|Ruairí O’Kane is a research scientist who devises ways to stick phones, laptops, cars and even planes together. He helps to design adhesives and sealants (glue basically) for electronics, cars and other equipment.
He is a group leader at the Henkel facility in Tallaght, Dublin, a German adhesive technologies company. He joined Henkel in 2006 after completing his degree in chemistry in Trinity College Dublin and PhD in nanotechnology at the University of Liverpool.
He recently spent two years in Düsseldorf, Germany, at Henkel headquarters, returning to Dublin last year. Ruairí also completed a management degree at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, while working at Henkel.
Why do we need new ways to stick things together?
Mobile phones need an adhesive to glue glass on to the frame or laptops need the screens stuck on. Different adhesives are needed to hold different components in place or you might need a sealant to keep water out of an electronic device. Making things lighter is also a big deal in aerospace and with cars. Every screw you remove from a car will make it a bit lighter and a bit more fuel efficient.
Why did you choose science and focus on chemistry?
Chemical structures and the illustrations of molecules and atomic orbitals in books at school fascinated me. The idea of designing and creating new molecules or processes to make new molecules really appealed to me. There is a nice combination in chemistry of theory and experiment.
What might you do during a typical day?
There isn’t really a typical day. My group usually would be working on three or four projects at a time. I would keep an eye that we are hitting our targets, and we discuss our challenges and how we are doing. What gives you the biggest thrill from your job? Generating new intellectual property and coming up with something that nobody else has done. Business units such as automotive and aerospace have an interest in our acrylic adhesive projects [superglues are acrylic adhesives].
We are working on a new adhesive for handheld devices. What subjects did you do in school?
I did A-levels [at St Patrick’s College, Maghera, Co Derry] in maths, chemistry and biology. I also did German to GCSE level and I built on that in Düsseldorf. Being able to communicate well is a big advantage because you are not always in the lab.
What are the perks of working in science?
We have specific milestones, but it is up to you what direction you take. What we are doing is constantly changing.