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Dr Charlotte Whalley

PhD in Physical Chemistry

What was your area of research?
My thesis topic was magnesium chemistry in the upper atmosphere of Earth and Mars; it’s basically chemical physics with gas kinetics, lasers and gas, lower pressure and high pressure gas and studying the reactions and applying them to atmospheric models and making models of what goes on with magnesium in the upper atmosphere.

Did you enjoy your PhD?
In parts I enjoyed it and it has all been worth it now I am graduating. At some points it’s stressful and at some points it’s enjoyable but in the end it has all been worth it.

Why did you decide to do a PhD?
I finished my undergraduate degree and I took a year out and worked at a boring job and I thought that I had really enjoyed my MChem project in Hull and I had a friend who was doing a PhD in Hull and he encourages me to look and so I started looking on the web and I found an advert for the PhD position at Leeds and it really interested me.

So what made you choose Leeds?
I knew that the chemistry department was good and that there was a lot of research which went on at Leeds and that the research was high-class. But it was the research project title which really drew me in.

What is that makes you passionate about this particular area of research?
Some people call that area of the atmosphere the ignore-osphere because they claim that it’s not important but when you look at what some people study in the lower atmosphere you wonder why a tiny reaction is more important than the whole magnesium behaviour in the upper atmosphere. What interests me is the whole picture; what happens to magnesium up there and that you can make model to explain the observations which have been made by satellites. So you can measure the kinetics which then get put into atmospheric models and then the models can model the behaviour that comes from these reactants.

What were the challenges?
Other metals have been studied because there are other metals in the upper atmosphere as well and so it was expected that magnesium would behave in a certain way and then when it didn’t then that was really challenging. So it was a case of re-checking the equipment to make sure that it wasn’t the equipment which was at fault but was just the magnesium behaving differently. So basically it was the lab work which was the challenge; things broke and needed fixing. 

What is next for you then?
I had a short post-doc and I am now applying for science jobs.