Most scientists look for that ‘eureka moment’: the culmination of weeks and months of long hours, hard work and reams of research to reach a satisfying conclusion to a question of the utmost importance.
Holly Edwards, Materials Laboratory Technical Lead at The Lab, Brookes Bell’s state-of-the-art forensic laboratory centre, said those moments are the most exciting part of her role and a key reason for her passion for science.
“Investigations and research that can often take months and months are always a challenge for any scientist so being able to put the pieces together and finally figure out the answer is so satisfying. That ‘eureka moment’ is absolutely the best part of my job.”
Holly joined Brookes Bell in 2022 following her tenure at the University of Liverpool where she specialised in solar panel materials research, gaining a Masters and a PhD to become an industry specialist in renewable technology research. During her studies, she worked with the Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy and the Daresbury Laboratory in the north of England to further develop her insights into a sector that is becoming increasingly important as decarbonisation strategies across the globe take hold.
“The world is looking to become greener and in order to do that the technology and infrastructure involved needs to become more efficient. That was the crux of my background. Finding out how we can make solar panels more efficient in the long run to support that green transition.”
Holly is one of several recent appointments that Brookes Bell has made as it looks take on the best and the brightest across a number of sectors, particularly renewable energy, as the company looks to diversify its offerings to customers around the world. This includes a drive to provide services for both onshore and offshore wind turbines, which, according to Holly, are increasingly in need of maintenance as more and more pop up in high-wind areas.
“Wind turbines are theoretically low maintenance but they are still breaking down more frequently than people expect. Particular those in the ocean as they are more susceptible to corrosion from the sea water.”
As Materials Laboratory Technical Lead at the Lab, Holly primarily works closely with clients on witness inspections for all manner of maritime and offshore related incidents that Brookes Bell gets called upon. She also noted that the transition from academia to practical and commercial science came with one particular benefit for her field.
“At university we were using technology that was 30 years old. Since joining Brookes Bell I’ve had the chance to work with state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, microscopes and technology to better understand our work and reach more accurate conclusions. As a scientist at heart, it is a dream to work with this type of equipment every day.”
That said, she was also keen to point out that no two jobs are the same and that The Lab is increasingly being called upon to help a number of industries outside maritime and energy.
“Brookes Bell is predominantly known for its services across the maritime and energy sectors but here at The Lab we get requests for all sorts of things. We even got a request recently to test a piece of wool to see if it was synthetic or not. A number of industries are now using Brookes Bell and The Lab for our expertise, so it is always great to see our name brought up outside of the shipping and energy industries.”
While vessel incidents continue to play a leading role in her day-to-day activities, Holly was keen to point out the issues surrounding lithium-ion batteries and the risk they pose to the shipping sector.
“My work, research and papers in electronics and battery studies have been published in scientific journals over the years so I’m aware of the increased risk of onboard vessel fires from lithium-ion batteries. It is a challenge that Brookes Bell is dealing with more and more but we are not seeing them in The Lab just yet. Regardless, it is vital that us as researchers fully understand these issues and can work with clients and promote best practices to mitigate these types of incidents,” she said.
Fortunately for Holly, her pursuits outside of the laboratory give her a chance to flex her creative muscles.
“I’m an avid reader and video gamer but I also have a passion for music. I am Grade 8 in flute and I also play the piano. Importantly, being a part of Brookes Bell means I am able to get out of The Lab once in a while and attend some fantastic social events with my colleagues and industry peers and feel proud of the work I am doing in a fascinating industry,” she added.