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Postdoc Spotlight: Dr Claire West, Nanoscientist

In a new series of spotlights, we highlight the exciting work of our research community.

Our postdocs come from around the world, from different backgrounds and with different career trajectories, and their research spans many subjects, including multidisciplinary areas, with most having a direct influence on policy and practice as well as real-world application. They work alongside our senior members and our students, and particularly in support of our PhD community, to further research and make a difference to the areas they specialise in, often addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Hughes Hall’s vibrant postdoc community presents many opportunities to engage, collaborate and socialise, as well as to link up with the research going on in our leading Bridge research centres, and to support our students in a range of upskilling and career development activity. And, as a researcher, there are chances to showcase your work and to take advantage of initiatives, awards and events across the College, including a Postdoctoral Support Programme which, offers travel grants and provides funds for dinners, seminars and networking.

Meet Dr Claire West, Governing Body Fellow and Nanoscientist

“I grew up in a town outside of Los Angeles, and went to undergraduate college to study physics a few hours north at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At first, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my career. I had vague ideas of general direction I wanted to head in, but it wasn’t until my third-year undergrad quantum mechanics course where I was overcome with inspiration.”

“It was not only the riveting content of the course, but also the passion brought by the Teaching Assistant. This ignited my fascination towards nanoscience and pedagogy. I cultivated this inspiration by doing research in different laboratories, and sought out opportunities to specialize, and to find support and funding to move on in my academic career.”

Claire at work in the optical nanomaterials lab, heating nanoparticles with a laser and measuring the resulting temperature increase.

Claire earned her PhD in Chemistry at the University of Washington in December 2021 with a dissertation titled “Theoretical Models and Numerical Approaches to Nanoscale Microscopies and Spectroscopies of Plasmonic Systems.” In 2022, she was awarded a Royal Society – Newton International Fellowship at the University of Cambridge. Claire’s current research interests include combining theory, computation, and experiment to investigate alternative plasmonic and nanophotonic materials which are cost-effective and sustainable.

“I am currently excited about measuring and modelling the heat produced by metallic nanoparticles when illuminated with light. During my PhD, I built computational and analytic models to understand and harness this phenomena on gold nanoparticles. At Cambridge, I’m now measuring these effects on magnesium nanoparticles. I am looking into how I can use these nanoparticles as nanoheaters in biomedical applications.”

“In the future, I hope to use my knowledge about nanoscale light-matter interactions towards an environmental remediation or clean energy production goals. I hope to lead a team in solving real-world problems by elucidating the underlying physical, chemical, and biological mechanisms.”

And Claire is always on the lookout for new collaborators interested in applying nano- or micro-localised heat sources to their samples / devices.

The vibrant community and range of events on offer at Hughes has proved a highlight: “What I like best about Hughes Hall is the inspiration I feel as a result of the events at college. There is such a lot going on – I always leave feeling inspired and confident, full of ideas and with a few more friends across the College community. I fully intend to make the most of my time at Hughes by linking up with researchers across the College to further my work; and also to give back to this amazing community by helping to inspire new generations of physicists!”

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Tell your story

We would love to hear from more of our Postdoc community – to tell us about your journey to Hughes Hall, your research and aspirations, please email comms@hughes.cam.ac.uk.