Student profile
The Rik Medlik building

Tommy Chamberlain

"I’ve had many other proud moments from teaching. It’s a wonderful feeling when you help someone understand a concept that they have struggled with, or help someone adjust to studying at university."


Engineering Materials PhD

"As an undergraduate studying Mechanical Engineering I spent my placement year as a scanning electron microscopist at the MicroStructural Studies Unit (MSSU) at the University of Surrey, where I thoroughly enjoyed working in a research environment. I’ve always had an interest in materials science and engineering, and the microscopy aspect of my placement steered me towards the field of nanomaterials. I did a summer research placement in functional nanomaterials in 2015, and decided I wanted to learn more about them. An opportunity came up in the field of thermoelectric devices, so I seized it!

I decided to come to Surrey for my PhD because I loved the environment I worked in for my placement year, and the PhD was conveniently in the same offices and labs I had worked in previously. I knew everyone in the research group, and the whole place felt like one big family. The project I’m doing was also specific to the nanomaterials element of thermoelectrics, and was more appealing to similar projects that were offered at other universities.

Studying for a PhD has been different to my undergraduate degree, but it’s also been very rewarding. The jump from bachelors to PhD has been huge, and it’s definitely a challenge. Over the course of the year, I’ve realised that I should be more confident as a researcher – I recently understood that the transition just takes time, and I’ve come across many challenges that have boosted my confidence even more. I’ve also been assisting tutorials for the undergraduate engineers and doing lab demonstrations for them, which has been incredibly fulfilling.

My supervisor has been great – we bounce ideas off each other, and after so long he’s helped me develop a way of thinking independently and scientifically. I’ve come up with my own experiments for the project out of curiosity that have actually been very beneficial for my project, which my supervisor really encourages me to do.

My PhD is one of the first to be run through the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies (MiNMaT), which facilitates a programme for Engineering Doctorate (EngD) students who gain experience in industry while studying for their doctorate. I was fortunate enough to be part of their programme, which includes training in non-scientific areas such as project management and communication skills.

My project is in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), so I have access to their resources. One of the main aspects of my work involves environmental ageing metrology, of which the facilities are provided by NPL.

I use the MicroStructural Studies Unit (MSSU) often for materials characterisation, and the labs within the Functional NanoMaterials group (FNM) for the manufacture of my thermoelectric devices. I’ve made use of the campus library for some background research, which has been very useful.

During my time at Surrey, I’ve enjoyed meeting people from all over the world who also study here. 

About halfway through the year, I synthesised bismuth telluride powders, of which the particle sizes were around 200 nm in diameter. I never thought that I would achieve making something so sophisticated, all by myself! The next proud moment will be when I successfully print a thermoelectric device using that material, which should not be long from now.

I’ve had many other proud moments from teaching. It’s a wonderful feeling when you help someone understand a concept that they have struggled with, or help someone adjust to studying at university. Once I realised that I was helping others with my knowledge, it was very gratifying.

I’m part of the Photography Society at the University, which has definitely helped me thrive here. I’ve even given lectures on film photography to the group, which was a wonderful experience. Only over the past two/three years of studying here have I actually explored the Surrey area, which is beautiful – great for photos! The Guildford area has some really nice spaces to visit, which are awesome for going outdoors and taking in nature. I bought myself a National Trust membership, so I can visit all of the surrounding gardens. Winkworth Aboretum is really colourful in the Autumn, and the butterfly exhibit at RHS Wisley in Spring is fascinating."

Explore our Mechanical Engineering Sciences programmes, including our PhD Mechanical Engineering Sciences.