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Elaine Higgins, 25, is a Chemical Engineer working for Irish Cement Ltd, and has been an engineer for the past 3 years.


She is also the star of this quarter's magazine front cover!


That's quite a photograph of you. Where exactly are you?
I'm coming out of the Tertiary Air (TA) Duct which connects to the Kiln Preheater Tower behind me.


It looks like some sort of spaceship in the background.
It does a bit, yeah.


What sort of things were you doing in the TA Duct?
The kiln was stopped and had been cooled down so I had to go into the TA duct to inspect it so to ensure that it was in good condition to operate again. But outside of completing equipment checks I check control screens and trends of equipment and processes. I make sure everything is running correctly and sometimes by the data I collect I am able to improve the process, which is my favourite part of the job.


What equipment do you use to carry out these tasks?
I use computers, a measuring tape and my brain.


Do you use all three science subjects as a Chemical Engineer?
I don't tend to use biology, but different jobs may use it. I do use both physics and chemistry. But most of all I would use maths.


Going back to the photo, the clothes you're wearing aren't typical every day clothes.
No they're not. Because I work outside a lot, safety is vital which means everyone wears protective clothing. I wear work pants (with all the pockets), a high-viz jacket (which is bright yellow with reflector strips so everyone can see me), a hard hat (in case either I bang my head or anything falls from above) and safety glasses (to protect my eyes). Being on a plant is the same as being in a lab, safety first.


You mentioned the word 'plant'. When I think of 'plant' I think of greenery in my garden, but the word means something different to you.
It does. A 'plant' can be a factory, or a mill, or in my case a Kiln.


What is a Chemical Plant?
A chemical plant is an industrial process plant that manufactures (or otherwise processes) chemicals, usually on a large scale. The general aim of a chemical plant is to create new material wealth via the chemical or biological transformation and or separation of materials. Chemical plants use special equipment, units, and technology in the processes.


I know thousands of people work on Chemical Plants, but it may not be something that springs to mind when a child is attending Careers Day at school. How did you get involved?
My aunt and cousin were chemical engineers and I knew of this, so when I got the opportunity to do work placement I went to a chemical plant with my uncle and enjoyed it so the opportunity of work placement really set the ball rolling with my interest in chemical engineering.


Had you always wanted to be a Chemical Engineer?
Since I was about 15 years old. My aunt and cousin were both chemical engineers which gave me an insight into that world.


So, they were your role models?
Yes they were.


Do you think it's important for children to have good role models?
I do, seeing people enjoying the work they do has a positive effect on children's impression of the job and the lifestyle that that job could give them.


You have worked hard to become a Chemical Engineer, but how did you start? What subjects did you take in school?
I took maths, physics and chemistry.


I'm guessing qualifications at school level aren't enough to become a Chemical Engineer. What were your highest qualifications gained from University?
I got a B.E in Chemical Engineering.


Where was this?
This was at the University College Cork which is in South Ireland. Cork is a beautiful place. I recommend everyone has a visit there.


Is travel important to you? Have you ever travelled with your job?
I have been very lucky and have been on a number of training courses abroad. There is a lot of cement plants in Germany and I have been there twice with work. I have also visited the north of Italy and Latvia, all to visit different cement plants. Also there is the possibility in my company that I might be posted abroad, there are engineers that I used to work with now working in America, China and the Ukraine.


Working for Irish Cement must be enjoyable, but what makes your job fun?
The people. Definitely the people.


Can you remember the very first experiment you carried out?
I can. I put vinegar and baking soda into a plastic bottle with a cork in the top to make the cork pop off.


Why would mixing vinegar and baking soda make the cork pop off?
Because you're essentially making CO2. The vinegar contains Acetic acid and the baking soda has a chemical name called Sodium Bicarbonate. When these two elements are combined it makes a fizzing reaction, which creates CO2 and causes pressure to build in the bottle and forces the cork off.


Wow, that sounds fun.
It was. Science is fun. Chemicals are one part of science. Don't forget physics and biology.


We hear the word 'Chemical' a lot, but what does it actual mean?
In short — everything is a chemical. Any liquid, solid or gas. Any pure substance; any mixture. From H2O (water) to C8H18 (petrol) and everything in between!


As well as learning about your hobbies, we like to ask random questions so our readers can learn more about you. Is that okay?


Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy swimming and the cinema.


What was your favourite subject in school?


What's your favourite food?
Pizza and chips, yum yum.


What was your dream job when you were 5? 10?
When I was 5 years old I wanted to be a weather woman. By the time I was 10 I wanted to be a vet.


What's your favourite television programme?


Who was your idol when you were growing up?
James Bond.


What's your favourite "chill out" day?
Go surfing and then meeting friends for lunch by the sea.


Where would your ideal holiday be?
Italy to go skiing.


Would you prefer to go to a museum or a football match?


What's your favourite word?
I have two: no problem.


What's your least favourite word?
Again I have two: I can't.


What was your favourite film as a child?
Ace Ventura Pet Detective. It starred Jim Carrey. He's very funny.


What was your favourite book to read as a child?
Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl.