ESR 2: Vincent O’Brien, RIKILT, Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands

Confirmatory analysis by mass spectrometry

Originally from Ireland I now find myself starting a three year PhD journey at RIKILT in Wageningen University. This is not my first experience of the Netherlands however. I spent several months during my masters in analytical chemistry working at Technical University Delft in conjunction with the Netherland Forensic Institute on novel applications for hydrogels. Prior to that I completed my undergraduate degree at University College Cork where I graduated with an honours degree in Chemistry with Forensic Science. This has given me a wide range of experience in multiple analytical techniques such as plasmonics, mass spectrometry and electrochemistry. Having a strong analytical and forensics background serves me well as my project will focus on confirming the chemical identity of analytes from the surface of screening assays. FoodSmartphone is such a unique concept that as soon as I saw the posting for the position I knew I had to apply. After a tough interview process I was eventually selected to be a part of the project. I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to work on the cutting edge of smartphone based diagnostics as this is an area of research that is both rapidly growing and offers a lot of opportunities to be part of the shift from lab based diagnostics to on site analysis.
I spent most of my free time in Ireland working in my family business working as a mechanic of heavy machinery such as forestry harvesters and drilling rigs. Apart from that I also helped set up and run one of Cork cities first Makerspaces which saw me purchasing equipment and outfitting a lab in Tyndall National Institute for this use. I worked with the admission office of University College Cork to help prepare for and coordinate the orientation of four thousand new students and lastly I was involved with multiple college societies including the Chemical society, Cancer society and Mental Health society. I was Finance officer for each of these societies and managed an a total income of over €45,000!
While my PhD will consume most of my life I do have a few hobbies that I spend what little free time I have on. Reading (mostly classical sci-fi novels) is my main time sink but I also like to spend time with friends either over a cup of coffee or a few beers. On top of that I like to do some running when the weather allows it and travelling when my wallet allows it! Most important of all for me though is that I make time to keep in touch with my friends living abroad. Thankfully through the use of my handy smartphone and skype this is easier than ever!
While it is still early in the projects lifetime I can already clearly see what an amazing opportunity this project is. The chance to work with such a varied team of 11 PhD’s in a variety of countries to address the issue of food security and safety through the use of citizen science is a once in a lifetime opportunity. While I am under no illusions that the next three years will be incredibly tough I’m beyond excited at the prospect of making a real contribution to the protection of our food supply.

Vincent O’Brien