Alan McCue

Favourite Thing: The best thing about being a scientist is getting to do experiments that no one has done before! Its great fun to try and predict what will happen (and then usually explain why my original idea was wrong!)



Westhill Academy in Aberdeenshire 1998-2004, The university of Aberdeen 2004-2008


I’ve got a degree in chemistry and I’ve got a PhD – that’s the fancy qualification which means people can call me a doctor :-)

Work History:

I’ve worked in a few shops (a place called Costco and also in a tesco). I currently work at the University of Aberdeen

Current Job:

I would say I’m a research scientist


The university of Aberdeen

Me and my work

I spend my day making things called ‘Catalysts’ which allow us to make chemicals in a green and clean way!

Every day I go to work and I do experiments (how much fun is that!).  The experiments involve making things called ‘catalysts’.  That is a chemical which can be used to make other chemicals in an environmentally friendly way.  For example, a good catalyst allows me to make another chemical at lower temperature, maybe under safer conditions, produce less waste and use less energy.  Catalysts are extremely important because we need to make lots of chemicals in order to live life the way we do.  How would I be able to run my car without being able to get petrol?  Well I couldn’t.  So how do we make petrol, well it generally comes from the ground in the form of crude oil (the black gunky stuff you see on TV sometimes).  From here we separate the oil into different segments and then use catalysts to make the chemicals we need (petrol being one key example).  All in all, catalysts are a pretty worthwhile things to be involved in because without them life wouldn’t be the same.

I realize i’ve not really said what I do yet so here goes.  I make a catalyst and I test it to see if it make allows me to make the chemical that I want to.  If it works I celebrate and go have a nice cup of tea.  If it does not then I scratch my head and try and figure why ti doesn’t work.  If I am able to that then I can usually make a new catalyst which does work!

My Typical Day

Get up, go to work, try some experiments, teach students about chemistry, try more experiments, go to the gym, go home tired and have some dinner before chilling out with some TV

So what are the key parts of my day.  Well firstly it is incredibly important for me to read a lot.  Scientists all round the world have lots of great ideas and we share these by writing articles in scientific journals.  So I try and learn from what others do elsewhere in the world.  this means I need to spend 1-2 hours a day reading.

I also have to right lots of articles so that I can share my results with other scientists.  So I probably spend 1-2 hours a day writing as well!

Whats next, oh yeh I need to do my experiments.  How long does that take.  Well maybe an hour to plan and another 2-3 hours to set them up and look at the results.  once I get the results I need to decide what they mean and this can take a lot of time.  Lets say the whole experimenting process must take 4-5 hours a day.

I’ve also got to teach students about chemistry so that they can become good scientists – this one maybe takes 1-2 hours

That kind of sums up my day which appears to last up to 12 hours and I’ve not included time to eat drink, shower and you know do all the usual things!  There are some pictures of me and my friends do some exciting experiments for some school pupils who visited my work!

myimage1 myimage2 myimage3

What I'd do with the money

In my spare time I go to schools and perform a chemistry show so I would spend the money developing new experiments – perhaps something which makes a big bang!

For the last 2 years I have visited schools and performed chemistry shows – this means go and carry out a number of exciting experiments which school kids would not normally get to see.  Some examples include, blowing up a hydrogen balloon, burning a jelly baby and making homemade fireworks (in a safe way!).  I would like to expand the experiments I currently do and would use the money to buy chemicals and equipment to allow me to do this.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Thoughtful, hard working and enthusiastic

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Currently I really like George Ezra

What's your favourite food?

Can’t beat a bit of steak pie!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I went to live in Canada for 3 months that was pretty fun

What did you want to be after you left school?

Hmm…. an accountant, a lawyer, a salesman…. oddly anything but a scientist! I’m glad I am a scientist now though. I wouldn’t ever want it to change.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Honestly no but to be fair my mum was a teacher (not at my school) but it meant I had to be on good behavior.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Chemistry – of course!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I’ve designed some really good catalysts which might be used by real companies one day to make other chemicals

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My parents – they told me to do what I enjoyed! Turns out that was science and i’ve not looked back!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Less happy, less hard working and less enthusiastic

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

For lots of money to spend on experiments, to be better at golf and for my closest friends to be successful in what makes them happy

Tell us a joke.

A bear walks into a bar, goes up to the bar and says ‘erm…………’ the barman asks ‘why the big pause?’ the bear looks down at his paws and says ‘don’t know i’ve always had them’ (I never said I was funny!)

Other stuff

Work photos: