March 28, 2023

Women in science: “It is about curiosity and discovery” – focus on University of Limerick researcher Dr Sarah Guerin

University of Limerick lecturer, researcher and ERC Starting Grant Fellow Dr Sarah Guerin’s love of science is rooted in “the curiosity and the discovery”.

The Lecturer in Sustainable Energy Harvesting at UL’s Department of Physics and Bernal Institute is deeply passionate about “the excitement of science”.

The researcher – who last year was awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant – said: “I think there’s a curiosity and a desire to learn around being a researcher and experiencing – even if it is for 30 seconds – being the first person on the planet to figure out how something works.

“I like the idea of making real change in the world, being able to control and engineer things at this really small scale, and being able to see things go from something that you build sitting at a computer at your desk, to making it into a functional device, hasn’t stopped being meaningful for me yet.

“It is about the curiosity and the discovery, and the excitement of science.”

Dr Guerin’s ERC project is ‘Pb-Free’ – Piezoelectric Biomolecules for lead-free, Reliable, Eco-Friendly Electronics.

The project is investigating if electronics can become lead-free, reliable, and eco-friendly.

The scientist, who is also a researcher at SSPC, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Pharmaceuticals based at UL, explained: “Piezoelectric sensors sound exciting, and indeed they are! Used to interconvert electrical and mechanical energy, they are essential to many common devices that we rely on – pacemakers, microwave ovens, sonar equipment, diesel fuel injectors in cars.

“Piezo sensors are often used to measure a change in pressure, acceleration, or strain by converting them into electrical charge. However, they also have a huge environmental cost. Their production involves using toxic lead oxide, and the main alternatives to lead involve using expensive, non-renewable materials – also quite undesirable.

“In recent years, biological materials such as amino acids and peptides have been recognised as exciting new piezoelectrics. Gathering them into biomolecular-crystal assemblies could offer a revolutionary way to create these essential sensors.”

Through the grant, Dr Guerin will lead a world-leading research group in Ireland and take on the groundbreaking task of developing biomolecular crystals as a new type of piezoelectric sensor.

“Such organic, low-cost, high-performance sensors would out-perform and ultimately lead to the phasing-out of inorganic device components – with dramatically reduced environmental impact,” she explained.

Dr Guerin also outlined how a career in research is one of the most rewarding things you can imagine.

“Me being kind of a young and ambitious researcher, I think ties in with UL being a young and ambitious university. It is exciting to be working in a University that is currently growing and getting bigger, and that has its own sustainable vision for how it is going to be in five to ten years.

“I think mentorship is about creating an environment where people want to come in and do the science every day and people want to come and make these discoveries, and I think as somebody who has been in UL for ten years now, I can see the mentors who really shaped me and who were role models, as well as mentors for me, when I am now starting my own group and my own career as a principal investigator.

“Combining research and teaching in UL, I think really sent me down this path, where I get to walk out of the research lab and into the classroom, and then teach students about the science that I am doing and try to spark in them the same joy that we get when we do science a hundred metres down the road, in the lab. It is one of the most rewarding careers you can have,” Dr Guerin added.


Watch Dr Sarah Guerin talk about her research here:


In the picture: Dr Sarah Guerin, University of Limerick lecturer, researcher, and ERC Starting Grant Fellow.

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