- Working toward a PhD in Nanotechnology in the Smart Surface Structures group at Flinders University, Australia
- First Class Honors Degree in Bachelor of Science in Nanotechnology at Flinders University, Australia
"Currently my PhD is focused on increasing the efficiency of solar cells by incorporating carbon nanotubes, which are highly conductive tubes of graphite, into existing dye-sensitized solar cell design. This involves the use of wet-chemical processing, electrochemical analysis, quantum efficiency testing and also imaging of the samples I make using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM)."
Advice to Students:
"Don't worry if you change your mind once you get into university. I've seen several students who come to university expecting one thing but then find another. This can discourage them and dishearten them, even make them drop out altogether. If you're interested in a field stick at it, but if you find it's not for you consider what it is you really want to be doing."
Interview:Q: When did you first find that you were interested in studying nanotechnology?
Bissett: When I was in high school we had someone from Flinders University come to our school and give a talk to us about this new degree they were starting called Nanotechnology. Having previously been a big fan of science-fiction I had some idea of how big nano was going to be or at least I thought I did. I looked into what progress had been made and what some of the next biggest breakthroughs might be and was really excited. From then on I've known exactly what it was I wanted to study.
Q: What is your college experience like in terms of the amount of time you find you need to study each day?
Bissett: Throughout each passing year I find I spend more time at university. Throughout my undergraduate years I spent 2-3 days a week in first year up to 5 days a week in 3rd year. Once I was in honors and now my PhD I consider it a full time job spending 9-5, 5 days a week, sometimes even a weekend too! That is usually because I enjoy my time so much, in postgraduate study you tend to have the freedom to study what interests you and the amount of work you put in reflects not only in your grades but also your notoriety in the scientific community in general.
Bissett: During my time at university I have partaken in several opportunities to take internships etc. where possible. At the end of second year I spent 8 weeks at the Ian Wark Research Institute for Nanomaterials where I did a project involving Plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition on macroporous structures to be used for bioengineering tissue. This was my first exposure to a research environment outside of university and really inspired me to continue with research. I also did a project at Flinders University before starting my honors year that helped me get a head start into what honors would be like.
Q: How did you prepare for your college experience?
Bissett: I can't say I did any specific preparation for university, other than try hard in high school to make sure my grades were going to be high enough to get in.
Q: Did/do you have a mentor that has helped guide you thus far? (If so, describe the impact of this person on your education and career plans)
Bissett: There are one or two of my lecturers from first year that I still have close contact with in my research group and have taught me for several subjects each year. This constant contact and friendship allowed us to feel comfortable approaching them with problems, questions or concerns. This, I believe, helped alleviate a lot of the stress when transitioning from year to year and also from undergraduate to postgraduate study.
Q: How did you decide to focus on nanotechnology? Also, at what point in your college experience did you decide on the specialty?
Bissett: Flinders University was the first university in the world to offer a specific Nanotechnology degree and so from the very start I was specializing in the field. The course structure was broken into three streams, Quantum Nanostructures, Molecular Nanomaterials and Bio-nanotechnology. The stream that I chose to specialize in was Molecular Nanomaterials. This was because my strengths were more chemistry with a little physics and felt that the applications I was most interested in fell into that field.
Q: How many schools offering nanotechnology programs did you apply to? How many accepted you?
Bissett: I only applied to Flinders as it was the only university offering a specialized nanotech degree and I was accepted.
Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?
Bissett: Currently my PhD is focused on increasing the efficiency of solar cells by incorporating carbon nanotubes, which are highly conductive tubes of graphite, into existing dye-sensitized solar cell design. This involves the use of wet-chemical processing, electrochemical analysis, quantum efficiency testing and also imaging of the samples I make using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM).
Q: Is it hard to balance your Nanotechnology studies with other college activities (entertainment, travel, having fun)?
Bissett: Definitely not, as the nanotechnology course through undergraduate is fairly small, about 30 students in my year we were all very close friends. We also made close friendships with people from other courses that overlapped our areas of interest. This tight knit group made social activities as well as studying much more enjoyable for everyone.
Q: Do you find yourself studying more in a team situation or alone? Do you have a preference?
Bissett: There is a mixture, throughout my undergraduate and into my postgraduate study I would say there was an even mix of individual work and also group based work. Personally I like it to be mix, where I can work on a project alone but then run any ideas and results I have past others in the same field of expertise.
Q: What's the hardest thing you have found about your college experience working toward a degree in Nanotechnology?
Bissett: Explaining to people what I do. Even now when someone asks me what do you do at university and I reply with nanotechnology I am met with blank stares while they desperately work out what I just said. Talking to science-orientated people makes it much easier to explain what your doing and seek help.
Q: What's the most rewarding aspect about working toward a degree in Nanotechnology?
Bissett: There's several really, the most rewarding is knowing that I'm working in a cutting edge scientific field and that a lot of the research that we do is world first stuff. The travel for conferences is also very exciting several of my colleagues and I have been to international conferences and also national ones to present work that we did during our honors year. It was great to go and see scientists from all over the world present cutting edge science.
Q: Do you think you'll continue studying Nanotechnology, or do you think you'll switch to another area? Why?
Bissett: I definitely intend to continue with studying Nanotechnology. After my PhD is finished I hope to do some post-doctoral work overseas and see what other countries have to offer. One of the best things about nanotechnology is it is such a broad field, you can have an interest in almost anything and be able to apply nanotechnology to improve or modify it in some way.
Q: Do you have any idea what sort of industry or work you'd like to do when you graduate?
Bissett: Currently I intend to stick with renewable energy, but that is sure to change or be modified slightly in the future. Again the great thing about nanotechnology is the broad range of topics that it encompasses.
Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?
Bissett: I would have to say the discovery of carbon nanotubes, since there discovery an enormous amount of research has gone into realizing there real potential. Applications such as electronics, the first carbon nanotube field emitter televisions are now on the market, but also their unique strength properties makes them of interest for incorporation into textiles and materials processing. I think that in the next decade more and more products will incorporate carbon nanotubes in one form or another.
Q: Please give an example of what you envision nanotechnology applications leading to in the future.
Bissett: The virtually limitless scale of nanotechnology will mean that almost all facets of life will somehow be affected by it. To briefly mention only the tip of the iceberg applications such as quantum computers will soon make existing computing technology obsolete, medicine will be greatly advanced by incorporation of biosensors and targeted disease fighting materials, and the creation of 'smart' surfaces that allow metals to remember their shape and remain super strong will all become realities.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on studying nanotechnology? Why?
Bissett: Definitely, with the rate of advancement of technology these days being in a field that works at the very cutting edge is very exciting. The more time I spend studying nanotechnology the more applications I see it having and it is also really exciting seeing the general public get excited about it as well.
Bissett: I would say have an existing interest in science. Throughout my life I have always been really interested in chemistry, physics and the universe in general. This, I believe, translates into a curiosity about how things work and how can we improve them. My advice is to find an area of science or technology that interests you and stick at it, keep asking questions and make sure you enjoy yourself!
Q: What other advice do you have for high school students?
Bissett: Don't worry if you change your mind once you get into university. I've seen several students who come to university expecting one thing but then find another. This can discourage them and dishearten them, even make them drop out altogether. If you're interested in a field stick at it, but if you find it's not for you consider what it is you really want to be doing.