Lizzie investigates new battery materials for lithium-ion batteries. This type of battery can be found in smart phones, laptops, and electric vehicles.

Lizzie uses chemistry to research the best electrode materials for lithium- and sodium-ion batteries to improve their performance. 

Watch Lizzie’s Lithium shuffle video where she explains how lithium-ion batteries work

How did you first become interested in chemistry? 

I probably first became interested in chemistry during secondary school. I really enjoyed the lessons and I felt like it naturally clicked. Also, it probably helped having a big sister studying chemistry at university at the time. Now, I work with my big sister – Dr Laura Driscoll.

Who has inspired you? 

There are probably three teachers I can name who definitely inspired me at secondary school: Dr Zain (chemistry) and Mr Yapp (physics), but also Miss Hopkins (biology). All three teachers were fantastic and just made science so enjoyable and fun.

A close-up photograph of a mobile phone and a lithium ion battery

Source: © Shutterstock

A smartphone with a lithium ion battery

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry? 

I think this is a great question. I initially wanted to study physics at university – I loved the material section and quantum aspects. Results day got a bit messy and I transferred to chemistry at the University of Birmingham (I’m still very grateful for Dr Adrian Wright and Dr Anna Peacock for that). This is when I realised that all the bits and bobs I enjoyed in A-level physics are actually chemistry, which leads me onto my advice for those considering a career in chemistry:

  • You can be involved in the Energy and Materials sector within chemistry.
  • Don’t give up. Some things don’t go as planned, but that’s OK. As they say – another door opens when one closes.
  • If you’ve got a passion for chemistry, don’t let anyone say you’re not good enough or that you won’t succeed – you can and will.

Minimum qualification for role: To study a PhD, most institutions require a master’s degree but some will ask for a bachelor’s degree (Prospects).

Salary: The national minimum salary for a PhD chemistry student is £15,609. More details on the EPSRC PhD funding webpage.

Can you tell us about a scientific development on the horizon that you are excited about? 

We can see more battery-powered cars on the road – the electrification of vehicles is taking place! I am excited to see what advances we will make in the next ten years in heading towards net zero carbon emissions with new technologies that are coming to fruition. I’m interested to see how the infrastructure will be adapted. I am looking forward to switching from petrochemical energy sources to electrical energy sources.

Why is chemistry important? 

Chemistry is everywhere around us – there is literally no way of avoiding it. If we consider our working days, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear and to the technology we use – chemistry has played a key role in all aspects of life. With chemistry being so important in our everyday lives, it’s important that we don’t take this area for granted and make the most out of the resources we have.

What is your favourite element? 

Bismuth! Although it has beautiful crystals, the real reason I picked this element is due to how much I worked with it during my master’s project.

I was looking into the synthesis of lead-free solar perovskites. Perovskites are a class of crystalline materials and in the past ten years have shown to be effective as a solar cell material and have high energy efficiencies!

This was good but frustrating because I was always producing a cesium-bismuth iodide which was a beautiful red, but not the structure or product I was aiming for. In my research cupboard at Birmingham University, I still have all these samples and the red is just as vibrant four years on.

Want to find out more?

Lizzie Driscoll RSci AMRSC, PhD student at the University of Birmingham. 

First published September 2021