R&D: What do you know – and what do you want to know?
November 7, 2011, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

If you look at any university website they’ll tell you how wonderful their research is. Like everyone else, we are rightly proud of our achievements, and finding something out that no-one has ever known before is quite a thrill.

Just think you could discover the ‘next big thing’ or the next small thing… from little acorns mighty oaks grow and all that.   Maybe you already have a theory or an idea that you’d like to develop.  People study such a variety of topics from attraction to atom theory, and forensic science to farming, so think about it – what excites you?  What do you want to learn more about? R&D is where it all begins, After all, your smartphone and i-phone, the fibres in your clothing and the perfumes in your cosmetics, the food colouring in your drinks and the health warning on your dinner all once started out in someone’s R & D group.

If you’re browsing websites, it’s therefore worth having a look at the R & D (Research and Development) webpages or the news pages to get a feel for what is going on.  However, there is an awful lot of stuff going on that doesn’t make the webpage.  This is because universities tend to publicise big grant projects because (lets face it) ‘Big is Beautiful’. But often you’ll find there are also interesting projects that are going on at little cost. For example, we’ve had a number of published papers from our honours projects. In your final year you’ll usually do an extended project on a topic of your own choice, which can be quite a responsibility but is also exciting. And sometimes your supervisor may be able to take your work and write a joint paper. I’m not saying your project will win you the Nobel Prize (although one of our forensic projects has been cited in an Interpol review), but a good project looks great on your C.V. and can influence your career options.

Recently, I’ve been trying to take a couple of our honours projects that bit further than the students were able to do, using a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and a Confocal Microscope.  This is something that science fans may find interesting but it also gives an insight into the processes of R&D at a university. SEM uses a beam of electrons to form an image of your sample, and it can give you a chemical analysis as well. The confocal microscope was on loan from a producer. Although Abertay has its own equipment, we also use our close links with industry to access the latest technology in our fields. This microscope uses a laser beam to scan and produce the image, but it can also give you height data as well and produce an interactive 3D image. Both instruments were impressive.

Microscopy certainly makes you see things in a completely new way!


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