I currently work as a Senior Research Engineer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT in Galway, Ireland. I manage a collaboration with a major medical device company to research, design, and test a novel medical device to solve a cardiovascular medical problem. This involves experimental design and testing of novel materials, data analysis and troubleshooting, planning and organising, working to tight deadlines and meeting targets, while working in close collaboration with our industry sponsors.
In 2016 I was awarded a 2 year Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in the field of Biomedical Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Laoise McNamara in NUI, Galway. I examined human femoral head bones of diabetic and osteoporotic patients, making novel discoveries as to the reasons for bone fragility in these diseases.
I spent a year working on a Horizon 2020 project with Dr. Ted Vaughan examining novel materials for next generation bio-absorbable materials for stenting applications.
I initiated and received funding for several other research projects, including examining the material properties of nacre (abalone shell), coral and bone fixation devices.
I worked for a year as a postdoctoral research fellow in UCD under the supervision of Dr. Neal Murphy and Dr. Alojz Ivankovic. I examined super-hard materials PCD (Polycrystalline Diamond) and PCBN (Polycrystalline Cubic Boron Nitride) used in the deep sea drilling and heavy manufacturing industries. I worked on a variety of techniques to increase the toughness of these compact cutting tools. Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) techniques were employed to design a reliable, repeatable, predetermined grain structure which is then sintered into the final super-hard compact product. This project was funded by Enterprise Ireland and involved working closely with Element 6 (an industry partner in the UK). In this role I also provided supervision and support for a PhD student working on the same project.
I completed my PhD in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in Trinity College Dublin in 2015. My PhD research focussed on analysing the long term mechanical properties of insect cuticle, namely fatigue, self-repair, and recovery from injury. I also examined evolutionary adaptations seen across the insect kingdom, and how the material grows and matures over the life of the insect. Insect cuticle is all around us. It is the world's second most abundant natural material. Despite this fact, very little research has been done into this interesting material's mechanical properties.
I worked in collaboration with Prof. David Taylor (head of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, TCD), Dr. Jan-Henning Dirks (Dept. of New Materials and Biosystems, Max Planck Institute), and Dr. Clodagh Dooley (CMA, TCD), among others.
Every part of every insect is made from cuticle. It is a fibre-matrix composite consisting of chitin fibres arranged in a viscoelastic matrix. Layers of this material are laid down by the insect on a daily basis. These layers and fibres are clearly visible in the background picture, which was taken using an SEM.
Man-made fibre-matrix composites are increasingly used in all walks of life, but are relatively new compared to those such as cuticle which we find in nature. We can draw inspiration from the evolution of such materials over the millennia to design new bio-inspired engineering materials.