Anna Herlihy
06 Aug 2020



From Diamond Sandwich student to ISIS Facility Development Student

Anna Herlihy portrait



Anna studied Materials Chemistry at the University of St Andrews and wanted to use her year in industry to do research, to find out more about what it's like to be a full-time researcher. She applied to the year-in-industry placement scheme at Diamond Light Source, despite not being that sure what the placement would involve. “It was a lot better than anything I expected" she explains; “everything involved in the placement was new to me, but it felt really good to be working on a project that was completely mine."

Her placement year at Diamond was spent on the I11 beamline, working on a sol-gel synthesis for silica frameworks, and comparing these to their equivalents that would be formed in space. “I spent a lot of time in the lab, and was able to run my samples on I11 if there was available beamtime. The team also had beamtime allocated on I22 during my placement, and I was able to join them and measure my samples." Anna also had the opportunity to present at the British Crystallography Association conference on her work, and to be part of the outreach activity “Project M", run by one of her Diamond supervisors.

The placement prepared Anna well for her final year at university, and convinced her that she would like to continue in research; “I had a better understanding of how research happens, and how it can be slower than you might expect!" Seeing all the visiting scientists come in and use the facility made her keen to do a PhD that involved both a university and a central facility.

It was one of these users, Dr Mark Senn from the University of Warwick, who Anna contacted towards the end of her final year, asking if he had any PhD positions available. He did – including one working with ISIS, which she started in October 2018. Working on the PEARL beamline, with Nick Funnell, Anna is now in her second year of the project, studying pressure-induced functional properties of materials.

Her PhD sees her mainly based at the University of Warwick, with travel down to ISIS for beamtime allocations, or meetings with her supervisor. These trips to ISIS provide Anna with the majority of her data; “then I go back up to Warwick to do all the analysis."

Every ISIS-funded PhD studentship has an element of Facility Development: Anna's is developing a method for local structure determination in crystalline materials. This can already be done on PEARL for glasses, and Anna is investigating the best way to subtract the additional peaks in the pair distribution function to enable the same experiments to be carried out on crystalline materials.

During her placement year, Anna found it easy to settle in at RAL, thanks to a large cohort of summer and sandwich students. “When the summer students left, I found myself becoming part of the group on I11, as well as staying in touch with the other placement students," she says; “during my PhD, I have met other students at the ISIS student meetings, and through a Crystallography Student Day held jointly with Diamond."

As for the future, Anna explains; “since my placement year, my dream job has been to be an instrument scientist, and I've not been put off yet!"

Contact: de Laune, Rosie (STFC,RAL,ISIS)