I have only ever worked in Trinity College, though that work has taken me in and out of companies and universities all over the world
I’m a Professor: my official title is Professor of Materials Engineering
Trinity College Dublin
I break things, I study how they break, and I try to stop them from breaking.
I’m interested in what makes materials strong. That includes engineering materials like steel, plastic and concrete, but also materials in your body: your bones, muscles etc and in the bodies of other animals, insects and plants.
So I spend a lot of time pulling things apart, measuring their strength and toughness. I help people in companies to design things like cars, aircraft and bicycles so that they can work for a long time without breaking down or wearing out. I also do forensic work for the police etc, when things break and lead to court cases.
By studying materials in the human body I can help people to make replacement parts like artificial joints. Also it’s fun to understand how nature works.
An X-ray showing an artificial hip joint which broke inside a person (ouch!).
My Typical Day
Forensic investigation; coffee; emails; research; coffee; emails; lecture; coffee; emails; something strange
I might start at 9am on the electron microscope looking at something which has broken as part of a forensic investigation (today it was part of a wind turbine). I need an electron microscope to look at the broken surface at very high magnification. Then I might do some research, or have a meeting with one of the people who work with me on research projects. For example we are doing a project looking at the materials that insects’ legs and wings are made of, which is called cuticle. Later on in the day I might give a lecture to 150 engineering students telling them what steel is made of and how to make it strong. In between I spend a lot of time drinking coffee and answering emails. By the end I need a lie down….
What I'd do with the money
Give it to a friend of mine who is helping people in Africa
People in Third World countries have a hard time just getting basic things such as light and heat. I have a friend who is also an engineer working in Trinity College Dublin. He invents things that can allow people in really poor areas to get cheap sources of light and energy. He’s a really clever engineer in the field of thermodynamics and I think it’s great that he uses his skills in this way. It’s also very inspiring for young people – both here and in Africa – to see how engineering can improve people’s lives.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Cheerful; creative; curious
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
A computer programme to predict when things will wear out and fail by metal fatigue: it’s used by engineering companies all over the world
What or who inspired you to become an engineer?
Nobody in particular; it just happened gradually
What did you want to be after you left school?
I had absolutely no idea.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not much: I was a swot
If you weren't an engineer, what would you be?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Pasta with sausages
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Filling out this form (I lied)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To get my hair back; to invent something really useful; and to get my hair back
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a girl with one leg? Eileen
Testing golf clubs
In the Italian alps to study how trees break