Joseph Black Award 2017 Winner

Dr Nicholle Bell
Dr Nicholle Bell

The University of Edinburgh


Awarded for innovative developments in the teaching and practice of spectroscopy

About the Winner

I have always seen the importance of interdisciplinary research and have therefore combined two areas that have fascinated me from an early age, chemistry and environmental science in my MChem with Environmental Chemistry Degree at the University of Edinburgh (2006-2011). During my undergraduate years I developed a passion for spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is the chemist's forensic tool (I am a keen reader of crime novels) for identifying molecules and I wanted to use it to understand the composition of complex environmental mixtures. 

I continued my postgraduate studies in Edinburgh (2011-2015) having been awarded a Principal's Career Development PhD Scholarship. I designed my own project developing new NMR experiments to tackle the most complex environmental matrix on the earth - the Soil Organic Matter (SOM).  I developed a methodology by which the molecules of SOM are modified by introducing 13C tags to act as molecular spies. The spies report on their immediate surroundings via specially designed 3D and 4D NMR experiments, yielding molecular structures of the most abundant molecules in SOM. This methodology enabled for the first time the unambiguous identification of phenolic structures of SOM. 

Immediately after obtaining my PhD in 2016, I was awarded a prestigious NERC Soil Security Research Fellowship to start my independent research career. My research continues to use the power of NMR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry to try to understand the key role of SOM molecules in peat metamorphosis. This research will hopefully help in preserving this important carbon store and habitat in a healthy and fully functioning state. 

I have always believed that our passion for science should not be kept inside our laboratories. During my PhD studies I was appointed as the first Scottish coordinator of the RSC Spectroscopy in a Suitcase Programme. This programme allows high school pupils to learn about spectroscopy in their classroom using state-of-the-art miniature spectrometers. I developed a training course for teachers enabling them to borrow the kit. I trained hundreds of teachers allowing over a 1000 high school students access to the spectrometers, reaching the most remote parts of the country. For this achievement I was the first PhD student to receive the Principal's Medal for Contribution to the Community in 2015 from the University of Edinburgh. Encouraged by this success, I developed NMR for Scottish High Schools scheme which uses a benchtop NMR spectrometer to help boost education in NMR.  Allowing access to modern (and cool) analytical chemistry techniques will hopefully inspire the next generation of chemists.

In my spare time, away from the spectrometers, I enjoy hill walking in the Scottish mountains, strolling in the city and watching a number of sports from tennis to international rugby. 

Related Links

Link icon Dr Bell's Webpage
The University of Edinburgh

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