA nanostructures, the latter of which I work on. Recently I have been looking at a number of large DNA Origami nanostructures, some of which have the potential to be used as drug delivery devices for anti-cancer treatment, with a view to determining their physical and mechanical properties. The work has proven to be varied and challenging during the first months, but immensely enjoyable.

As part of the TMCS programme, there is an opportunity and an abundance of resources to undertake an outreach project. Together with another member of the cohort, I have taken responsibility for producing a second series of the theoretical chemistry podcast, Theoretically Speaking. We aim to explain what theoretical chemistry is, and, through interviews, the work that people in the area do. The project is primarily aimed at undergraduate students but has proven to be popular with a large number of people in the academic community and general public as well. During the past few months, we have spoken to a number of academics based in the UK, USA and Germany on a variety of topics, ranging from space chemistry to battery design; our final episode will be an interview with scientist and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili on the topic of quantum biology. Through this project, as well as expanding my knowledge of the topics discussed by the academics, I have learned a great deal about the mechanics of podcast production – a skill I did not anticipate acquiring when applying to join TMCS CDT!

And finally, as a result of joining the programme, I have had the pleasure of meeting and befriending the cordial group of people who formed TMCS CDT cohort 4, as well as more latterly being able to work within the supportive environment of the research group I am now a part of.

EPSRC University of Oxford University of Bristol University of Southampton