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Friday, 6 March 2015

Fiona Porter

Fiona Porter

Fiona Porter

Ever since her Nuffield Placement at GlaxoSmithKline, Fiona knew she wanted a career in chemistry. Currently in the final year of her MChem in Oxford, she aims to continue on for her PhD.
With parents both in scientific careers, science was openly discussed at Fiona’s home which became a natural part of everyday life. Never needing a chemistry set, Fiona often played with her dad’s old lab equipment; micropipettes, balances and microscopes.
We weren’t doing anything ground-breaking but putting things under the microscope and pipetting water was great fun!
Fiona PorterShe always loved science lessons at school especially her own investigations but it wasn’t until her Nuffield Bursary five week scientific placement at GlaxoSmithKline in Stevenage that she was seriously drawn to it. Under the guidance of her supervisor, Fiona investigated into the use of ketonic solvents with the Suzuki-Miyaura reaction.
“I had to consider all of the parameters that could affect the performance of the reaction and then analyse the data. The experience of working in an industrial laboratory really inspired me to go on and study chemistry.”

Analytical thinking, trial and error as well as thinking outside the box

Fiona is now in the final year of her MChem at Oxford University where she enjoys applying fundamental laws to real world problems.  Since being at university, she has discovered the breadth of chemistry and some of challenges it brings. Mastering extremely different topics in detail from organic mechanisms to quantum mechanics demands Fiona’s commitment and hard of work.
The reward for this work is an immense feeling of satisfaction when you finally understand a topic you’ve been struggling over.
For her final year project, Fiona works with Professor Harry Anderson FRS who specialises in molecular engineering. Enjoying both working in the lab and the atmosphere in her group, she is synthesising a template for the template synthesis of catenane. In the future, she aims to continue on for her PhD and afterwards, move into the business side of a scientific company.
I’m interested in business and how I might combine my scientific background to develop and commercialise novel scientific ideas and projects.

Nuffield Placement to STEM Ambassador

Fiona PorterFinding out about the Nuffield foundation through older girls at her school presenting their work in the science society, Fiona decided to apply. Through the placement, she hoped she would decide what she wanted to study at university by getting laboratory experience.
For her work on the Suzuki-Miyaura reaction, she was awarded a Gold CREST Award and secured a place in The Big Bang Fair Final UK young scientist and engineer competition in 2011. After presenting her project numerous times to judges, Fiona won a place on the London International Youth Science Forum, LIYSF. Through this, she spent two weeks with international science students from over 60 countries going to lectures and industrial trips.
LIYSF made a huge impression on me and I am still in touch with many of the friends I made at the conference.
Fiona’s experience at The Big Bang Fair has sparked her interest and further opportunities in school science workshops. In 2014 she helped run ‘Rainforest Uncovered’ by ScienceBox, a workshop which was attended by forty school children. Fiona is passionate about science education having experienced the student’s enthusiasm; she is continuing her work by becoming a STEM ambassador. 


The Nuffield Foundation placement generated so many opportunities for Fiona and she advises others considering studying science at university to apply.
Degree level science and working in a research lab is very different to your scientific experience at school. The placement will either inspire you or stop you from making a wrong choice.
“When I tell people that I do chemistry at university, I often get the reply, ‘but isn’t that hard?’ I agree that chemistry is challenging and the idea of it being impossibly difficult is daunting. We need to build confidence in studying scientific subjects and it needs to start at an early age in schools.”
Having spoken to so many school aged children whilst volunteering, she sees many that are interested in science but have little opportunities at school. With the few science clubs around reliant on the dedication of a few committed teachers, she believes the key is to increase children’s exposure to school.

Fiona Porter, from Hertfordshire, spent 5 weeks in Summer 2010 working at GlaxoSmithKline in Stevenage.  She recently exhibited her work at the Big Bang Fair in London and was awarded the London International Youth Science Forum Prize for her project.  Speaking to us, Fiona looked back on some of the highlights of her experience...
How does it feel to have won the London International Youth Science Forum prize at the Big Bang Fair?
I was thrilled to win a GOLD Crest Award but then to go on to be invited to the Big Bang and be awarded with this prize was totally unexpected. I am absolutely delighted and greatly look forward to attending this prestigious event in the summer. I would never have thought that my Nuffield placement would have taken me this far and I am indebted to the Nuffield Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline for this wonderful opportunity.
Fiona Porter at the Big Bang Fair
How did you get involved in the Nuffield Research Placements Programme and why did you want to take part in the programme?
I was introduced to the programme at my school and spoke to past students who had benefited enormously from their own placements. I wanted to experience scientific work in industry and the Nuffield Research Placements Programme offered an exciting 5 week project in a state of the art chemistry laboratory at GlaxoSmithKline.
What were the aims of your project, and how did you go about achieving these?
The aim of the project was to further develop the Suzuki-Miyaura reaction using ketonic solvents. Prof. Suzuki jointly won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2010 for his work on this complex reaction which involves the coupling of an aryl halide and an aryl boron species using a palladium catalyst. The reaction allows efficient formation of large complex molecules required for many industries including drug development in pharmaceutical companies. I firstly identified optimum reaction conditions in ketonic solvents. I then showed that these conditions could successfully couple a wide range of starting reagents. This proved that ketonic solvents could be effectively used in these reactions which is beneficial to companies as they offer significant processing advantages over the solvents currently used in the manufacturing processes.
What did you learn most from your placement experience?
The level of chemistry I was working on was far beyond anything I had learnt at school but with support from my supervisor I was soon able to grasp the key concepts. The experience taught me how to conduct a chemistry research investigation in which I carried out over 50 reactions. Consequently, I learnt how to use complex reaction equipment and analyse data from HPLC, mass spectrometry and NMR. This work was far more complex than I had anticipated but it was extremely enjoyable and exciting to carry out.
How have you shared your placement experience with others at school?
I presented my work at Science Society to a collection of girls from Year 10 and upwards and our science teachers who showed great interest in the work and the Nuffield Research Placements Scheme.
What are your longer term plans and how did your placement experience affect these plans?
Provided I get my grades, I will be off to Oxford University to study chemistry. My Nuffield placement confirmed my subject choice and gave me lots of confidence at my university interviews.
What was it like exhibiting at the Big Bang?
I was extremely excited to be involved in the Big Bang as well as a little nervous about the judging. However, after my first few interviews I soon relaxed and greatly enjoyed presenting my work to all the extremely nice judges. It was great talking to all the other exhibitors, both fellow competitors and the industrial scientists and engineers. It was a fantastic three days and I’ve identified many companies I would like to work for in the future!

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