Fiona Porter

Fiona Porter, from Hertfordshire, spent 5 weeks in Summer 2010 working at GlaxoSmithKline in Stevenage.  She recently exhibited her work at the Big Bang Fair in London and was awarded the London International Youth Science Forum Prize for her project.  Speaking to us, Fiona looked back on some of the highlights of her experience...

How does it feel to have won the London International Youth Science Forum prize at the Big Bang Fair?
I was thrilled to win a GOLD Crest Award but then to go on to be invited to the Big Bang and be awarded with this prize was totally unexpected. I am absolutely delighted and greatly look forward to attending this prestigious event in the summer. I would never have thought that my Nuffield placement would have taken me this far and I am indebted to the Nuffield Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline for this wonderful opportunity.

Fiona Porter at the Big Bang Fair

How did you get involved in the Nuffield Research Placements Programme and why did you want to take part in the programme?
I was introduced to the programme at my school and spoke to past students who had benefited enormously from their own placements. I wanted to experience scientific work in industry and the Nuffield Research Placements Programme offered an exciting 5 week project in a state of the art chemistry laboratory at GlaxoSmithKline.

What were the aims of your project, and how did you go about achieving these?
The aim of the project was to further develop the Suzuki-Miyaura reaction using ketonic solvents. Prof. Suzuki jointly won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2010 for his work on this complex reaction which involves the coupling of an aryl halide and an aryl boron species using a palladium catalyst. The reaction allows efficient formation of large complex molecules required for many industries including drug development in pharmaceutical companies. I firstly identified optimum reaction conditions in ketonic solvents. I then showed that these conditions could successfully couple a wide range of starting reagents. This proved that ketonic solvents could be effectively used in these reactions which is beneficial to companies as they offer significant processing advantages over the solvents currently used in the manufacturing processes.

What did you learn most from your placement experience?
The level of chemistry I was working on was far beyond anything I had learnt at school but with support from my supervisor I was soon able to grasp the key concepts. The experience taught me how to conduct a chemistry research investigation in which I carried out over 50 reactions. Consequently, I learnt how to use complex reaction equipment and analyse data from HPLC, mass spectrometry and NMR. This work was far more complex than I had anticipated but it was extremely enjoyable and exciting to carry out.

How have you shared your placement experience with others at school?
I presented my work at Science Society to a collection of girls from Year 10 and upwards and our science teachers who showed great interest in the work and the Nuffield Research Placements Scheme.

What are your longer term plans and how did your placement experience affect these plans?
Provided I get my grades, I will be off to Oxford University to study chemistry. My Nuffield placement confirmed my subject choice and gave me lots of confidence at my university interviews.

What was it like exhibiting at the Big Bang?
I was extremely excited to be involved in the Big Bang as well as a little nervous about the judging. However, after my first few interviews I soon relaxed and greatly enjoyed presenting my work to all the extremely nice judges. It was great talking to all the other exhibitors, both fellow competitors and the industrial scientists and engineers. It was a fantastic three days and I’ve identified many companies I would like to work for in the future!