Photo of Dr Sharon Strawbridge

Dr Sharon Strawbridge

Senior Lecturer (Education and Scholarship)

Email:

Telephone: 01392 725189

Extension: (Streatham) 5189

Biography:

I have an innate curiosity, I have always wanted to understand how and why things work from the sub-atomic level through to the universe. I began my formal academic career as a mature student with a true passion for science and a real need to understand the world around me more deeply. My background was far from traditional, with five small children at home and having just given up milking cows, I began a Degree in Biological and Medicinal Chemistry at Exeter. I obtained a First and was awarded the White Knight Prize for my final year project, I  absolutely knew, I  wanted to continue in scientific research.

Following my Degree, I undertook a PhD in the field of electrochemical sensors, working on a novel techniques to detect catecholamine neurotransmiters and other biologically relevant molecules. I really enjoyed the challenge of research and the freedom a PhD gave me to chase my ideas. However, it was not all plain sailing, my sixth child was born while I was a PhD student and the following year, I was forced to take a career break as a result of serious ill health. I realise how fortunate I was to have the support and encouragement the Department and University to come back to finish off my experiments and write up. This personal experience has made me realise the critical importance of having in place support mechanisms for students and staff at all stages of their academic careers "life happens". 

After being awarded my PhD,  I moved from Chemistry into Physics, having been awarded a  Daphne Jackson Research Fellowship, working first with the Biophysics Group, where I worked on the detection of short lived radicals and oxidative stress, then later, with the Graphene Centre, where I worked on the electrical properties and doping of graphene, see my current research interests below.

My teaching career started with lab demonstrating and providing some UG tutoring as a postgraduate student. Following my PhD, I taught third year electrochemistry, I really enjoyed teaching and rapidly picked up more teaching with the Medical Imaging programme. Since then, I have been a module lead for (and developed) a wide range of modules for Medical Imaging and Natural Sciences, and developed student's experimental skills in the physics labs and through undergraduate research project work. Over the years, I have supervised numerous undergraduate research projects for Physics (MPhys), Medical Imaging and Natural Sciences.  I have strong links to current research across a number of disciplines and with external partners such as the Met Office, Natural England etc... I draw on this deeply in my teaching. I have never lost my sense of "wonder" and I want to share this at all levels.

I am also keenly aware of the problems some students can face both academic and personal and have undertaken a lot of work developing strategies to support mathematics skills, peer learning, mentoring the specialist postgraduate tutors, who support our Natural Sciences students in Physics and Maths and working with students as a personal tutor/mentor.

My role:

My main role focuses on students, teaching and education,  ensuring the best possible environment and educational experience is available to all our students, enabling them to reach their full potential and promoting their active engagement with their subject/s and student life. I work with students across all years of their UG degree programmes, through research based project work, laboratory teaching,  lecturing and personal tutoring/mentoring.  I have a real love of teaching, explaining, discussing ideas and concepts at all levels. My very wide academic background has given me a deep understanding of the links between the disciplines, enabling me to teach, and hopefully inspire, students to think about problems and topics in a cross disciplinary way.

Through my role as a PGR pastoral tutor for a number of postgraduate research students in Physics, I have kept strong links with the research taking place in Physics. 

Throughout my career I have been very involved in widening participation, outreach and public engagement .  My personal experience has shown there are many barriers that can limit life choices and aspirations, I have wanted to do all I can to encourage and find strategies to enable widening participation and diversity in HE.

I want to share my love of science with a wider community, I have given a number of invited public lectures for the Institute of Physics, Cafe Scientific and delivered a Guild "Research Uncovered" Lecture. I have worked with both schools and local colleges to raise the aspirations of young people and especially to inspire girls to to think about studying science at A level and university. I was also one of the first University Catayst Public Engagement Champions and ran a joint project, which bought  primary school students and their families into Physics for a series of workshops and events exploring light, it was so inspiring to see bright young minds discovering how the world around them works! I am always looking for opportunities to continue this type of work and very happy to be contacted by anyone interested in setting up projects.

I have had a number of education focused grants from the HEA, HESTEM and HEFCE over the past few years, these have supported a number of valuable student projects, particularly in maths education and recently, a joint application with Physics funded an undergraduate scanning electron microscope suite for Natural Sciences and Physics students.

 

Contributions to the Academic Community:

Taking an active role in our academic community has always been important to me. I am currently a member of the University Senate, the Taught Programme Faculty board and the University Health and Safety Committee (representing Senate and in my role as UCU Health and Safety Rep).  I have been involved for many years at Discipline, College and University level with the Athena Swan initiative and IoP Project Juno to promote diversity within STEM subjects and more widely across the university,  to be sucessful we need to include all talent. I also regularly take part in the LTHE programme participating in panels etc., in order to develop the next generation of teachers/lecturers.

 

My Modules:

Natural Sciences

NSC3003 Group Projects

BIO3073 Specialist Topics in Chemistry- Bioinorganic Chemistry

Physics

PHY2016 Practical Physics II

Mathematics

Science for Mathematicians (in active development, scheduled to run 2019/20)

 

Membership of professional bodies/professional recognition/Community:

Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Member of the Institute of Physics

Member of EPSRC Peer Review College

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Daphne Jackson Fellow (2009-2011)

Teaching Awards 2011, (2012, 2013 and  2014 Finalist)

University Catalyst Public Engagement Champion

Aurora Alumnus

Senate member

UCU Health and Safety Rep

University Health and Safety Committee

Taught Programes Faculty Board

Radiation Protection Officer (Physics)

My Research:

I retain a very active interest across many fields of research, particularly in the areas of  Graphene and related 2D materials

My main areas of interest are both related by a very interesting property that both single layer graphene and strong topological insulators have in common, the exsistence of a gapless linear electronic energy dispersion (Dirac cone/s). This leads to, at the intersection of the valence and conduction bands, the presence of massless electrons (fermions), which can propagate in the relativistic regime (300/c) described by the Dirac equation. In purely 2D graphene this property has been intensively investigated theoretically and experimentally, as have the other exceptional properties of this atomically thin material, culminating in the award of the 2010 Nobel prize to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov (Manchester) for their pioneeering work on graphene.

Work on graphene started in Exeter very shortly after the seminal papers came out from Manchester. The Centre for Graphene Science has allowed Exeter and Bath universities colaborate on graphene research and represents one of the largest groups in the UK working on graphene science.

I am interested both in the fundamental properties of graphene and the application of these properties in real devices.

Topological states of matter are becoming a very "hot" topic in theoretical physics with a large number of papers having been published in the last 2-3 years, with experimental work just starting to be undertaken. this is a new area that is moving rapidly. My interests in topological insulators (TIs) has developed directly from my interests in graphene.

In graphene the Dirac fermions propagate over the 2D surface of the crystal, however, in the case of 3D topological insulators, the bulk of the crystal is insulating and the massless fermions are only present on the very surface of the crystal. TIs such as bismuth teluride can be cleaved mechanically in a similar way to graphite to produce ultra-thin sheets, in the case of these very thin layer (psuedo 2D) TIs, the massless fermions propagate at the edges of the sample. The Dirac fermions in strong topological insulators such as bismuth teluride possess a curious property resulting from strong spin orbit coupling (SOC) known as the quantum spin Hall effect (QSHE) analogous to the quantum Hall effect (QHE), where the electron spins are separated at the edge/surface of the crystal without the presence of an external magnetic field due to the time reversal symmetry of the system (i.e topology). This effect could potentially be exploited to produce pure spin polarised currents. The development and control of pure spin polarised currents will be of huge technological importance leading to spin based electronic applications.

I am interested in developing practical devices exploiting the remarkable properties of Dirac systems and understanding the behaviour of these systems. The specific areas of activity and interest are listed below:

Graphene

  • Molecular doping of graphene (see publications)
  • Graphene based sensors
  • Graphene chemistry
  • Raman spectroscopy
  • Development of carbon based electronics

Topological insulators

  • Theoretical background of new Dirac systems
  • Bi2Te3(Se3) methodologies for synthesis and device fabrication
  • Magneto-optical properties
  • Topological insulator based spintronic devices
  • Thermoelectric properties
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