Back in 2017, when I was researching Loughborough University, I came across the newly-built STEMLab which was going to be opening in my first year and this intrigued me. I also learnt about the university’s sporting background and reputation which is very attractive since I see myself as a sporty person.
During secondary school, I found love for physics, maths and chemistry and therefore knew I wanted to study engineering. When it came to choosing the exact type of engineering, I wanted to study I had researched the options and narrowed them down to Aerospace, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering. While investigating what chemical engineers do, I found a desire to understand the chemical reactions and processes behind producing everyday items. This coupled with my passion for chemistry, Chemical Engineering was the obvious choice.
I love the versatility that chemical engineering offers - with applying physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and economics in producing products. It’s not just about oil and gas, chemical engineering is required in all industries, as well as in the food and drink industry. This course does not restrict you to certain careers, which is great when you are still deciding what sector or area to pursue.
Loughborough University has great research facilities with the STEMLab which allows me to gain experience with various lab equipment. The S-building and West Park Teaching Hub have multiple free computer rooms and study spaces which I prefer to the library and has been very useful when meeting fellow students for coursework and group projects.
For my Professional Development Project, which is part of the Chemical Engineering course, I was mainly studying from home due to pandemic restrictions. However, I was lucky enough to be allowed into the chemical engineering formulations laboratory where I created multiple water in oil emulsions using a stirred dispersion cell.
My PDP was focused on using membrane emulsification as a production process for catalyst supports like silica. Catalyst supports have an essential role in improving the capability of active sites in catalysts with various uses in industry and perform better with higher surface area. Membrane emulsification is a process that produces an emulsion by encapsulating droplets made from a dispersed phase with a continuous phase using a membrane, this emulsion can then be further treated to form high surface area porous silica particles. I studied the process using both experimental and computational fluid dynamics (CFD methods where I tested for the dependency of shear stress, injection rate and the surfactants used. I had developed and produced data from a CFD model which seemed to fit the experimental data closely leading to the possibility of further uses with CFD models to improve our understanding of this process and optimise our use with it.
Since my PDP was similar to the project that a PhD student was working on, my supervisor Marijana Dragosavac put us in contact, and I was able to work with him. This greatly helped me learn tips and tricks when processing the data and creating the emulsion. I was also in a few meetings which my supervisor had set up between fellow PDP students where we shared our similar projects, helping each other improve.
Throughout my PDP I had to overcome many obstacles, which resulted in improving my skills and knowledge. I had gained essential experience in planning a project which will help when starting my next project. My technical skills were also improved during the PDP. As I learnt to use COMSOL Multiphysics to simulate the membrane emulsification process which has given me a foundation in understanding this software and giving me the potential to use it again in upcoming projects. My PDP has also given me experience in using software’s like Image J and MATLAB for image processing which was fairly new to me. The laboratory work had given me the experience of running experiments without supervision and improved my ability in being organised and time-efficient, which will be very helpful in future laboratory work.
Before my PDP my career ambitions were to complete my masters and find a job in the engineering sector. This changed during my PDP, as I enjoyed the process which comes with completing projects and my supervisor opened my eyes to the possibility of doing a PhD which I am now open to pursuing.
Starting a project can be scary due to the immense amount of work ahead of you, but if you take some time to think about what are the main objectives that you want to reach and plan them out you will be in a much better position. When researching the topic of your PDP, find out what interests you about it: what do you want to learn from it, and adapt your project around your interests. This will greatly help you as if you are intrigued and enjoy the topic the work needed to be done will be easier to complete.
Throughout my time at Loughborough, I have received support from lecturers, PhD students and my personal tutor. Lecturers always seemed to be open and willing to help when I was struggling to overcome difficulties. If your lecturer isn’t too busy and you can catch them in their office, from my experience, and they will be more than happy to give up some of their time to help you. Also, with frequent emails from the department’s student support team, I have always felt that help is just an email away.
When I wasn’t working on my PDP, I liked to keep active and started to go to a rock-climbing gym in Loughborough as a new hobby. This hobby helped me when I needed a break from my PDP. Recently I was able to complete a boulder at a V5 level which was a great achievement and experience.