Megan McGregor is a PhD student in the department of Materials Science at Cambridge University. Here she tells us how a physics teacher encouraged her to aim high and why she is excited by creating new materials that could be used to build aircraft! Come along and ask Megan some questions on Saturday 2nd July in Cambridge Market Square, where she’ll be talking about “Those wondrous women and their flying machines – How can you engineer atoms to make flying leaner and greener?”
SS: Megan, how did you get to your current position?
MM: I arrived in Cambridge in 2011, wanting to specialise in Physics for my undergraduate Natural Sciences degree. However, after four years I emerged having specialised in Materials Science, a discipline I wasn’t even aware of when I applied to university. My preference for trying to solve practical problems and a latent enthusiasm for aviation, meant that Materials Science piqued my interest in a way that university physics never did! My final year project involved research into the suitability of titanium aluminides as materials for low pressure turbine blades, and this confirmed for me that I wanted to pursue a PhD so that I could have a similar problem that was all mine to solve. I found just such a research question in the Rolls-Royce UTC in the Cambridge Materials and that’s how I’ve come to be working on intermetallics for high temperature applications.
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
MM: I am lucky in that I was always encouraged to study whatever I wanted in school, and my school had a very strong science department, so I’d have to say that my initial motivation came from there. I remember very vividly a parents’ evening where I expressed a desire to my Physics teacher (shout out to Mr Vesty) that I wanted to be an optician, and he actually admonished me for not aiming higher! He asked why I didn’t want to be an eye surgeon, or an astronaut, and told me that I could do anything that I put my mind to – so that’s what I’m doing.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
MM: For me the most interesting part of my work is how combining basic elements in different ways can results in materials with totally different properties, and how these can sometimes be totally unexpected! It’s also pretty exciting to think that if I get it right, these materials could be working hard in a turbofan engine flying over the Atlantic in 25 years time!
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
MM: The opportunity to get people excited about the materials that make up the modern world around us! So much work goes into things that we take for granted and I really wanted to use this platform to demonstrate just one little corner of that to the public.
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
MM: Questions – I hope I’ll get asked lots of them! The more “out there”, the better!
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
MM: Everyone loves a positive result, but negative results are just as important to the scientific community, if not more so! I’d like to see more negative results accepted for publication.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
MM: Ask me again in fifteen years and hopefully I’ll have an answer!