Alexandria knew about the RSC before she joined but didn’t realise the prestige and breadth of the organisation.
Alex obtained her BSc in Chemical Physics from Heriot-Watt University in 2020. She began her journey in chemical dynamics following a summer project in Professor Matt Costen’s group, working on the crossed molecular beam velocity map ion imaging (CMB-VMI) experiment.
Her final year research project in the Townsend group under the guidance of Doctor Dave Townsend and Professor Martin Paterson, focused on a mixture of computational and experimental studies on the non-adiabatic molecular dynamics of phosphines, and looking at their excited states in the gas-phase.
Alexandria explained her initial experience with chemistry: “I’m sure this is a familiar story, but I had many positive experiences with chemistry when I was younger. One was an exhibit a while back at the Oxford science festival about irregular structures of crystals for the international year of crystallography with tiles that eventually revealed a Penrose pattern (after I stubbornly put it together post many attempts). I remember quite vividly my conversation about the history behind the structures (and the symmetry in both nature and crystals) with Professor Brian Sutton, and an additional visit down to another exhibit on crystallography at KCL. I couldn’t believe it had such an effect on our daily lives and how ingrained in nature and the biological clockwork of life symmetry really was.”
It was during her time at secondary school that she was introduced to the Royal Society of Chemistry through ChemNet and that experience led to her becoming a member in her first year at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and joining the local section. Since those early days her involvement has become far wider and diverse from attending conferences, organising outreach events, busking on chemistry, receiving bursaries, speaking in a webinar about networking to becoming the youngest member, at 19, to be appointed to the RSC’s Nomination Committee which is responsible for regulating candidates for certain roles in the society, awards and honours required to succeed in academia today.
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“It was through my local section that I saw the committee was looking for people to join but I didn’t realise then how prestigious this committee was. I thought this sounds interesting and they were looking for student representation so I think my age and lack of experience must have led to me getting the place. It has made me respect a lot of what goes on behind the scenes. And especially when awarding honorary fellows it illustrates how prestigious the RSC is. I see the details of Nobel prize winners in front of me and I find myself saying I can’t do that; these people are far brighter than me. Doing critical evaluation and having the confidence to defend my decisions and have people value your opinion and actually listen to me has all been a benefit to me."
The other members of the committee have made a big effort to listen to me and I don’t think you always get that from very high level people. Overall it has been a very good experience and has put into perspective how competitive the awards are and given me a better insight into what is required
Chemistry is at the heart of Alexandria’s world and she has now started a PhD at UCL in the Fielding Group. Her PhD will be looking at bioluminescent molecules and controlling their behaviour (experimentally and theoretically) for applications in biological imaging. This involves disturbing the system (usually with a probe of laser light or a jolt of electricity and system is an unsuspecting molecule floating in the vacuum of the chamber) to an excited (lots of energy) state and watching to see what happens next on its journey to lose all of its energy.
Losing energy is not for Alexandria and she is firmly of the opinion that she will remain a lively member of the RSC – ‘they will have to kick me out before I leave’ was her final comment.