Nuclear physics "larger than life"
On the 30th July I delivered the final public talk of the Winchester Science Festival, titled "Fusion energy: Harnessing the power of a man-made sun". My talk focused on the differences between nuclear fusion and nuclear fission, and how nuclear fusion could change the world.
Nuclear physics is often misunderstood, not just because of the association with nuclear weapons and disasters like Fukushima. Throughout my PhD I have given many talks to schools, colleges and undergraduate students about my research in nuclear physics and people always say "you must have been born a genius to do nuclear physics".
There are a lot of complex, and abstract concepts in nuclear physics, but I am no natural genius. The main reason I am doing a PhD in nuclear physics is because I love to learn, and I have discovered that the best and most enjoyable way I learn is through comparing any new concepts to easy-to-understand, everyday concepts. To portray this in my talk I explained nuclear fission using mousetraps and ping-pong balls and I explained nuclear fusion using beach balls and Velcro.
Even though certain simplifications need to be made in order to make comparisons between the complex concepts of nuclear physics and everyday examples, it is a great way for a lot of people to start. This is exactly how nuclear physics research is conducted. The nucleus is so complex that instead of having one model to describe it, we have dozens. Each model is focused on describing a different aspect of atomic nuclei.
Nuclear physics is a challenging subject, it makes you think, and not all the answers have been discovered yet. But you don't need to be naturally super intelligent to be a good physicist, you just have to want to try and be willing to work hard and think about each problem you come across. For me the most exciting thing about scientific careers is that you are making a difference. Having started working at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, I am helping to solve the world energy crisis by developing the world's first fusion power plant with scientists across the world, I am a part of history.