Category Archives: YCG Interviews

Meet the YCG – George Sackman

This week we introduce out newly elected Physical Crystallography Group (PCG) representative George Sackman.

Name
George Sackman

Current position
PhD researcher at the University of Oxford

What do you currently research?
At Oxford, I am working on new approaches for studying air sensitive hydride materials by neutron diffraction. Neutron single-crystal diffraction is essential for the determination of accurate hydrogen atom positions in solids, and has application in locating hydride ions in inorganic and organometallic materials. Many technologically important materials, e.g. catalytic intermediates, contain hydride or coordinated hydrogen. I want to understand the functionality of these materials, and this requires a full determination of the hydrogen atom positions within the structure. I am also interested in distinguishing disorder in a variety of systems using ab initio computational methods.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
I have a puzzle drive, and crystallography is full of interesting puzzles to solve! Whether you are a physicist, chemist or biologist, you are likely to be interested in the structure and properties of the systems you are working with. As a result, a crystallographer tends to have a high degree of interesting collaborative problems to solve with other research groups, across the full breadth of physical and life sciences.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
During my time at school, I saw a documentary focusing on Richard Feynman. Contained within was a series of simple and understandable scientific explanations for everyday phenomena. His enthusiasm for the subject was evident, infectious and quickly made an impression on me. At its core, it is the pleasure of finding things out, and helping others transition from confusion to clarity, that inspires and drives me.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
Continually challenge your assumptions, and do not be afraid to go back to basics and try a new approach to your research problem!

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I try (and mostly fail) to keep fit through long-distance running: 10k and half marathon races mainly. When I am at home, I particularly enjoy reading (currently anything and everything written by Isaac Asimov). I am also into drawing and telling stories visually, and then linking that hobby back into how I communicate my research to others. Many of the best posters, papers and presentations I have seen have a good story to tell!

Meet the YCG – Hamish Yeung

Feeling fresh from BCA18 we have the pleasure to introduce now members of the YCG Committee. This week is Hamish Yeung who takes over the role of Chemical Crystallography Group (CCG) Representative.

Name
Hamish Yeung

Current position
Glasstone Research Fellow in the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford

What do you currently research?
My research covers a variety of aspects of materials, from how they form to their performance in real-world applications. I test model systems to develop an understanding of the factors that govern their structures and properties and try to design and exploit materials with new and improved functions for batteries, superconductors and sensors. I’m especially interested in the crystallisation of metal-organic frameworks, and examining how the respond to heating, pressure or electricity. Find out more at yeungmaterialslaboratory.wordpress.com!

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
In a nutshell: the joy of seeing the atoms! There are very few techniques that allow us to peer inside a material and see how it’s constructed from atoms and molecules all linked together. Crystallography does this with an amazing level of detail– sometimes we can even see the electrons in chemical bonds.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
I’m inspired by the world around us, the complexity of nature and the degree of engineering in the materials that man has created. If I can understand just a little bit of that through my science, I’ll be happy, the rest is just awesome!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
Make time to think, learn and be creative. Think about what science is interesting and important to you and what skills you need to enable you to pursue it. Seek out and learn from other people– you can pick up important skills as well as having more fun in a team than working alone. Creativity will come if you give it time and space.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Over the winter I really got into DIY because we’ve just started doing up our new house. I love making things with my hands and seeing the product at the end of it, imperfections and all! Now the days are getting longer I’m looking forward to getting outdoors more, walking, camping, gardening, birdwatching and so on.

Meet the YCG – Matthew Dunstan

Welcome back after the BCA Spring meeting! It was fantastic to see so many young crystallographers at the satalite meeting and making such a big impact over the whole meeting, more to follow! In the mean time we have the pleasure to introduce Matthew Dunstan who sits on the YCG committee as our Vice Chair.

Name
Matthew Dunstan

Current position
Research Fellow in Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge

What do you currently research?
I research functional materials, and how to predict their performance using a mixture of computational, synthetic and analytical approaches. The types of applications I am interested in include carbon capture and storage, chemical looping, fuel cells and lithium ion batteries. I make use of large databases of calculated materials like the Materials Project (which is freely available to check out – www.materialsproject.org).

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
Solving a brand new structure, especially a particularly complicated structure, is incredibly rewarding. For example, sometimes the atoms in a material are modulated – they are nudged up or down in consecutive unit cells – and solving these structures is quite a challenge. Better yet, solving a structure also gives you a lot of interesting insights as to why that material acts the way it does.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
I like the idea of uncovering the underlying rules that govern how different physical processes work – and making sense of the unknown is something that drives me each day. I like to think that what I’m doing might help others in the future (even if my contribution is very small!). I’ve also been lucky to be inspired by some fantastic role models that I’ve been able to work with so far, and their ability to do great science and care about the people they work with. In particular, the crystallography community is very friendly, which helps!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
Working with other people is a fundamental skill you need to develop and hone if you want to be a successful scientist. There are so many different relationships you need to develop and foster, with your supervisor, your colleagues in the lab, with collaborators, with technical staff, and managing these relationships is as important (if not more important) than your individual skill at research.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy designing board and card games, to date I’ve had 7 published with more to come! The process is actually surprisingly akin to research, and it helps to have something else to work on, especially when research isn’t going that well.

Meet the YCG – Lucy Mapp

Only 2 weeks until the BCA spring meeting and this week we have the pleasure to introduce Lucy Mapp! Lucy sits on the YCG committee as an ordinary member.

Name
Lucy Mapp

Current position
Ph.D. Student (final year), University of Southampton

What do you currently research?
Co-crystals of pharmaceuticals, particularly those which lack or have minimal hydrogen bonding functionality. I’m investigating the modification of properties and using charge density studies to help understand these through changes in the charge distribution as a result of altering the co-former molecule.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
The community – it’s such a great group of people!
From the work side of things I enjoy being able to see what you’ve made and the sense of satisfaction from successfully generating a crystal structure from the experimental data, especially a difficult one with disorder or complex features! Also, the amount of information that you can get from a tiny crystal still amazes me!

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
I’ve had a lot of enthusiastic science teachers at school, and some good supervisors / mentors over the years who have all encouraged me and kept my interest and shown me knew things that have made me want to learn and do more. With chemistry, I like the fact you can be the first to make or discover something, even if it’s small in the grand scheme of things and that chemistry/science can explain and make sense of a lot of everyday occurrences.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
Take every opportunity that comes your way, try new things and don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Talk to people and try to get as many different contacts as possible – you never know when that passing comment with someone at a conference or meeting is going to prove valuable in the future. (that might be more than one piece of advice though, sorry)

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I do a lot of running/athletics but enjoy most sports/activities and just getting out and exploring places – either close to home, elsewhere in the UK or abroad (but that’s not often). I also like to meet up with friends (generally at the pub) and will never say no to a pub quiz!

Meet the YCG – Claire Hobday

Its again time for Meet the GCY, this week is the last in our group representative mini series and time to introduce Claire Hobday! Claire is our group rep for the Chemical Crystalography Group (CCG).

Name
Claire Hobday

Current position
Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bath

What do you currently research?
At Bath, I work with porous materials and how we can really understand the adsorption process. I do this through molecular simulation, using both quantum mechanics and simpler empirical force fields. What I want to grasp is how the structure of a material is related to its function, so we can develop better adsorbent materials. I did my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, where I used a combined approach of high-pressure crystallography and computational methods to study mechanical and adsorption properties of porous materials.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
Only one thing is such a difficult question. I’d have to say it’s seeing the brilliance of symmetry in a diffraction pattern.
I have worked on cubic, high symmetry porous materials and once they’re in the x-ray beam, the resulting diffraction pattern is dazzling – check out the picture below! And to think from these images we can work out what atoms compose the crystal and how they are connected, is always something which amazes me!

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
Initially, I was inspired by my chemistry teacher at school. I had the same teacher for six years and he made the magic in chemistry really come alive! I’ve been really lucky that all through my academic life, I’ve had great mentors and been surrounded by amazing research. This really makes me want to do the best I can in my own research. There is also a great satisfaction when you finally understand why something works the way it does – and it was your work that helped reach that conclusion!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
Make sure it’s on a topic you want to know about! Enthusiasm is the key to doing really great research. When you start out on a project, you might not know all the science behind it, but if you are really interested in uncovering what is going on, that will help you the most!

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I’m into running. It’s the perfect way to clear your head after work. Also, if I visit new cities, I always try to get in a run, it’s a great way to see the sights! I’m also really into cooking and like trying out new recipes. I like to think I’m quite adventurous when it comes to cooking and eating, I’ll always try something at least once!

Meet the YCG – Natalie Tatum

Time for the third instalment of Meet the YCG! This time round we are delighted to introduce Natalie Tatum! Natalie is our Biological Structures Group (BSG) representative and is the first in a mini series to introduce our group reps. Just a reminder that Meet the YCG is a weekly series of interviews with YCG members starting with the committee.

Name
Natalie Tatum

Current position
Post-doctoral research associate at Newcastle University, in the structural biology team of the Cancer Drug Discovery group at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research

What do you currently research?
The structural biology team in Cancer Drug Discovery provide protein production, crystallography and assay development for ongoing projects. In practice this means we produce protein for crystallisation and assay, often screening tens of constructs at least to optimise for various purposes, we have a variety of tagging systems at our disposal for use, and we have access to SPR, ITC, and NMR for screening in addition to building assays on a variety of fluorescence-based formats. I’m currently the only researcher on the biophysics side of my target project, so I’m the one doing it all from cloning through to crystallisation and beyond.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
I really relish the challenges. Protein crystallography is regularly described as a dark art, and particularly for a novel protein, it can be months or years of banging your head against thousands upon thousands of conditions and constructs until you find The One. Sometimes you’re lucky, and sometimes it’s just hard graft, but the pay off – seeing even optimisable crystal hits in one of your trays – it makes every protein prep worth the effort.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
I was always scientifically inclined, but it wasn’t really until I was late in my undergraduate degree that I got a taste of research science and discovered a passion for it. It suits my problem solving nature and curiosity. I had few real-life scientific role models growing up, however, and so I had to make do with fictional ones: Dana Scully and Sam Carter. When I became a researcher and started to interact with other scientists – particularly female scientists – out there, in the real world, I found an inspiring community.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
I think there are two, but they’re quite linked: first, give it a go. I had no idea what a research scientist did on a day to day basis, or what that life even looked like, so I think the important thing is to get stuck in and try it out – a summer project, an MSc, etc.; but secondly, make sure you really want to do it. Scientific research is difficult, often the rewarding moments can be sparse and seem so distant, and often experiments fail. You have to learn to be resilient, optimistic, and above all, you have to keep your head about you. Bad days happen, so you have to be able to have a cup of tea, go home and sleep, do whatever it requires for you to get back on the work-horse tomorrow.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I try to keep a good work-life balance and protect my weekends as much as possible from the intrusions of work; obviously it can be unavoidable to put in some working hours in the evenings and weekends, but generally speaking I try to get everything done in my normal working hours, and I rely heavily on to-do lists and weekly goals to stay on track. I’m also quite introverted and often need the time to re-charge, so outside of work I enjoy swimming or running at the gym, I read voraciously – particularly science fiction but I try to stay away from science non-fiction (with mixed success) – and of course spend quality time in the cinema or watching Netflix. I find that really enjoying my free time helps me be more focused when I’m working and makes me a happier and more productive person, so I value proper boundaries in my work-life balance.

Meet the YCG – Sam Horrell

Name
Sam Horrell

Current position
Post Doc at the University of Hamburg in the Pearson group and Chair of the YCG

What do you currently research?
I am currently working as part of a team to design, build and eventually test a new end station at PETRA III to enable time-resolved serial crystallography experiments on fixed targets. P14.EH2 (we’re working on a better name) will be a dedicated Time-resolved X-ray Crystallography beamline using Hadamard Time-resolved X-ray Cryatsllography (HATRX) to produce high quality pump-probe serial diffraction data for the study of structural dynamics in biomolecules. Also, there will be lasers. I’ll be talking about this at the BCA Spring meeting this year if you want to learn more.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
I like how varied the field of crystallography can be, I started off as a biochemist and am now helping build a beamline. If you told me at the start of my undergraduate, I’d have worked at two particles accelerators by age 27 I wouldn’t have believed you. But my favourite part of crystallography has to be when you get that new structure that nobody else has seen, and you get to dig into the fine detail of how exactly it works.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
I’m sure everyone has had that moment at school where a teacher tells you what you learned a few years ago was actually a massive oversimplification and life is in fact a lot more complicated. Respiration is not just breathing, and the cell doesn’t look like a fried egg, etc. This always annoyed me and made me want to know more about what w

as really going on. A healthy obsession with Sci-Fi and comic books probably helped lead me down this road too.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
If you are going to start a PhD make sure of two things, that it is a subject you are interested in, and your supervisor is someone you can work and get along with. If either of these are not right, it’s going to be a very long 3-4 years.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I have recently moved to Hamburg for my new job so outside of work I have enjoyed exploring a new city, I’d definitely recommend moving to a new country if given the opportunity. One of the great perks of a career in science. But in addition to that, I enjoy playing ultimate Frisbee, board games and the guitar.

Meet the YCG – Charlie McMonagle

This is the first in a new series of interviews conducted on members of the YCG. We are going to start with the members of the current committee in the run-up to the BCA Spring Meeting and see how we go from there! If you enjoy these posts, please like and share.

Name
Charlie McMonagle

Current position
PDRA Newcastle University / YCG Webmaster

What do you currently research?
My work at Newcastle is to develop and uses the extensive facility’s here to do ultra-low temperature and high-pressure single crystal diffraction experiments. Currently I am looking at a range of magnetically interesting compounds at temperatures as low as 3 K, and this will be coupled with low-temperature high-pressure measurements in the new future. I am also finishing up my PhD that was joint between the University of Edinburgh and I19 at the Diamond Light Source. This focused on looking at porous materials at pressure and the development of new techniques to do this. During my PhD I developed a pressure cell that will allow you to perform single crystal X-ray diffraction from 0 to 1400 bar, a pressure range is currently very difficult to investigate with common high-pressure cells.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
Probably my favourite aspect is how collaborative it is. I have the good fortune to work with many different scientists that are experts at their niche speciality and their enthusiasm for their work is infectious. Being able to bring your own expertise to the table is also great and providing the key to unlock new problems is something that has always driven me.

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
Breaking new ground is probably what I find the most inspiring thing about science. Whether it is new experimental set-ups, novel compounds or just new ways to make something work it all adds up and it’s amazing just how many things there are still to do!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
If you want something done right, do it yourself.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Having been living in Scotland and now in Northumberland, I have the great opportunity to make the most of the outdoors. Walking in the Highlands, the Pennines, or the Alps are great ways to unwind and exploring a new city and region is also fun.