Spectroscopy and Pastry. Is there anything better?

On top of the  need for speed, two members of this research group found themselves in need of a course in spectroscopy this month. Luckily, ThermoFisher Scientific came to our aid, and so new PhD student Aboli and I (hi, this is Helga!) were able to take a trip up to Paisley, Scotland, to be showered with spectroscopic knowledge this week.

Aboli and I took a seat at the back of the room closest to the morning pastries, with direct access to the tea station. Luckily, we both remembered to bring our glasses!

We made our way up to Glasgow and Paisley on Tuesday, staying overnight due to the lack of 5 AM trains from Newcastle (perhaps thankfully). For me, this meant a simple 2 PM train from Newcastle, pit stop in Glasgow for the mandatory Paesano’s pizza (nectar of the gods), and continuing on to Paisley around 7. A nice day of travel, if you ask me. When in Paisley, my trip became substantially more difficult as I was betrayed by the evil map function on my phone, indicating an 11 minute walk, but nothing about it being a steep uphill battle on uneven terrain! Fortunately, the pizza fuelled the hike, and I was glad to be at the guesthouse shortly before 8, just in time to read up on the topics of the course and catch the mandatory true-crime evening podcast.

It wasn’t until much later that Aboli finally arrived, having had a a longer journey and caught out in a monsoon on her way to the guesthouse. Aboli had, unlike me, spent the day in Middlesbrough for a research induction, catching the 1 and a half hour bus back up to Newcastle where she lives at 5AM to grab her bags, and then finally arriving in Glasgow 10.30 PM. That’s only about 7 hours of travel for you, on two buses and four trains, so I decided not to complain (too much) about my annoying 11 minute rain-free hike.

Our comfy rooms where we could relax and have some sleep.

Surely, we (or at least Aboli) deserved a good night’s sleep at that point, but although the rooms were surprisingly nice and comfy at the guesthouse, the shared bathroom door was broken, resulting in loud bangs every half-hour or so throughout the night, and the occasional panicked noise of a person thinking they were locked in. I have had less-scary nights of sleep, but unfazed by this we woke up early the next morning and got ourselves up to ThermoFisher’s headquarters at the Inchinnan industrial estate.

Praise be, is there anything better than pastries in the morning?

Much to our joy, we were of welcomed by the smell of hot tea, coffee and pastries, meaning we soon forgot all about the door of doom at the guesthouse. It was time to sit down and listen, as we learned about FTIR and Raman Spectroscopy sampling techniques, analysis and various microanalytical methods. The seminar was very helpful to us both, and covered a range of methodological bases, analytical considerations and instrumental differences, leaving us with a much clearer idea of how to proceed with our respective projects. I am excited to see what information the two methods can give me with regard to the structural state of the Vindolanda leathers. Although I have used the FTIR several times before, I feel a lot more confident in my methodology having attended this seminar and look forward to trying out Raman spectroscopy in the next few months.


It was warm and cosy inside during the seminar, but we could hear the Scottish rain and wind outside beating the windows. Unfortunately I felt right at home in these conditions…

Aboli also enjoyed it. Both FTIR and Raman spectroscopy will be of good use for her research into fibres, as they will help her determine composition of the fibres and help discriminate colours. She has used and studied FTIR during her Masters course, but like me felt like she gained a lot more advanced and in-depth information, making it easier to plan her research methodology effectively.

ThermoFisher ID cards made us feel sufficiently professional for the occasion!

The seminar lasted until 4PM, when we were lucky enough to catch a ride back to the Paisley station, thanks to a fellow spectroscopy enthusiast. When in Glasgow, we had intended to grab dinner before our train back, but unfortunately ThermoFisher fed us too well during the spectroscopy course (thanks!), so instead we spent a few hours catching up on work at Starbucks. No complaints there, and as soon as we hit the train back at 7 it was again time for my true-crime podcast of the evening, before hitting the platform home in Newcastle.

Mandatory tourist shot of Glasgow City Centre, taken about 5 minutes after I walked onto a mime mid-act. My bad!

  Thanks to i Scientific for hosting this event and to Teesside University for letting us have this experience!

Helga and Aboli


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