Dr Jennifer Rudd is a Research Associate within the Energy Safety Research Institute, College of Engineering at Swansea University.
Today, 8 March 2018, is International Women’s Day. All over the world people are taking action to #PressforProgress – the theme of this year’s campaign. International Women’s Day is a “call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.”
To celebrate the day we used the Request a Scientist resource from 500 Women Scientists to find Dr Jennifer Rudd, a Research Associate at Swansea University. 500 Women Scientists is an organisation that works to build and support communities of minority scientists, including women, people with disabilities and LGBTQIA.
Jennifer, pictured right cleaning a fume hood in full personal protective equipment, was more than happy to speak to us about her work. She praises the 500 Women Scientists initiative, commenting that while she was lucky enough to have a number of exceptional female teachers throughout her education, not all do. “I never thought that being female would hold me back because I had such brilliant role models,” says Jennifer. “I would like to now be a role model to the next generation of female scientists and help them to realise that they can do it too.”
“I applied to study Chemistry at the University of York and, honestly, I’ve never looked back”
Jennifer’s research aims to solve two problems: the rise of global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the diminishing level of fuels. “What if we could fix both problems at once by converting the CO2 in the atmosphere into fuels?” asks Jennifer. And that’s exactly what she’s trying to do.
It’s a lot to ask, but Jennifer is passionate about making a difference to these worldwide issues. “Global emissions of CO2 are increasing rapidly,” says Jennifer, “as they predominantly come from the burning of fossil fuels which we use to drive cars, heat our homes and to generate electricity.” Her research involves passing an electric current through a piece of copper in the presence of CO2 which then converts the CO2 into methane, ethane and other products that can be used as fuels.
What excites you most about the work you are currently doing? And where do you see this research being used in the future?
I love working on real world problems and so I was very excited to be part of this extremely important project. In the future I would like to see this technology being used anywhere there is a concentrated source of CO2, for example, attached to steel manufacturing exhausts, or in conjunction with carbon capture initiatives.
What was it that got you interested in a career in science, where did it start?
My Dad is an engineer and my Mum is a mathematician so I think it’s always been part of me. Originally I thought that I was going to be the family odd-one-out and study music as a degree. But my music teacher said to me: “If you study science you will be able to keep music as part of your life, if you study music you won’t be able to keep the science.”
Physics was too hard for me and I wasn’t interested in Biology so I applied to study Chemistry at the University of York and, honestly, I’ve never looked back. Since then I’ve carried out research in Germany, Switzerland, the USA and now I’m in Wales. It truly is an international subject.
Tell us about the people involved in your research – are you collaborating with anyone?
Our research is headed by my boss, Dr Enrico Andreoli, at the Energy Safety Research Institute at Swansea University. He has an ever-expanding group of research fellows, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students who all work together to try to figure out how to capture carbon dioxide and turn it into something useful. Dr Andreoli’s group consists of people from all over the world with a range of expertise and it’s a really exciting and collaborative place to work.
Finally, what recent science news do you think has been the biggest breakthrough in the last year or so and why?
I think the work of BBC’s Blue Planet 2, highlighting the massive issue of plastic in the world, has been the biggest breakthrough in the last year. The general public have realised that they have the power to effect change for the better, particularly in environmental terms.
Personally it has made me make even more of an effort to decrease the amount of plastic I use on a day-to-day basis. I’ve started making my own bread, signed up to SPLOSH which sells refillable cleaning products, and I’ve looked for plastic alternatives. My son now has a toothbrush made of bamboo and he’s excited to use his “panda toothbrush” on a daily basis! Small steps can effect great change.
I’d like to encourage everyone to think about ways that you emit carbon dioxide. We can all contribute to decreasing our global CO2 emissions, we just need to take one little step at a time… could you ride your bike or walk somewhere instead of taking the car? Could you read a book instead of watching TV? Could you plant some vegetables or flowers in your garden?
Jennifer will be speaking at Pint of Science in Swansea in May and also at the Oriel Science Cafe in Swansea on 30th May. You can also visit the team’s website aimed at explaining their work to the general public. Follow Jennifer on Twitter to keep up to date with her research.