Personal Profile – Shaumica Saravanabavan
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Shaumica, and I am currently in my first year of PhD study at the University of Warwick. My research focuses on photoelectrocatalysis in microgravity environments, and my current project is sponsored by the European Space Agency. The motivation behind my current project is to find a water-splitting device that facilitates both hydrogen and oxygen production whilst simultaneously reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Ideally the processors would be integrated into the same device as at present the ISS heavily relies on the continuous resupply from Earth as well as stored containers for hydrogen and oxygen fuels, making long distance space missions impossible.
What is a normal day for you like?
A normal day for me consists of making electrodes using wafers, copper wiring and glass tubes. These electrodes are usually tested terrestrially by obtaining cyclic voltammograms, which would then further be pre-conditioned and tested at the Bremen Drop Tower facility for the microgravity environmental results. My project incorporates a lot of laboratory work as well as data analysis, and often I find myself focusing on either work in the laboratory or interpreting data. Sometimes, there is a mix of both, and I have found it helpful to become trained in using some of the analytical instruments such as XPS for the data analysis part.
What is your favourite thing about the subject you study/your job?
The favourite thing about my subject is the fact that there’s a lot of learning involved, and it gives me an opportunity to be creative at times especially as this is my research and my project. By liaising with my supervisor as well as industrial sponsors, I am able to make progress and come up with great suggestions for things I can explore with my electrodes and solvents. Additionally, I am able to put suggestions in for potential future work.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the space sector?
I have also been interested in space research, however as I pursued my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, I didn’t think it would be possible to pursue a career in the space sector. My assumption was that I’d need a degree in Physics or Astronomy. When I saw Dr. Brinkert’s research group and the potential with the project, I immediately contacted her. I knew from Day One of my PhD that I’d really enjoy combining my previous knowledge and skills from Chemistry to apply within the space sector, especially the experiments under microgravity environments.
What did you study at school?
At school I did my A Levels in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and German. I also did an Extended Project. I have found both Chemistry and Mathematics really useful as some of the topics during my degree relied on previous understanding of quantitative chemistry or processes involved in Chemistry.
What has your journey so far been like?
My journey within academia has been challenging and demanding at times, but at the same rewarding. I have enjoyed studying my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Warwick, and this has provided me with an overview of Chemistry by breaking it down into organic, inorganic and physical. I went on to specialise in Theoretical and Computational Chemistry for my Masters. This has allowed me to pick up some great skills in coding and developing my computational skill set, which has come in extremely useful on my pathway especially as a lot of publications and journal writing require a professional level of written communication as well as high quality figures. Herein, I have also improved my interpersonal skills such as communication skills both written and verbally. I have had to present posters and presentations to a scientific audience and I have also had to write my thesis, which involved a lot of analysis of spectra and in depth discussions about some of the scientific concepts.
What advice would you give to your younger-self?
The advice I would give my younger self is to not overplan my career pathway. I initially wanted to go into Medicine, however post-interview, I didn’t get in and then decided to do a degree in Chemistry. I have since just gone with whatever my heart wants to do there and then and this is the best decision I have taken. It’s more important to enjoy what we are learning and doing right at that moment than worrying about where that would lead us to in the future. Of course, it needs to be considered whether what you do will provide you with a job opportunity and what career options may be a possibility, however it is most important to like what you are learning there and then.
Click here to learn more about Shaumica’s work.