Although I was always interested in science at school back in Liverpool, my first aim in life was to be a primary school teacher. I applied to do this after my first degree in Oxford, but I found that I really enjoyed the research project I carried out in my final year as an undergraduate, so I stayed to do my DPhil at Oxford.Professor Sharon Ashbrook
As I found I continued to enjoy research, I chose to take a postdoctoral research position, and then was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship, which I held initially in Cambridge before coming to St Andrews in I was promoted to Reader in 2009 and Professor in 2013.
I lead a research group which is interested in understanding the atomic-level structure of solid materials. We use NMR spectroscopy (the study of the interaction between matter and radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation) to do this. We study the structure and atoms of molecules in different types of materials, including the minerals found many hundreds of kilometres below our feet and ceramic materials that store radioactive waste. The aim of this research is to gain a better understanding of how the position of the atoms in these materials affects their properties. Ultimately, this will help in the design of new materials in the future and improve their performance.
Our work has many areas of application; from helping geologists understand the inside of our planet, to helping petrochemical companies understand the catalysts they use to improve chemical reactions, or how porous materials can be used to capture and store potentially harmful greenhouse gases.
Sharon is holding a zeolite – a porous solid with industrial applications for gas storage, catalysis and drug delivery.