Gaining a Sens of Industry


By LifETIME CDT Student: Hannah Williamson (She/Her) (University of Birmingham)

As I scanned out of the building for the last time, I realised the last 4 months I’d spent on placement with Integrated Graphene had flown by in a summer tinted blur. At the start of May, I moved to Scotland to work for the engineering start-up focussed on providing sustainable solutions with their material of the future… an advanced 3D graphene-scaffold called Gii. IG are on a mission to change the world by integrating Gii into everything from diagnostic platforms and energy storage devices to things that are beyond our human consciousness to enable devices of the future.

  • Sustainable mindset?
  • Positive impact through innovation?
  • Disruptive player?

Tick, tick, tick!

Being passionate about research, I wanted to get stuck in with the research and development side of the business. The Gii-Sens team are primarily focussed on developing Gii-based biosensors and work to build different sensors, characterise these sensors electrochemically and use them to detect molecules. As a PhD student working in advanced materials for biosensing, the team was a perfect fit and I was quickly put to work on a number of internal projects.

My role was to use chemicals as building blocks to research different sensor builds, expanding the available toolkit. In essence, I was helping to establish a build-a-bear service for electrochemical sensor development. At the end, you will always have a bear but your decisions change the bear’s characteristics. Similarly, the choice of chemicals we use may affect the sensor’s characteristics or performance, with some more suited to different applications. As such, the Gii-Sens team collaboratively compile this knowledge base, which they use to provide support to customers in achieving their desired biosensing end application. I was able to directly contribute by generating data supporting the use of certain chemicals and the avoidance of others.

Since the work of the Gii-Sens team directly informs product development, there was more focus on use-led research, with a little sprinkling of curiosity-led research, requiring a shift in my research mindset. Adapting was a little challenging at first, however knowing that my research was enabling actual real-world use was a great driver. If a PhD is a marathon, my placement projects were sprints, and I enjoyed working to shorter project timelines in a more fast-pace research environment.

IG Gii Sens electrode and adaptor

IG Gii Sens electrode and adaptor

But it was not all work and no play! In fact, the importance of work-life-balance and employee wellbeing at IG became apparent during mental health awareness week. “Dishes to tell a story”, in which we each brought in a dish that had meaning to us to share with our colleagues, celebrated the cultural diversity within IG, making a lot of bellies happy on a Friday afternoon… feeling good, feeling great! An afternoon of rounders games in the sun to raise money for charity on the gorgeous University of Stirling campus flexed our athletic aptitudes. And sustainability day involved a day of team activities focussed on the use of Gii in different real-world scenarios and an enlightening talk from a representative of Zero-waste Scotland.

Photo of the 'dishes to tell a story' event, staff all stand happily around a table full of 20+ different colourful dishes.

Dishes to tell a story event.

My placement with Integrated Graphene has been a fundamental part of my PhD and my professional development. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone in the Gii-Sens team as well as the wider IG family who made me feel welcome and supported me throughout my placement. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met so many great people and for the learnings I gained which I continue to apply to my own research.