Wirral Grammar School for Boys & University of Birmingham
Master of Engineering (MEng)
Aldi, University of Birmingham & for a safety consultancy
University of Birmingham
I love hands on work in a lab! I am originally from near Liverpool but now work at the University of Birmingham.
I live with my housemate Joel in the south part of Birmingham. We have a hamster called Ciara and a cat called Noggs who isn’t really ours, but just likes to visit! I wanted to be an engineer (specifically a chemical engineer) because I want to help fight the climate crisis by developing ways of living more sustainably. I cycle nearly every day, enjoy running, and love listening to and playing music when I get home in the evenings.
I recycle carbon fibre reinforced plastic - the stuff which makes up planes, wind turbines, high performance cars and top-end sports equipment!
After finishing off my degree in Chemical Engineering, I went on to study for a PhD looking at new ways we can recycle carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRPs). This is a very strong, very light material but, as with all plastics, can be very difficult to recycle. It is made of long carbon fibres which are held together with a very had plastic. At the moment, the only way it can be recycled is through burning the plastic and reusing the carbon fibres. Carbon fibre is very valuable so this is good, but it does mean we waste up to 50% of the CFRP and produce a lot of carbon dioxide. My work has instead looked at ways we can dissolve the plastic instead of burning it. This means we can recover clean carbon fibres and a mixture of hydrocarbons which can hopefully be used to make a new plastic, rather than relying on oil.
As this research project is now coming to an end, I’ve also recently started working on developing new types of materials for use in solar panels. These are called organic photovoltaics (OPVs) and should be easier and cheaper to manufacture than the silicon based solar panels which are most commonly used at the moment.
My Typical Day
Lots of lab work, lunch with friends, back to the lab and some data analysis.
I normally get to the University by about 8:00, shower after cycling in and then head straight to the lab! The work I do here is incredibly varied and can involve preparing samples, running reactions or analysing products. I normally have a break for lunch at around 12:30, then head back to the lab to continue what I started in the morning. On some afternoons, I’m able to collect my data and start some analysis. This means I can plot graphs and identify trends to help me plan my next set of experiments.
Once I’ve got a large amount of data, I can start writing a research article. Some examples of these are available at the link below. I also have to talk about my work to others in my research group and at conferences, so some of the time I put together powerpoint presentations and posters.
Research articles & posters available here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Matthew_Keith5
What I'd do with the money
Develop some exciting experiments for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds at the University.
I would use the £500 prize to set up a day of exciting experiments for students aged 11-16 to see what chemical engineering is all about. I would like to help those people from more disadvantaged backgrounds who may not otherwise get the chance to see a University or learn about the courses on offer. The £500 would be used to help subsidise travel to the University, provide lunch and buy some equipment needed to run the experiments.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Determined, passionate & friendly
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Travelled to Xi'an, China to present my research at an international conference
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
The growing need to tackle the climate crisis.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Surprisingly for an engineer, English literature!
What did you want to be after you left school?
A scientist, and now I work in a lab!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not very often - although I did have my mobile confiscated a few times!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
A park ranger
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Royal Blood and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are both favourites
What's your favourite food?
I love Chinese food!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I've trekked to the summit of Kilimanjaro - the highest mountain in Africa!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
That I could be a better piano player, a better cook and to always enjoy my job - that last one has come true so far!
Tell us a joke.
The optimist says: “The glass is half full.” The pessimist says: “The glass is half empty.” The engineer says: “The glass is twice as big as it needs to be.”