STEM for Britain success for PhD student

PhD student Daisy Dickinson presented her work at the Houses of Parliament
PhD student Daisy Dickinson presented her work at the Houses of Parliament

School of Engineering PhD student Daisy Dickinson was recently a finalist in STEM for Britain – a prestigious scientific poster competition and exhibition held each year at the Houses of Parliament.

The annual nationwide competition celebrates early-career scientists, engineers and technologists in Britain, giving them the chance to present their work in the House of Commons to a lay audience of MPs and the Parliamentary & Scientific Committee.

Daisy is a fourth year OPTIMA CDT student based at the School of Chemistry with a School of Engineering primary supervisor – Dr Philip Hands. Her research involves working to build a tuneable fluorescence microscope using liquid crystal lasers (LCLs).

Innovative microscope technology

Liquid crystal technology, which is widely found in displays, is also capable of supporting laser emission from devices the size of a postage stamp.

The specific liquid crystals that Daisy uses have a helical structure. By changing the tightness of the winding of the helix and by adjusting the organic dye component researchers can ‘tune’ the laser emission to different frequencies, from ultraviolet to infrared. This so-called ‘high tunability’ combined with the laser beam’s narrow-linewidth provides unique, desirable laser properties.

Lasers are a key component of microscopes used in clinical research and diagnosis. Daisy specialises in fluorescence microscopy, which allows scientists to detect fluorescence from the parts of a cell they want to examine.

She explained, “By using liquid crystal lasers, we can target the wavelengths that produce the most efficient fluorescence. In this way, our low power tuneable, compact lasers can be used as portable, cheap and tailored microscopy light sources.”

Liquid crystal lasers can also be used in other applications such as biomedical sensing, holography and communications.

“Eye opening”

Daisy said, “I was very privileged to get the opportunity to present and discuss my research at the STEM for Britain Engineering Finals at the House of Commons. To be able to discuss my research with fellow early career researchers, experts and MPs from all over the UK with respect to impact to all was both unique and eye opening.”

Daisy’s supervisor, Dr Philip Hands, said: “I’m delighted with Daisy’s nomination for this award. Her project is a testimony to successful interdisciplinary research at the University of Edinburgh between the Institute of Genetics and Cancer, and the School of Engineering.

“I am continually impressed by Daisy’s ability to simultaneously become an expert in multiple fields, including cleanroom microfabrication, laser physics, liquid crystals, fluorescence microscopy and clinical biology, and to be able to successfully communicate with colleagues across all these disciplines. She is a great ambassador for the University.

"I look forward to some more exciting results from her soon, as we demonstrate how liquid crystal lasers can provide significant performance, cost and size benefits to biomedical imaging applications.”

“Best of the best”

Edinburgh South MP, Ian Murray was present on the day to support Daisy alongside two School of Chemistry finalists - Jenke Scheen and Yuan Gao.

Speaking before the event, Murray said: “The STEM finals allow the very best students to showcase their work in parliament. The University of Edinburgh is a world class university because of the world class researchers and students who choose to study and work there.

"It’s an amazing achievement to reach these prestigious national awards and I wish Jenke, Yuan and Daisy all the very best of luck. They are certainly the best of the best and deserve their recognition.”

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