Sarah Tesh

Wow I won!!!! Thank you for voting for me and for an awesome couple of weeks! It's been really fun!

Favourite Thing: Playing with pieces of technology that do really cool things you’d think were only possible in films.



Interface Analysis Centre, University of Bristol (2011-present), School of Physics, University of Bristol (2007-2011), Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls (2000-2007)


MSci Degree in Physics, A-levels in Physics, Maths, Further Maths and Chemistry, 11 GCSES

Work History:

Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland (the other research complex as well as CERN), helping in undergraduate classes and seminars, At-Bristol as a volunteer and WHSmiths as a weekend job whilst I was at school.

Current Job:

PhD Student


University of Bristol

Me and my work

I am making a new material out of particles so small they basically have superpowers and then using that material to remove everything dangerous in water and save the world (well…at least save a lot of lives, if not the world).

My work involves making a new type of material that can be used to clean water and remove some very dangerous chemicals and bugs from it. To make the material, I am using nano-particles – these are very very very small particles that can’t be seen individually unless in a special microscope. Because they are so small they have special properties that make them very reactive, so they are perfect for reacting with, and therefore removing, any harmful chemicals or bugs in water. The hope is that my new material will not only be  used in filters that go in your taps at home, but will also help clean up water in places around the world where it presently causes many illnesses and deaths.

This kind of work is called Material Science, which is a mixture of Physics, Chemistry and Engineering. It  involves a lot of practical work in laboratories, experiments with chemicals and work on machines that look like they’ve escaped from the film The Avengers.


My Typical Day

There is no such thing as a typical day – the only common aspect is tea and chocolate. Lots of tea and chocolate.

The contents of my days vary massively. One day I could be at my computer reading about other people’s research, writing about mine or designing new experiments. The next day I could be in the lab experimenting with various chemicals and materials or spending a day on a machine that allows you to image tiny tiny tiny things and cut holes in them.  I could be going for meetings or conferences in various parts of the country, sometimes the world, with academia or industry. And then on top of all that I have social ‘bonding’ days with my the rest of my research group – we’ve been hiking, had BBQs, been out for dinners and recently we even went for a photo-shoot (a hilarious, but slightly cringe-worthy, event).

There is massive variation from day to day and most the time you get to choose that variation, making your week much more interesting.

What I'd do with the money

I would use the money to help children go to Kokwech Primary School in Uganda by giving them a clean water supply.

Kokwech Primary School in Uganda (Africa) does not have safe water available to drink and clean with.

Children are forced to take time off school each day to walk miles to fetch water, which isn’t even safe to drink. It is full of bacteria and sewage, putting the children in great danger of catching diseases that can kill them. They can’t clean themselves either which causes the spread of disease and many children who miss time from school have no choice but to drop out because they can’t catch up.

My work and the water filter I develop will help many people in these awful situations but it is still in it’s early research stages and has to go through a lot of testing. So, in the meantime, I would like to donate the money from I’m a Scientist to the school to help  raise the £9000 it would take to install a borehole (pipes to fresh water deep underground), finally giving the children and the community the basic clean water we take for granted everyday. The safe water will mean less diseases and deaths and will allow the children to concentrate on their education. It will give them the opportunity not just to learn how to read and write but to learn about science and the world around them. Such an education gives them the chance to the improve the lives of themselves, their families and their community and opens up a wonderful new future for them.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Imaginative, dreamer, geek.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Tend to get obsessed with certain songs rather than artists. At the moment it’s What I Might Do by Ben Pearce (it’s in the Tesco clothes advert where they dance)

What's your favourite food?

Chocolate. Always and forever chocolate.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Flown a plane

What did you want to be after you left school?

When I was at primary school I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver much to the shock of the boys

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No, not really. I was a quiet and shy little girl.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Maths (and Art)

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I lived for 3 months in Switzerland doing work experience at a neutron beam-line (basically a beam of particles that come from inside bigger particles), looking inside antique Buddha statues. It was really interesting to use science to look at something completely unrelated and I got to be in charge of equipment worth millions of pounds. At the weekends I also went travelling around the country with friends from around the world and do great activities like rafting and hiking in the Alps.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My Dad – he’s an Engineer and loves anything to do with cars and planes. Also Lego Technic – I once built a Formula 1 car and a remote control rally car.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

An architect. Or an artist. Or a photographer. Something creative.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To own and pilot a helicopter, to write a book and to have more space and money for clothes

Tell us a joke.

Q: Why do Daleks like apples? A: Because an apple a day keeps the Doctor away!

Other stuff

Work photos:

This first picture shows the inside of one of my favourite machines. It allows you to image extremely small objects, cut them up and find out what they are made of. It’s called the Dual Beam (although I’m trying to get the name Debbie to catch on – every machine needs a proper name) because you can use two types of particles to look at your samples. myimage1

Here is an image, made using Debbie, of a very small section of the material I’ve developed. What you can you can see is the nano-particles (the spheres) and tiny crystals (the cubes) on carbon. Together these have a very large surface area which helps remove the chemicals from water. myimage2

This image is actually a 3D picture of the foam (the carbon) I’m using to hold the nano-particles in one place. This was created by using X-rays. myimage3

I have had to present my work to people who do similar or related things. One of these events was held in California, USA and I presented a poster outlining my work. It was quite a scary experience as it was early on in my research but I felt so proud of myself for doing it, met some more great people and saw a couple of film stars too! myimage4

In between all the research I do I’ve also been able to find out about other peoples’ work. Including Professor Higgs! In the physics world this is a big thing and you may have heard about him in the news. He just won a Nobel Prize for predicting the presence of the Higgs Boson, which was then found at CERN. This particle allows for everything in the Universe to have a mass so is very important for our existence.  myimage5

In contrast to the science, my research group and I do a lot of random, not necessarily science related, things. Including finding out if two of us can sit in a cardboard box that contained a new (very fancy) computer. myimage6