Meet Megan O'Brien, a PhD student at Tyndall who is one of the many women who ‘gown up’ daily to work in our state-of-the-art cleanroom facilities. A cleanroom is a controlled environment where pollutants like dust, airborne microbes and aerosol particles are filtered out in order to provide the cleanest area possible. This level of cleanliness is important as the nanomaterials Megan and her team work with are so small that even a speck of dust could destroy them. Megan shares an insight into her research, the important influence of her secondary school Physics teacher and her advice for young women considering a career in science.
What is your current role and research area?
I’m a PhD student in IPIC, the SFI Centre for Photonics, where I’m currently working on developing an integrated circuit on the Gallium Nitride (GaN) platform using micro-transfer printing. My work has applications in many areas, but the main one I’m focused on is telecommunications where I’m hoping to address the global problem of increasing internet traffic outpacing current technology capabilities.
What path led you here?
I completed my Physics undergraduate degree at UCC in 2018. During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to do an internship at Tyndall. I really enjoyed it as I got to see what I was learning in college being applied in real life and it encouraged me to pursue a career in Photonics.
Did you have a role model who influenced your study/career choice?
I was lucky to have a very good Physics teacher, Ms. Breda Mulcahy, when I was in secondary school. She explained concepts really well and always encouraged us to be curious. I enjoyed her Physics classes so much that it influenced me to study it at university. If I didn’t have a good Physics teacher in school, I definitely wouldn’t be here today!
What does working in a cleanroom involve? What’s unique, positive or negative?
The equipment in Tyndall’s state-of-the-art cleanroom is highly sensitive so it’s important to be able to use the fabrication tools correctly. This requires patience and skill because if something goes wrong during the fabrication, it can affect how your device performs when you’re testing it. However, it can be rewarding too as when a device works the way it’s supposed to, it’s your own device that works. Also, the people who work in the cleanroom are always super helpful and really nice to work with in general, which is a great environment to be part of.
What could be done to support women in STEM and #BreakTheBias (International Women's Day theme for 2022)?
To encourage girls to pursue a career in STEM, I would definitely recommend increasing the number of visits from women researchers to all-girls schools in particular. For women that are already in STEM careers, engaging with committees such as Empowering Women @Tyndall is important. Making unconscious bias training mandatory for all, and increasing the number of research grants available for women could also help.
What advice would you give to young women considering a career in science?
Work hard and don’t let anyone think you’re less capable just because you’re a woman! Surround yourself with people who support you.