Fiona Coomer

Favourite Thing: Making a new chemical compound for the first time and discovering that it behaves in really unusual way.



Tapton School, Sheffield (1992-1998), Cambridge University (1998-2002), University of Edinburgh (2002-2006)


MSci & MA(Cantab) in Natural Sciences (Chemistry), Cambridge University & PhD (Materials Chemistry), University of Edinburgh

Work History:

School of Chemistry, University of Birmingham (2007-2010), MTEM (Geophysicist), Edinburgh (2007), Procter & Gamble (Tampax), Germany (2001), University of Sheffield (High Temperature Science Lab) (2000)

Current Job:

Research Fellow, Department of Pure & Applied Chemistry, University of Strathclyde


University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

Me and my work

Making magnets with some really unusual properties.

I design and make new chemical compounds that we predict will have interesting magnetic properties. We then study the magnetic properties using a variety of techniques, from SQUID magnetometry (applying a magnetic field to a sample and looking at how much it is magnetised) to looking at how unusual particles (such as neutrons or muons) interact with the sample. We often cool our samples to just a couple of degrees above absolute zero in order to perform these measurements. We then try to understand how the atoms are arranged in our compounds affects its magnetic properties, in order for us to design more unusual magnetic materials in the future. At the moment I am also measuring how organic chemistry molecules are arranged in photovoltaic devices by scattering X-rays from them.

My Typical Day

There’s no such thing! Usually a bit of time making new samples in the lab and some time analysing magnetic and structural data at my computer.

I do such a variety of things. These range from being in the lab for a few hours preparing new samples, measuring properties of the samples, giving us information about how the atoms are arranged or how the materials behave in a magnetic field (often at incredibly low temperatures) or sitting at my computer, analysing data collected during large scale experiments. These experiments have often involved looking at how exotic particles (such as neutrons or muons), or X-rays interact with a material. On a typical day I may also spend time helping other people find out about how the atoms are arranged in their materials using X-rays.

What I'd do with the money

Buy equipment and chemicals for outreach work with kids

I’ve done a lot of outreach work with school groups and other groups, such as science clubs and Brownie groups. The problem is, there never seems to be enough money to buy equipment and chemicals to make the workshops really fun, and let everyone discover scientific concepts in a hands on way. With the money I’d like to change that.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Enthusiastic, friendly, dedicated.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I’m quite into John Grant at the moment.

What's your favourite food?

Cheese, Chocolate & Chorizo (not all together!)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Sleeping under the stars in Monument Valley, USA, after a traditional Navajo meal.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A physicist (until I saw the light later on and chose Chemistry).

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not that I remember – though maybe my memory’s too selective!

What was your favourite subject at school?


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

It’s a pretty great feeling when you know the first person to see an exciting result.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always enjoyed finding out why things happen.

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

Working in a ski resort

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

Tell us a joke.

Other stuff

Work photos: