Sarah Kirk

Bye guys, it's been fun!

Favourite Thing: I really love working with scientists and talking about research and ideas! It might sound strange that this would be my favourite thing, but talking with other scientists in your field is inspirational and helps you to come up with new ideas.



2007-2011: University of Bristol for my undergraduate degree


Master of Science and Master of Research

Work History:

My first job was at woolworths! I’ve had many different jobs and placements, only a few of them chemistry related.

Current Job:

I’m a PhD student


Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, University of Bath

Me and my work

Making plastics from plants!

Most plastics that we use in our daily life have been made using crude oil. This oil is a limited resource, and is running out quickly! Alternative plastics can be made using plants. The plastics I make are made from fermented corn starch. The chemical name is lactic acid – this is something that can be found in our own bodies!

In order to make the plastic, you need something called a catalyst, which makes the reaction happen. You add tiny amounts of catalyst to your starting ingredient, heat it for a few hours, and then you have plastic!

My Typical Day

Coffee, emails, LAB WORK, meetings, presentations, more lab work, home!

Most of my day involves doing practical work in the laboratory (lab). I’ve put some pictures below in the photo section, showing what this involves. Once I’ve got some results from the lab, I need to interpret them, which I do in the office on my computer. Then I need to write about my findings.

My results can be presented in many ways, either a presentation, a poster, or a publication in a scientific journal. The last option is the best way to get my results read about.

What I'd do with the money

I will use the money to invest in some green chemistry workshops for schools

My colleagues are currently making a green chemistry workshop to take to a local venue for school children. If this is successful I would like to use the money to develop the workshop and to take it further afield. If not, I’ll donate it to another science communication project.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

daft, daydreamer, hungry

Who is your favourite singer or band?

My current favourite band is Zombina and the Skeletones, as for pop music, I love Beyoncé and Shakira.

What's your favourite food?

Curry or pizza

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I recently played my first roller derby (contact sport on skates) game against a team of experienced players. I was terrified at first but then I had the best time!

What did you want to be after you left school?

Until my final year at school I wanted to be a medical doctor – I switched to chemistry when choosing uni courses!

Were you ever in trouble at school?

No, I was very quiet but I did annoy some teachers by daydreaming too much!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Chemistry and maths

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

As I said above, having inspirational conversations with experienced chemists is my favourite thing. I’m still waiting for my first major breakthrough…

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always enjoyed science, but I remember finding out about the ozone hole when I was 11 and thinking ‘this needs to be fixed’ – from that moment I wanted to solve environmental problems

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

I have a passion for learning languages, so perhaps an interpretor

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

I wish I was fitter and stronger so I could be better at roller derby – I’m working on this one :) I wish there was more time in the day! I wish my sleeping habits were better.

Tell us a joke.

Two people are eating in a restaurant. When ordering drinks, the first thought they’d be clever and ask for ‘H2O’. The second person loves this idea, and says ‘I’ll have H2O too!’. The second person dies of hydrogen peroxide poisoning.

Other stuff

Work photos:

A lot of my work involves using air and water sensitive materials. This means I have to use special equipment to keep air and water away from my experiments.

I use something called a ‘Schlenk line’, which is attached to a vacuum pump so I can suck out air and moisture and replace it with unreactive argon gas.

I use liquid nitrogen to cool down a ‘trap’, which catches any solvents and prevents them from getting sucked into the pump and damaging it. Liquid nitrogen is very cold, -195 degrees centigrade!


We store it in these large things called ‘dewars’, which are pretty heavy. I’m faking it in this photo though – it’s empty!


I also use something called a glove box. This has an inert argon atmosphere inside so I can do my sensitive chemistry.


It’s quite difficult to use at first, but you get used to working with big rubber gloves on!


I’m a PhD student, although my work is more like research than studying. Sometimes I teach undergraduate students, either in the teaching labs, or one-on-one by taking them on to do a research project with me.


I have to analyse my results and figure out what I’ve got. When you are working with molecules, you can’t see them with your eyes, so you need to use special techniques to ‘look’ at the products you have made. One of these techniques is called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).


This is a photo of me purifying a chemical. I have a bad habit of sticking post-its all over my fume hood.


Me at my desk.