Dr Natalia Martsinovich, Research Assistant
"My research is on the border between chemistry and physics," says Dr Natalia Martsinovich, a Research Associate in physical chemistry at King's College London, and an Associate member of the IOP.
Although both her first degree and PhD are in chemistry, she is currently working alongside experimental physicists attempting to create molecular templates to accommodate magnetic molecules that might one day provide new methods of data storage or even form the qubits for a quantum computer.
"I design molecular structures that I think are possible or that correspond to ones created experimentally, then put them into a specialised computer program that calculates the energy and optimum geometry of each structure. A few hours later when I've got the data out of the calculation, I look at the bonding and the difference in energies between them and see which one is most stable," she explains. "If the calculations say the one that actually exists in the experiments is not the most stable, then we have to think about why that is. This is theoretical chemistry, and it can also be called computational physics."
It was perhaps inevitable that Natalia would end up becoming a scientist. "I can certainly say that I come from a scientific family because my Uncle is a physicist and my parents are chemists. I guess they acted as pretty good role models for me," she says. "As a child I visited my parents several times in their [University research] labs and they showed me colourful reactions, and let me mix things in a tube." The young Natalia was also interested in biology and astronomy so turned her attention to studying science at high school in her native Belarus, originally with the aim of becoming a teacher.
"I eventually decided I wouldn't be able to do that because I haven't got a voice loud enough!" she laughs, before explaining that instead she opted for an MSci chemistry degree, which takes five years in Belarus. She came to the UK "in a search for adventure" taking a PhD at the University of Sussex from 2000-2004 looking at the structure and evolution of hydrogen defects in silicon and diamond. She had heard about the position through her uncle, who was a physics postdoc in the UK and knew her future PhD supervisor. Through the last year of her doctorate she also worked as a temporary lecturer in physical chemistry at Sussex, before moving to her current position in the physics department at King's, which in addition to research involves tutoring first year undergraduates.
Her links with physics had first formed during her PhD. "While I was at Sussex we had a collaboration with the physics department in Exeter, and I had a poster at the IOP Condensed Matter and Materials Physics Conference in Brighton. I was also a student helper at that conference, and joined the IOP mainly to get the member discount on another conference," she says. Natalia still attends a number of IOP conferences and workshops, and regularly scans the jobs advertised on the IOP website as she is now looking for another research position. "My aim is to lead my own research group," she says.