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Colleen Mann

Postgraduate Researcher

Postgraduate Researcher for the Department of Materials Science & Engineering



My PhD is in the Materials Science Department at the University of Sheffield and I work within the Nuclear Research Group here. What I do on a day-to-day basis is try and understand how the UK's radioactive waste is going to behave in the environment. What the UK government plan on doing is disposing of our nuclear waste 200 meters, to a kilometre, underground in a geological repository. This is a man-made facility and it's going to be one of the UK's largest engineering tasks that we'll see, certainly in my lifetime, and probably in the next few generations lifetimes as well.

Within such a facility we're going to have numerous materials and it’s my job to try and understand how these materials are going to interact and what impact they're going to have on the radioactive wastes long term durability because we need it to be there for tens of thousands of years.


The highlight of my engineering journey so far has been winning the Institute of Materials Minerals and Mining Young Person's Lecture Competition

Colleen Mann


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One of the best things about my role as a PhD student is that I get the opportunity to go into the labs and to assist with the demonstrating. That involves teaching the undergraduate students in a variety of manners, sometimes in the lab doing practicals and other times in the classroom. One of the best examples is the Global Engineering Challenge where we have a whole host of young people from the engineering faculty and they come together to problem-solve and I challenge them to think about the ethical, the social and the sustainability issues around the problems that they're trying to get answers to.

In addition to teaching the young people here at the University I've also had the opportunity to go into the schools in Sheffield and South Yorkshire to do STEM activities. With this we're working with young people in primary schools and secondary schools and what we're trying to do as the Nuclear Materials Group is to educate them about radioactive materials that they come across in their day-to-day environments but also about the UK's nuclear waste problems and how they can help us, or at least have the knowledge, with regards to what we need to do with our radioactive waste in the UK.


I enjoy being an engineer because I get to solve problems using science and maths but I've been fortunate enough that I can do it in a collaborative manner. Not only do I work with researchers here at University of Sheffield but I work with team at the British Geological Survey the Belgian Nuclear Research Team and the national labs in America, namely Oak Ridge National Labs and we all solve one problem and that's how durable is the waste that we're going to be disposing of in the environment.


One of the best things about my role as a PhD student is that I get the opportunity to go into the labs and to assist with the demonstrating. That involves teaching the undergraduate students in a variety of manners, sometimes in the lab doing practicals and other times in the classroom