Helena Quilter

Well done Cat! Thank you everyone for your questions and votes. This was a lot of fun!

Favourite Thing: Making something that no one in the world has ever made before – it’s a pretty cool feeling!



Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, University of Bath 2013 – now, University of Sheffield 2007-11, Hall Cross School 2000-07, Hatchell Wood Primary School 1993-2000


MRes, MChem

Work History:

I’ve worked in a pub, at a hazardous waste transfer station and at a school as a science technician.

Current Job:

Postgraduate Student – trying to get a PhD!


University of Bath

Me and my work

I’m trying to turn waste orange peel and pine trees into plastic bottles!

Lots of plastics that we use at the minute are made from crude oil, which is really bad for the environment. Crude oil is a thick black liquid we get out of the ground which took hundreds of millions of years to form. Using crude oil is though to be a big cause of climate change as when we use it we produce carbon dioxide (CO2) which causes global warming. I work in a lab at a university trying to find other things we could use to make new plastics instead which don’t harm the planet or cause climate change. At the minute I’m using waste orange peel which means all my work smells amazing!

My Typical Day

I spend a lot of time in the lab making new molecules and trying to turn them into completely new plastics!

The great thing about my job is that every day is a bit different!

Usually I get to work, grab a coffee and check through my emails. Then I spend a bit of time reading about what other scientists who are working on similar things to me have been up to lately – sometimes this gives me great new ideas!



After that I usually head to the lab and put on some experiments, check my student is getting on OK and maybe having the odd meeting with my boss or labmates. When I do experiments I mix chemicals together in a liquid and maybe heat them up too to make a reaction happen. I usually go for lunch with my friends at work – I’m really lucky that some of my best friends work in the same place as me!

In the afternoon I tend to run lots of tests to try and find out what chemicals I’ve made – usually not what I expected! Then I have to work out why that’s happened before tidying up (I hate that bit!) and heading home.

It’s always a bit different – I might be making different molecules or trying to make them into plastics. Sometimes I get to go and listen to people talk about their research, which is always very inspiring. On my favourite days I might get to go to the teaching labs and help the younger students get better in the lab. I love what I do!

What I'd do with the money

I’d like to use it to develop some science workshops about climate change to take into schools.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Creative, chatty, colourful

Who is your favourite singer or band?

At the minute probably George Ezra but it changes a lot

What's your favourite food?

I’m from Yorkshire so has to be Yorkshire pudding and gravy!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Scuba diving in Thailand – saw lots of cool fish :)

What did you want to be after you left school?

A musician – I play the flute and I wanted to be a famous flute player in orchestras. Then I realised how much I liked science!

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Sometimes but I was usually very quiet. I did get kept behind class a few times for talking…

What was your favourite subject at school?

Music – we used to have a lot of fun making new music and practicing for school musicals.

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

I went to Green Man music festival to run a science stall and talk about my work, that was really fun!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My chemistry teacher at school, Mrs Catterall – she was great

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

A flute teacher. I really like teaching and I still play the flute. I think being a music teacher would be really fun.

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

To have more time to do everything, to travel the world, to own a dog.

Tell us a joke.

How do you organise a party in space? You planet!

Other stuff

Work photos:


This is me in my lab. I think need to clean my lab coat – it’s very dirty!


This is my lab! Well really this is just one corner of it, it’s really big! I work in that space on the left which keeps me safe! It has fans in the ceiling so I don’t breathe in any nasty chemicals.


Sometimes I have to do experiments in a glove box because they’re quite dangerous if I do them in air. I feel like Homer Simpson!


This is me filling up my flask with liquid nitrogen, which is really really really cold.


This is the very first piece of plastic I ever made – about a year and a half ago!



I’m really lucky and sometimes I get to go out of the lab and go to science festivals to talk about my work. This is me and my work friends at a music festival where we were running a stall called the Renewable Revolution, which was all about trying to have less effect on our planet.