Andrew Fensham-Smith

Had a fantastic time interacting with everybody! Thanks for the votes and congratulations Jessica!

Favourite Thing: Mixing reactions, waiting to see if it changes colour. Changing colour is a surprisingly powerful technique for checking to see if a change is happening to your chemicals, and it doesn’t need any equipment at all!



Sharnbrook Upper School (2001-2008) University of Bristol (2008-Present).


Physics, Chemistry, Maths, Electronics A Levels, Chemistry MSci (Masters in Science)

Work History:

I’ve worked at Unilever and several supervisors at university of a variety of projects

Current Job:

Doing my PhD in Bristol


University of Bristol!

Me and my work

Trying to get gold to do things it shouldn’t, reacting with things it normally won’t!

Gold reacts with hardly anything – you use it in Jewellery because it won’t react with oxygen in the air or water. Contrast this to iron (the main metal in steel) – put it in water or leave it in air for long enough and it rusts and turns orange. This is the iron reacting with the oxygen in the air. Gold doesn’t do this! My project revolves around trying to force gold to react with things it normally doesn’t – the oxygen in air, chemicals it normally wouldn’t – in the hopes that in forcing it to do these things we will end up with more interesting and useful chemicals. My research can be applied to help make other chemicals – things like drugs, agricultural chemicals (fertilizers or hormones) or industrial building blocks that are used to make other chemicals.

My Typical Day

Mixing chemicals, taking the mixtures to big machines which give me information on if anything has happened.

Day to day, I mix various gold chemicals with other reagents and test to see if anything has happened using complicated techniques which tell me how symmetrical the compound is, and what sort of environment each atom in it ‘feels’. I also supervise undergraduate students and advise them on what experiments they should do.

What I'd do with the money

I’d spend it on a high quality camera, and on glassware to show how different molecules diffuse.

Doing science in schools can be hard – you’re limited by the chemistry you can safely do and the types of experiments you can show. If I won the £500, I would buy a high quality camera and have our resident glassblower make some glassware. The idea is that students can dissolve, precipitate or react chemicals in solutions, changing the colour and seeing the change, or using ultra-violet light to see luminous chemicals, I could take high quality pictures of their experiments to give them to take home and show their parents.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Creative, opinionated chemist

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Currently Alt-J, historically Eddie Vedder/Pearl Jam

What's your favourite food?

Anything spicy

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Played in a rock band in school – nothing beats it.

What did you want to be after you left school?

No idea! Something difficult.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Nothing serious – chatted back at teachers sometimes.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Electronics, I like learning systems and working within them.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I went to Germany to attend a celebratory conference for a journal – it was great!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Nobody in particular – I like to learn difficult things, then feel like I have an intrinsic understanding.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Probably an engineer or programmer.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) Live forever 2) No supervisor 3) Infinite money

Tell us a joke.

What’s green, has four legs, and could kill you if it fell from a tree? A pool table.

Other stuff

Work photos:

My photos are of things in the lab! The first is of a chemical called Chromium hexacarbonyl, and has lovely crystals on the side of the jar 0 myimage1

This is Finley getting a little scratch behind his ear! He’s a pet rat I have and he’s very affectionate. myimage2

This last image is of a chemical called norbornene, which smells awful! It’s a little bit volatile so crystallises in these cool shapes on the side of the jar we keep it in. myimage3