I am a scientific researcher currently working at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. My research has taken me all over the world, from Japan to Finland to Romania.
In addition to my job as a researcher I am also the vice-chair on the Institute of Physics South Central Branch committee. This allows me to provide a range of in school workshops and talks to schools in the South East region.
My journey into physics
My interest in science stemmed from an inspirational school trip during my time at the Simon Langton School for Boys. We were one of the last school groups lucky enough to see the CMS detector at CERN, in Switzerland, before it was lowered into the ground. Following our trip we were then invited to the London Big Bang Breakfast, to watch a live feed of the LHC at CERN being switched on for the first time.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the trip I never thought I was smart enough to be a physicist. I didn't really know what to do following A-Levels, but it was my parents who gave me the courage to apply for a physics degree at the University of Surrey.
"I never thought I was smart enough to be a physicist"
At the University of Surrey I enrolled on the MPhys Physics course, a four year bachelors and masters course combined, including a year placement in a research lab. For my placement I spent a year in Vancouver, Canada, at the TRIUMF research lab in the nuclear physics group. On my arrival I was handed a box, containing a detector, and tasked with investigating how it worked, and conducting a number of experiments. To do this I had to assemble a team with a expertise in electronics, gas handling, data analysis, and much more. This experience really highlighted the inclusive and collaborative nature of physics. I worked with men and women, young and old, those with religious beliefs and those without, in physics everyone is welcome. As well as the excitement of experiments it was this friendly atmosphere that encouraged me to continue in the field of nuclear physics. In 2013 I started my PhD at the University of Brighton.
In our model of the atom electrons orbit a nucleus, which is made of protons and neutrons. It is this nucleus that we investigate in nuclear physics. Over the last 50 years we have created and studied around 3000 nuclei (the plural of nucleus), and there are another 3000 that are predicted to exist but we haven't created them yet.
Around 300 nuclei exist naturally on Earth, the rest have to be created. Nuclei are created in a number of different ways. In my PhD I study a specific nucleus known as yttrium-102, it has 39 protons and 63 neutrons in its nucleus. But why?
"I study a specific nucleus known as yttrium-102...but why?"
In my PhD my goal was to understand the shape of yttrium and how long it lives for, so that later generations can identify an application. To do this I travelled to a lab in Finland at the University of Jyvaskyla. I used an accelerator to shoot protons into a uranium target. This smashes the target into lots of smaller pieces, some of these pieces are the yttrium-102 nuclei I am interested in studying. I then use specialist detectors to investigate these yttrium-102 nuclei.
In general, it is important to study the characteristics of nuclei. By measuring their mass, abundance, shape, how long they live for before decaying and the type of radiation they emit when they do decay we can understand how they are useful. For example, some nuclei like technetium-99, are useful in medicine for performing bone scans. Before these nuclei can be used in medicine we must of course know everything about them. We must make sure that the type of radiation these nuclei emit will not damage healthy tissue in the body.
Different nuclear shapes
With my studies I have had the opportunity to travel all over the world. During my MPhys course I spent a year in Vancouver, Canada. While in Vancouver I travelled to Chicago, USA to present my research. During my PhD studies I have travelled to Japan, Romania and Finland to conduct my own experiments as well as helping with other people's experiments.