What is Smart Futures?

Smart Futures is a government-industry programme providing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers information to second-level students, parents, teachers and careers guidance counsellors in Ireland. On this website you can:

  • Read career stories profiling people working in all kinds of STEM in our blog; browse STEM ‘Career Stories’ or look up a career by entering a keyword (e.g chemistry) in the search box (top left hand corner) 
  • Request a STEM volunteer to visit your school for free here or become a volunteer yourself!
  • Watch careers video with people working in areas such as food and sports science, cybersecurity, engineering, energy, app development, biotechnology, medical devices and lots more hereSTEM Infographic

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Career Stories: Morven Duffy, Process Engineer, Intel

MorvenInCleanroom2

Morven Duffy talks to SmartFutures about making computer chips for Intel Ireland, where she has worked for 15 years.

What is a process engineer and what do you do?

Intel has a few hundred process engineers in Leixlip. Each one has responsibility for a number of process steps. We start with a silicon wafer and build a load of integrated circuits into it .

My area is called metals. I work with complicated machines and ensure they operate consistently and at a reasonable cost.

What are the wafers for and what size are they?

We build hundreds of chips on to a silicon wafer that is 30cm across. We’re starting a new process using Intel’s newest technology called Broadwell.

We use a measurement called the gate length, which is the basic measure of how small a chip can be manufactured. The new gate length is 14 nanometers (nm) – a human hair is around 75,000nm in diameter – they are the most advanced in the world.

What are the main challenges?

Some of the layers we use to build chips are so thin that the material doesn’t behave as expected so that is difficult. Keeping the yields up (how many good chips we get off a wafer) is very complicated as there’s a lot of reasons why it might not work.

Another challenge is the travel. Intel releases a new product every two to three years. They are developed in Oregon in the US and transferred to Ireland. When we are doing a process transfer, we have to live abroad. In the last three years, I’ve spent nine months in Oregon and just over a year in Israel.

What’s cool about your job?

I get to play with really expensive machines.

What subjects did you take in school?

I picked physics, chemistry, biology, applied maths and German. When I was choosing my college course, I decided to go with the subject I liked best – physics.

What did you do after school?

I did applied physics in Dublin City University in 1995. I had to do a six-month work placement, which I did in Intel. Intel hired a bunch of us when we finished college.

What kind of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Anyone interested in this role should get experience in a manufacturing-type job.

What inspires your love of engineering?

My family has always been quite technical. We were very familiar with computers and had a laptop at home in 1990. That background has definitely fed through.

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Galway youths take on the world in F1 technology competition

Photon

A team of Galway students from Presentation College Headford, are taking part in the ‘Formula One In Schools’ competition in Abu Dhabi with their team ‘Photon Racing’ – making them the first team from the West of Ireland to compete in the World Final.

F1 in Schools is a global multi-disciplinary competition that challenges secondary school students to design, build and race miniature F1 cars. The competition inspires students to use IT to learn about physics, aerodynamics, design, manufacture, branding, graphics, sponsorship, marketing, leadership, teamwork, media skills and financial strategy, and apply them in a practical, imaginative, competitive and exciting way.

With teams from over 40 countries competing in the World Finals, the event continues to attract more global attention every year as it expands and encompasses more and more technological advancements every year.

The Galway team market themselves with the unique selling point of raising the profile of computer technology used in the competition, from building their own computer to power their pit display (a team stand at the event), to creating their own website and using computational fluid dynamics to test forces that would act against the car.

Many of the teams involved in the event outsource a lot of the graphic design, which Photon Racing were determined to avoid, with all design work being carried out by team member Ruairí McNicholas, which went on to win the national award for ‘Best Portfolio’.

The car itself, the most anticipated aspect of the competition, is manufactured from balsa wood by a CNC milling machine and was designed on computer aided design software by team members, Oliver Burke and Conor Biggins. After months of extensive testing before the National Finals, held in Dublin Castle, the car was designed to incorporate 3D-printed elements to replace the most fragile pieces of the design, the front and rear airfoils.

To compete in the world finals of the international competition the team must raise €25,000, which will cover travel to the event and materials for the portfolio, car and pit display. Team Communications and Marketing Manager, Conor Dever, is leading the fundraising effort for the team and is seeking sponsors that might be able to aid either monetarily or with a service to help fund their quest for victory for Ireland in Abu Dhabi.

Visit the Formula 1 in schools website here for more information.

Interested sponsors can contact the team on marketing@photonracing.com.
Follow their progress on Facebook or Twitter.

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Career Stories: Dr. Catherine Deegan, Researcher, Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown

Catherine Deegan

Dr. Catherine Deegan talks to Smart Futures about her career as a researcher and lecturer in the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown.

What type of scientist are you?

I qualified in applied physics but I’m working in an engineering department. So the main scientific area is physics crossed with engineering.

What type of research do you do?

The main research I do is applied research which is related specifically to real-world problems.

For the last three years, I’ve been involved in the commercialising of research that we spent the previous 10 years working on. There’s a spin-out company on the campus now marketing that idea.

Our idea involves road signs and markings. In the EU and United States, in particular, there are very strict requirements for road signs and markings for how reflective they are, particularly at night. We have designed and produced a prototype of a device that can be attached to any vehicle. It takes pictures of the road signs and gives back a number which shows their reflectivity.

What drove your interest in road signs?

Twelve years ago, I was having a conversation with someone and they said ‘I’d really like a device that will do this’. I put in a grant application for a masters on the topic and it went from there.

What subjects did you do in school and did they influence your career path?

I was always very curious about how things worked and what made them work. In secondary school, the subjects I took were physics, chemistry and maths. Funnily enough, I feel a good command of the English language is very important for a career in science and technology. I felt the benefit of English much later on when writing grant applications and explaining scientific concepts to a non-technical audience.

What courses did you do after school?

I did a degree in applied physics in Dublin City University. I felt applied physics was a good bridge between physics and engineering. I then completed a PhD in applied physics in DCU.

Immediately after my PhD, I worked in St James’s Hospital as a clinical engineer for a year. While there, I completed a postgraduate diploma in clinical engineering at Trinity College Dublin.

How did you progress to your current job?

The Institute of Technology Blanchardstown opened in 1999 and I applied for a position there the following year. ITB attracted me as it was new and I knew I’d have an input into how it developed.

Could you describe your typical day?

It varies quite a bit. My time is roughly spread 50:50 between teaching and research. I teach undergraduate students and also take postgraduate students who are completing masters and PhDs.

What do you wish somebody had told you before you started out?

There’s a certain amount of failure involved in scientific experiments. I wish I was told that failure is part and parcel of science and you learn more from failure than you do from success. If I knew that in my student days I wouldn’t have been so freaked out by it.

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Career Stories: Sarah Hudson, Chemistry Lecturer

Sarah Hudson CES

Sarah Hudson talks to Smart Futures about her career as a Lecturer in Chemistry.

What are the main tasks, responsibilities and skills required?

That is a tough question as every week there are different things to do – first and foremost I am employed to teach undergraduate modules in chemistry to students studying to become industrial chemists and biochemists, food scientists, engineers, teachers and environmental scientists.

In addition to that, I write research proposals and try to get money to hire postgraduate students and researchers for new projects. I supervise these students and projects. I interact with industry to try to advance the work done by the pharmaceutical companies here in Ireland.

I also do outreach activities to spread the word about how important science (and maths) is to our everyday lives and to the future of our world. Some of these activities involve visiting schools, extra help to disadvantaged areas and talks at national and international conferences and to local communities.

Describe a typical day?

As I said above, every day can be different but today I cycled into work for 9 am, spent half an hour catching up on emails, sending off some new postgraduate applications and then went to a meeting where a new researcher in the University gave a half hour talk about how she was making new crystals to improve drug bioavailability for lithium drugs, used to treat psychiatric conditions.

After that, I spent about an hour reviewing a paper for an international journal and deciding whether or not the work was good enough to be published, had a quick meeting in the lab one of my postgraduate students about some lab work she needs to do, had a meeting with other lecturers about how the students did in their summer repeat exams, quickly had some lunch and now will use some modeling software to analyze some results from the lab. I also have to prepare some lecture notes for my teaching next week (week 1 of the new semester).

Tomorrow I will drive to Dublin for a technical meeting a large group of researchers that work together and we will compare and discuss our experimental results and make plans for what we should do next.

What are the things you like best about the job?

Dealing with different people, students at all levels, other researchers, other lecturers, people from industry – it keeps it interesting. I love really getting to understand a project I am working with and trying to make it into something useful. In teaching or in my outreach activities, it is sometimes a challenge to explain things in layman’s terms but I find the better I understand my subject/research, the easier it is to explain to someone else.

What are the main challenges?

The administrative role of registering students and setting and correcting exams and all the paper work that comes with trying to get money to do your research, hiring people and dealing with all the paper work like non-disclosure agreements and patenting. I just want to do the science and talk about it with people… I don’t aspire to make a lot of money from what I do, I want to just have enough money to try to do the things I think might work.

Who or what has most influenced your career direction?

My supervisors when I came to do my PhD – to be honest, right up until I started my PhD, I wasn’t really that interested in science – I was good at it, I was logical, good at maths and it came quite naturally to me but I didn’t read about science in my spare time.

When I started my PhD, my supervisors gave me the freedom to explore how things worked in the lab and I realised I enjoyed it… so much that here I am still at it 11 years later and hope to be at it in another 20 years.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Very much so – it is a balancing act and now that I have a young family, I am not in the lab doing experiments as much as I would like. But I hope to get back to that again in a few years… right now, as a supervisor, at least I get to guide and interpret the results that my students are coming up with in the lab.

What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?

I did chemistry and physics at Leaving Certificate and French and German – I figured I would keep up the languages by travelling but wouldn’t keep up science unless I did it as a job – I still travel a lot, with family and with my job so the languages are still going and I now speak a little Japanese and Spanish as well but I probably do more chemistry and biology than chemistry and physics.

When I first went to college, I wanted to do physics so that definitely changed as I went down the chemistry and pharmaceutical road.

What is your education to date?

I did my Leaving Certificate in Colaiste Chiaran, Leixlip, Co. Kildare. I graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in Natural Science, Mod (Chemistry), received my Masters in Chemistry from Trinity College Dublin, then I received my PhD in Chemistry from University of Limerick. Finally I did a specialist Diploma in Teaching, Learning and Scholarship from University of Limerick.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

My undergraduate degree and PhD has helped me enormously with my scientific writing and research skills – there is a lot of writing in my job both in preparing lecture notes and writing research papers and project proposals.

The specialist diploma has helped me think about how I teach and how students learn and every year I modify my modules to try to improve my lectures.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Being a social person is hugely important as you really do deal with a lot of different people through research and teaching.

For your research, being able to relax around people and talk openly with them can lead to collaborations that will last for many years.

Being persistent and a little bit stubborn about your own work is important – if it was easy to do, it would have been done already. By its very nature, research is risky – there is a high risk of failure but that is what makes it exciting so I guess being a bit of a risk taker helps!

Having good scientific fundamentals is hugely important in my job – with a good basis in maths, physics, chemistry and biology or at least a couple of these subjects, means you can get a good grasp on pretty much any area of science – if it seems too hard, the person teaching you probably doesn’t understand it very well themselves and so can’t explain it clearly.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Getting involved in science fairs is a good option.

Working in any kind of lab would give you a bit of an idea of what my job is like as a researcher but as the job is diverse, there are a lot of types of work experience that are valid.

Any kind of activity that involves group leadership, teaching, writing proposals, raising and managing money and talking to people would be good experience. Of course the lab work is important but just following a protocol and doing an experiment is not what we do. We start with a goal and have to work out how to get there so a little imagination is always good.

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