27 May 2022. Brought to you by Bethany Stansby.

Jack DeVile

What is your current job  / programme of study? 

I am currently a PhD student at Imperial College London 

Which A-Levels (or equivalent) did you do? 

Chemistry, Physics and Maths 

Why you chose a career in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) 

I was looking at Aerospace engineering courses at open days when I saw a presentation on materials science and, having some time, I decided to sit in on the talk. After realising that materials science not only used ideas from everything I was studying, but was the area that paved the way for all other technologies to progress, I began focussing all my attention on getting onto materials science courses. 

What did you enjoy most about your MSE course?  

I most enjoyed the problem-based learning aspect of my course. Every few weeks, I would be placed into a group and assigned a problem to solve that ranged from investigating the microstructure of steels to designing a bungee cord – each time materials science was at the heart of the problem.  

This gave me experience in group work, communicating scientific ideas, and planning projects. These skills have proved incredibly useful both in my industrial placement year and in my current work. 

What is your research about?  

I am researching templates which are made up of several layers of porous materials that can be converted into catalysts for splitting water and use in hydrogen fuel cells.  

Hydrogen, ideally produced from water, is a possible replacement of fossil fuels in the future. The fuel cells that use it need catalysts to operate. Unfortunately, the best of these catalysts use expensive metals that are difficult to source so alternative catalysts that don’t use these materials, but have similar properties, are needed. This would make the technology cheaper to manufacture and therefore accessible to more people. 

What is the coolest thing you have done in your career so far? 

Probably my industrial placement year at Lucideon Ltd. It was the first time I had been given a large amount of independence in running and carrying out a project with genuine industrial impact, where I helped scale up production of their inorganic controlled release technology. This was to be used to optimise the release of medicine from tablets into your body, and the work done has prepared me well for my PhD. As Lucideon Ltd. is a materials consultancy, I was also able to take part in a range of other projects including development of a system that measures how much a tablet masks the bitter taste of a given drug and physically simulating a year’s worth of denture use.

What do you see yourself doing in the future? 

In the future I hope to pursue a career in academia, as this combines both my love of teaching and communicating science whilst allowing me to continue researching and pursuing new ideas to help progress the field. I’m particularly interested in researching sustainable energy technologies, particularly methods of energy storage as I think these are the most crucial devices for reducing our carbon footprint. 

What is your favourite material (and why)? 

While I have yet to work with them, it would have to be aerogels because their origin and properties do not match up in the slightest! It has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any other material (with image searches showing both blocks of it supporting bricks and being able to sit on a dandelion without it bending) and is one of the best thermal insulators on the planet. NASA even began using it as a means to collect cosmic dust in the 1990s but, the question you should ask is how did someone discover a material with so many interesting properties? Aerogels were the work of a scientist named Samuel Stephens Kistler, not as a result of a eureka moment, but from a bet against another scientist to see who could be the first to replace all of the liquid inside a jelly jar without causing it to shrink. 

What advice would you give your 16 year old self? 

Plan your work well in advance and make sure to schedule in time to properly rest and exercise. Generally, just make sure to leave time for your own wellbeing because you can’t work at your best, let alone enjoy yourself when you’re not working, if you are exhausted.

Links to Jack’s external webpages:

Jack’s Linkedin