A selection of students who undertook placements during 2014 share their experiences.
Placement: Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering department, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin
I am currently in my third year of a four-year course studying physics with biomedical science. This internship appealed to me as I want to get into the field of medical physics. The type of work carried out by physicists in hospitals primarily involves the understanding, maintaining and updating of medical equipment, along with other roles such as cancer diagnostics and treatment, and radiation safety. The project appealed to me as I would gain a huge knowledge of the fundamental physics behind the medical equipment in radiology and how to carry out quality assurance (QA) procedures from a radiation safety point of view. This is a huge advantage to me as QA is vital in medical physics.
The project was based on new software that the MPCE department had decided to invest in – a specialised QA system used to expedite the testing, reporting, analysis and record-keeping of QA.
The highlight of my internship was seeing the software work in conjunction with the hardware. There was a huge amount of research to be done before I was able to use the software, and there was a lot of work to be done with the software before it was put in operation with the hardware. I had to research each test and gain an understanding of them. The system operating for the first time without fail was a great achievement.
The placement exceeded my expectations, as I was given a much more responsible role in the project than I would have expected. Also I got to be involved in other areas of the department, allowing me to take part in a diverse range of daily jobs. I was also lucky enough to attend a radiation safety course that the hospital was hosting at the time of my internship.
The knowledge that I have gained in the hospital will aid my studies in my final year, as I now have a much more comprehensive understanding of MRI, CT, X-ray and other radiology equipment. I worked in the radio-pharmacy in nuclear medicine during my placement and I learned how to make up the patient injections with measured amounts of radionuclides and different types of pharmaceuticals. After seeing the application of my knowledge to practical situations I am now much more focused on doing the best I can for my final year of study. I am determined to do well so that I can pursue a career in the medical physics area.
Earth Observation / GIS Technician
Over the course of my third year at Southampton, I chose an optional module in Python programming for physics, as I hoped that this would give me a desirable, useful transferable skill that I could put on my CV. I applied to work at Rezatec because the placement required Python programming skills and I was excited that I would be able to practice my coding skills and apply my knowledge to new topics, projects and challenges.
At Rezatec, I wrote scripts for the batch processing of large numbers of satellite and drone images for customers, to streamline and hasten the analysis process. I worked with new software, new modules, new language aspects and some very interesting satellite data.
Earth Observation is a relatively young industry, and new applications are being found for its services all the time. While at Rezatec, I worked on data from food companies, hoping to use drone images to judge their harvest windows; universities, monitoring rainforest deforestation and other ecological occurrences; and water companies, hoping to monitor various cleanliness and health indicators in the water-catchment areas for their reservoirs.
As well as giving me the opportunity to practice my coding skills, my placement also gave me a fantastic insight into the struggles and rewards of working in a small ‘start-up’ business. I was heavily exposed to the marketing and commercial side of the company, and I got to see preparations for project bids, company demonstrations, press releases and networking events. Working in such a tight-knit environment also gave me fantastic scope for networking – I’ve been introduced to board members, the CEO, recruitment directors for other companies, and many other people that will hopefully prove to be hugely valuable contacts in the future.
The placement has definitely helped me to solidify ideas of what I’d like to do after I leave university. I’ve now had work experience and placements in large companies, small companies, scientific companies, and many other industries and businesses. I would recommend a placement like this to anyone who asked – the opportunity to sample an environment or an industry before applying for permanent jobs is absolutely invaluable.
Rezatec resolves global business problems caused by environmental change through the scientific analysis of satellite and ground data.
Placement: ISIS Synchrotron Group, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Lattice Measurements on the ISIS Synchrotron
About halfway through my third year it hit me that if I wanted to pursue a career in physics after university then I might have to gain some more relevant work experience than the bar work and manual labour that currently littered my CV. Further to this I wanted to gain general experience and guidance in areas such as professional report writing and presenting, as well as an opportunity to improve my programming ability. The work placement at the ISIS synchrotron immediately stood out to me – who doesn't want to work on a particle accelerator that costs around £100,000 a day to run?
When I was accepted onto the placement my elation was only matched by my nerves due to the fact that I had never studied accelerator physics in any great detail, and this was to be my first time working in a professional environment. Despite this, I quickly felt comfortable in my position thanks to the excellent assistance I was given in learning accelerator theory as well as the very welcoming atmosphere in the department.
The objective of my assignment was to measure parameters of the synchrotron with the view to providing a more complete picture of the operation of the machine. Over the next eight weeks I would gain experience in the control of certain aspects of the synchrotron as well as developing my understanding of the physics underlying the operation of the machine. I was introduced to a new programming tool, LabVIEW, which allowed me to not only develop general programming principles and techniques, but also gave me experience in a completely new style of programming based on data flow.
The most rewarding aspect of my placement was the knowledge that the work I had done would be of genuine use in the future. Alongside this, the experience I gained from presenting my results to a variety of audiences was invaluable, not to mention easily transferable to most careers. I enjoyed a good working relationship with my colleagues – attending the summer social and taking part in the Harwell rounders league – and felt incredibly welcome and at-ease during my eight weeks at ISIS. Having completed my time at RAL, I feel that one of the most important things that a student on work experience can do is to show enthusiasm and willing, not only for the work involved but also in any social aspect there may be with colleagues. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my placement was the tour of the synchrotron itself at the end of my placement. After spending the summer making alterations and taking measurements on the machine via remote console, it was an incredible feeling to finally get to see it for myself. The sheer scale of it, not to mention the feat of engineering that it represents, was awesome.
Before my time at RAL I was pretty set on a career in nuclear physics. Now, despite my continued interest in the nuclear field, my sights are set on accelerator physics. The opportunities for travel as well as the stimulating work that the field provides make it an attractive prospect, and I will definitely be applying for graduate schemes both at ISIS and other accelerator facilities. My time at ISIS has given me a lot of confidence in myself, both with my technical skills directly related to physics and with more general professional skills, and it has been easily one of the best summers I have ever had.
Placement: Met Éireann
Analysis of temperature and precipitation datasets of past climate for Ireland
The internship appeared to provide the opportunity to get more hands on experience in programming, which is something that I know to be very important, and my personal interests lie with the environment, and in environmental issues, so this internship seemed perfect, as it would combine those two things.
I was tasked with determining how long it would take to statistically recognise a change in Ireland’s precipitation, and how large that change would need to be. Irish precipitation is very variable from year to year, and this variability is so large that it can mask trends in the data. However, as a result of climate change, Irish precipitation patterns are likely to change. Therefore it is important to know how long it would take to recognise that a change had occurred in Irish precipitation patterns.
The highlight of the internship was the preparation of a paper for submission to Irish Geography, detailing the precipitation study that I carried out, and it is great to have been able to do that as an undergraduate.
The major skills that I have gained are in programming and in statistical analysis. Through extensive debugging of code, I understand the importance of coding carefully and precisely, and understand how to go through a script methodically to find the source of an error. I have also learned the importance of coding efficiently. I wrote so many scripts, to do so many different things, many of which had to be solved creatively, that my programming skills are those that I feel have improved most.
During the final year of my studies there is a core module in computational physics, and another optional one. I intend to take both, and I hope that my experience on placement will stand to me in that. We also must complete an independent final year project. I think that this placement experience will be invaluable when it comes to completing that part of my studies, not only in the practical aspects such as the literature review and report writing, but in having the self-confidence from the very start to carry out the project with minimal supervision. This will be very different from the usual labs in which the procedure to be carried out is well laid out. Instead we will need to come up with the plan ourselves, and I think that this placement will give me the confidence to try new things and not to be intimidated by failure.
Met Éireann, the Irish National Meteorological Service, is the leading provider of weather information and related services for Ireland.
Placement: Physics of Medicine Institute, University of Cambridge
For a long time, I have wished to pursue a career in academic research, my main interests being biophysics and optics/photonics. As a third-year student, however, I was missing a real hands-on research experience, which is crucial for one’s personal development as a prospective physicist. A placement offered an excellent opportunity to take part in a biological physics group dealing with the mechanics of cells and tissues. I decided to spend my summer investigating the dynamics of cells in response to mechanical cues from their extracellular environment.
At the early stage of the project, I worked on the design of microfluidic devices that mimic the biological environment of cells. This involved extensive biofabrication and polymer techniques, long hours of trial-and-error learning in a lab, and a meticulous attention to detail inevitably required by the procedure.
In addition to the laboratory side of the placement, the social aspect was equally significant: the group held fortnightly meetings where I would present my results and discuss them with colleagues. Although intimidating at first, the meetings helped to build up my confidence when interacting with a group and communicating my research to an audience. Surprisingly, among the important elements of the placement was simply being a part of the friendly and supportive environment, and learning how a research group operates.
Throughout the project, I have been constantly exposed to uncertainty, as almost every procedure was completely new to me; I had to pick up the skills and adjust to the circumstances very quickly and independently. For a successful progress, the key is to make the most of what each experience has to offer and stay committed to overcome the difficulties it poses. This is certainly the case in research, even if with a modest outcome. Confronting this challenge was the most enriching part of my summer placement.
Although my future plans now revolve about a different field – theoretical quantum optics – this experience was truly invaluable and has become a solid stepping stone in my path to a career in physics research.
I applied to ManagePlaces because I am doing two subjects for my degree and the project seemed to be a perfect match between utilising understanding of physics and programming skills from computer science to help prepare me for my final year.
My project involved researching and understanding the geophysics and petrophysics in the operation of oil and gas sensors, and using that understanding to drive a web application that would present real-time data to on-site engineers responsible for preventing operational failures on oil wells.
The highlight of my internship has been the collection of “aha!” moments that encompass the development of any challenging project. With each of them, a new problem is solved, trick learned, bug fixed, insight gained, until you realise how far you've come since starting, back when you thought “aha” was just a one-hit-wonder from the 80s.
When the time comes to decide which path to take after my final year, one of the major driving forces behind the decision I make will be my experiences this summer. Before, I was drawn towards research and academia, but after seeing the exciting technologies and innovation used in the industrial world, specifically in an entrepreneurial way, I will be faced with a very difficult decision when I graduate.
On my first day, I was very nervous, but also excited to begin. Thankfully the nerves went away quickly, but the excitement stayed. There are so many variables in play that it is hard to know what to expect. Will the people be friendly? (They were.) Will I know how to do anything? (It takes time, but yes.) Overall the placement has lived up to the positive side of those expectations I had when I first started.
My colleagues were friendly and welcoming. I felt they were extremely knowledgeable in their areas and always took the time to answer my questions thoroughly. The environment I worked in was jovial, focused, and always helpful. From the beginning, it was made clear that doing my best would make for a successful project. Any questions I had or clarifications and feedback I wanted were available at any time.
With my newly learned skills, insights into different emerging technologies, and perspective on the software industry, I feel that I'm in a much stronger position than if I had not done the placement. During my final year, while balancing exams and other activities, I will have two final-year projects to do. The experience I've gained in working on projects will be invaluable, and the new technologies and frameworks that I've employed have given me a number of ideas to base my projects on.
ManagePlaces is a web and mobile based tool to help manage your organisation’s workflow - projects, tasks, people, documents and assets - all linked with location information.
I applied for this internship because it sounded like an interesting way to get experience in programming – something which I’d been exposed to by my degree, but only in very specific ways and contexts. The ideas around what Vzzual was trying to do, particularly with the Raspberry Pi and image-analysis technology, seemed very appealing to me.
I worked on several areas in the company around the research and development of new technologies, in particular the creation and deployment of a colour-analysis algorithm for cars. This algorithm, when given a picture, returns the colour of a car – it was an interesting problem, particularly given that the standard ‘first step’ in image processing over the past few decades has been to convert images to black and white. Removing reflections, working out where the relevant colour in the image was, alongside removing colour from numberplates and headlights, not to mention the inherent subjectivity of colour itself meant that the problem was also a lot deeper than it sounded initially.
The highlight has to have been seeing my algorithms deployed on an in-house development app for the first time. Being able to see my work in action was quite an achievement – there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing the correct results returned.
I have gotten to grips much more with how programming works in an industrial context for an SME. As a result of completing the placement, I am now looking into areas of physics with a stronger computational element than I would otherwise have considered. I’ve really enjoyed the problem solving and research side of what I’ve been doing – even if the natural frustrations of programming can be a little trying at times.
Vzzual brings information stored in images and video into the big-data arena.
Placement: AlphaFox Systems
Research and test physics intern
I was looking for a placement which would give me experience in an area related to my degree. I have been interested in a career in research and development, so this was a good opportunity for me to experience work in such a company. AlphaFox is situated fairly close to where I live, so I knew the area well, and the project interested me, so the placement sounded ideal.
Security is becoming more important as so many more personal details are stored, and transactions carried out online, so I was hoping to be able to experience and learn about the technical side of such a large industry. I spent most of my placement testing different materials for use in AlphaFox's Crystal Key, a personal identification tag that aims to increase online security by comparing a complex and unique 3D structure inside the device to an image stored in a database, as described in a patent application. This has particular use in mobile commerce, as it provides an extra layer of security when authenticating transactions, but also has potential use in many other fields.
I experimented with different household substances and various polymers to see which would give the best results for the device, and found a production method which could be used in future models. In addition to testing materials, I helped build and adapt optics systems to optimise features in the tag and I also worked on redesigning the website in an attempt to make it more user-friendly and compatible with modern browsers. This involved recreating it from scratch and working with my supervisor to rewrite the pages.
AlphaFox develops products and services to help combat the rise of worldwide counterfeits, estimated at £400 bn per annum, and for authentication of identity in mobile transactions.
Placement: Dundee University
Being acutely aware that there was only one year of university left, I felt it would be sensible to get some experience in the working world over the summer, ideally something closely related to physics. I applied to Dundee's Biophotonics Research placement because it offered the chance to build things. Most of my degree has been theory based with lots of problem solving – here was the chance to get some hands-on experience.
Since I was unsure about what to do after university, a large part of the appeal was getting to work with current PhD students and to glimpse the kind of lifestyle that follows – something that I would encourage every applicant to do when possible.
The placement required that I help set up a brand new lab and make a couple of optical systems from scratch - something I had never done before, but which proved to be very enjoyable and instructive. Specifically, I was working with a new Phd student to design and build a set of optical tweezers. After this, we would move on to build another set of tweezers which also incorporates TIRF imaging.
Though it didn't start out with all of that. My first week was spent training for working with lasers and how exactly a set of optical tweezers functions. My instructor was incredibly helpful, patient and friendly; making every effort to educate and entertain. This, I found, was typical of everyone I worked with over the eight weeks, though he in particular excelled at making people feel welcome as he continued to check in now and again and offer advice, making me feel very welcome.
The highlight of the internship was getting to work with PhD students in other departments, primarily biology. For instance, we were asked to help determine whether it is possible to optically trap beads in a certain gel usually used to culture cells. We ended up discovering that while we couldn't trap beads in the gel, we could cause them to explode. This was completely unintentional, but undeniably fun. The excitement continued for days as we tossed ideas around to try and explain why things were exploding. This was a real taste of what being a scientist could involve and I must admit, those moments are fantastic.
The main skill I will be taking away from this placement is practical technique. With a limited space and toolset in hand, I've tried to make more efficient and compact systems, with varying degrees of success. It takes a lot of patience to disassemble something that took hours of work because you just realised it wouldn't work due to lack of lenses or space – so I soon began practising the art of careful and thorough planning, which has saved a great deal of time in the long run.
My career ideas have become much more defined thanks to this placement. I've always wanted to work in an area that allows me to apply the skills I learned as part of my degree, but now I don't think that academia is the place for me. I found that I enjoyed the regularity of a nine-to-five job, but I'm unsure that I'd be able to maintain the level of self-motivation required over the course of a PhD. Having said this much, I feel like I should add: this summer has been one of the most enjoyable I've ever had, largely thanks to finding such a great placement.
Placement: Galson Sciences Ltd
Trainee Criticality Safety Analyst
I had been hoping for lots of placement opportunities in the nuclear industry as before, but this year there was only one: Galson Sciences. Thankfully though, it looked perfect as it used programming and modelling, which I had enjoyed as part of my degree. As it turned out, an unexpected bonus is that I found my project topic, criticality safety, incredibly interesting.
The area of physics concerned with nuclear criticality is all about taking a system that contains fissile material and determining whether you have a supercritical system (a nuclear bomb), a critical system (a nuclear power station), or a subcritical system (uranium ore). Since the discovery of nuclear fission, many experiments have been undertaken to determine the parameters needed for a fissile system to be critical. My project involved modelling selected experiments so that they could be used in future critical safety assessments of similar systems.
I thoroughly enjoyed my placement. Part of this was because the project was interesting and I learnt a lot, but this isn’t enough to make a placement amazing: it’s also about the company you are working in. A placement can be ruined when you are not treated as an employee; this was not the case at Galson Sciences. When I arrived on my first day I was assigned my own work laptop, installed with all the necessary software, and my own email account. I had all the stationary, project books and notepads I would need sitting on my own desk when I arrived. I was added to the telephone extension list and included in the weekly staff whereabouts document. All staff had received an email containing my CV and explaining what I would be doing so that they knew a bit about me. My supervisor had organised meetings with every member of staff so that they could tell me about their career path and current projects. I attended fortnightly lunchtime staff meetings, which included a presentation on a recent project, and I was able to give a presentation on my work at the end of my placement. Much of this is due to the impeccable organisation and attention to detail of my supervisor and the head of admin; however, I think much is also due to how the company is run. It is a consultancy and nearly everyone has a PhD. There is a flat management structure, and the staff are committed to learning anything that’s necessary to get a project done.
Before starting this placement I was becoming discouraged about my career options with a physics degree as I did not want to go into banking or teaching. However, I am now aware of, and feel encouraged by, the number of options available to me, particularly within the area of criticality safety and the nuclear industry.
Galson Science Ltd provides a range of nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management services to an international clientele.
Placement: Lancaster University
I decided to apply for a summer placement at a university in order to make the best use of the long break away from my studies. I chose the placement at Lancaster University to gain an insight into the workings of an academic research environment, to expand upon my current understanding of the techniques used in low-temperature physics, and finally, the location was just within commuting distance from Liverpool.
The initial project was to develop new wiring techniques for low-temperature research, but the scope of the project was greatly expanded in the first few weeks. In the first few weeks I was introduced to the lab and to the details of the project. I began investigating microwave resonances and programmed computer simulations using MEEP (MIT Electromagnetic Equation Propagation; a finite-difference time-domain package developed at MIT). Using the simulation I began to investigate ways to remove resonances from a cavity in a small copper sample box for a superconducting single electron transistor device. Using my research I used AutoCAD software to design a sample-holder which was 3D-printed in silver metal, and which was then used to house the samples in a cryogen-free dilution refrigerator.
There was always helpful advice available whenever I needed it. Everyone in the low-temperature department was friendly and had a keen interest in what I was investigating, and offered help where they could, which greatly assisted in my understanding of the physics principles involved.
The placement has inspired me to engage more actively with my degree program and I have seen how important it is to have a comprehensive grasp of programming languages. I have learnt several new skills, which are all invaluable to my continuing study and career.
There were two other students on summer placements working in the same lab, which was useful as we were able to help each other with the various problems presented to us. I had no trouble adjusting to the work hours and actually looked forward to each day at the lab. I travelled to Lancaster from Liverpool each morning on the train and so had to be up at 6 a.m.. This was a personal choice, however, as there was accommodation available on campus at Lancaster.
The eight weeks flew by, as, most importantly, I was having great fun while in the lab. Working in the lab at Lancaster University has given me a great head start on some of the modules in my third year (specifically low-temperature physics and electromagnetism), and I will now aim to complete my final-year project in the field of low-temperature physics. I plan to talk to the various research groups at my own university and feel motivated to achieve the highest standards in my remaining studies in order to have the best chance of gaining a place on a PhD programme. The placement has strengthened my desire to pursue a career in physics research/academia and has also given me an added interest in low-temperature physics techniques.
Placement: Oxford Instruments
Every student knows the pressure of watching all their friends organising the exciting things they’ll be doing over the summer, so finding myself rejected from the handful of internships already applied for I had almost given up hope. I was particularly interested then when one of seemingly endless stream of emails from my department caught my eye, an internship was on offer supported by nobody less than the Institute of Physics. Looking down the list of companies I picked out Oxford Instruments, wanting somewhere I knew that would be a recognisable addition to my CV.
I was accepted and told that I was assigned to the software quality assurance (SQA) team for Aztec, and no, I had no idea what that means either. The answer was gradually revealed to me over the course of my placement as the team I joined took on a diverse range of activities between us. I quickly discovered that Aztec is the software used for analysis of the results that come from the detectors made on the same site for electron microscopes, and I was involved in everything from making sure that the coders were doing their job to testing software versions before their release.
One of the best aspects of the placement was definitely my colleagues, probably due in no small part to the canteen where people could meet socially. This really helped keep a nice atmosphere in the office where on everybody was unfailingly friendly and supportive – I never for a moment felt like an outsider. In particular the team of which I became a part quickly welcomed and included me, really helping me adapt to my new environment and work.
Of course it wasn’t all fun and games, and I hope I’ve gained useful skills that will help me whatever discipline I choose. I’m saving up my student loan starting today, and in just 20 more years I’ll have a microscope of my own where I can practice changing the filament, aligning the electron gun and calibrating the stage. But even if that doesn’t quite work out there were other bits as well: I was invited to planning meetings, given time to work on my own projects, and got to manage my time and workload as I saw fit.
I hope that what I’ve done will have a really positive impact on my final year of study. It’s been great to see exactly the kind of use I can put my degree to and as well as that the practical skills that are needed whatever you end up doing. One of the reasons I was particularly eager to get an internship was that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with myself after my degree course. In this respect working in an environment where so many different people are all under one roof couldn’t have been more helpful. I not only got to talk to a great range of people to hear what they did, but then I actually got to see them doing it. It really helped me get a better of idea both of what I wanted to do, and what I now knew I should avoid.
Never having spent any significant amount of my life in a full-time work environment before and with a suitably vague job description from which I made the application I had no real expectations. Nevertheless, I would do it again in a shot. I had a really enjoyable time, gained some valuable insight and skills, and was paid for it, which I think is a good deal by anybody’s standards. I definitely intend to remain in contact with my employer, having seen an environment in which I could see myself happily working after the end of my degree.
Oxford Instruments is a leading provider of high technology tools and systems for research and industry.
Placement: Ancon Technologies
Testing and Developing Components in Detectors
I applied for a summer Internship with Ancon Technologies in Kent. Ancon is a high tech company researching molecular-detection technology aiming to provide a device with much higher sensitivity than is currently available – technology that has wide and varying applications ranging from medical to military. Following an online application and a Skype interview I was offered an eight-week summer internship with the company.
I chose to apply for this internship as working with a small company offered the opportunity to make a significant contribution while working fairly independently with fascinating technology. Applying my degree skills to a practical application and helping to contribute to a scientific goal linked into my desire for gaining experience in a commercial science environment.
I was in the centre of the action performing experimental research relating to the Ancon’s core proprietary technology, Nanoparticle Molecular Tagging. I was involved in testing different modules for use in Ancon’s main device, analysing their suitability against alternatives and optimising the systems for the specific uses of the desired applications as well as calibrating certain sensors for reliable use with the technology. Some of the work I conducted was for direct rental to clients, therefore the quality of my work had to be high. For one such piece of work I calibrated a Differential Mobility Analyser for use in the medical field.
The quality of work required included clear report-writing, which was emphasised by the company. On returning to university for my final year I will be aware of the differences between academic and commercial scientific reports, which put emphasis on very different aspects. Crucially the knowledge that I’ve gained from this internship can only be obtained through experience, therefore I am thankful to have had this opportunity.
I enjoyed how everything that was done on my internship was targeted in order to achieve a final goal in improving Ancon’s prototype device. When I tested modular components it was satisfying when unexpected results lead to new understanding and new possible avenues of research.
During my internship I learned crucial laboratory skills including how to design my experiment to be as efficient as possible in a time constrained environment. I gained expertise with various pieces of equipment used within the aerosol science field and the ability to work independently.
Working in industry has convinced me that I wish to apply my knowledge gained at university to scientific research. I greatly enjoyed the problem-solving aspects of the project, finding ways to optimise pieces of equipment in order to achieve the desired results.
My internship was a truly enjoyable experience where I enjoyed a significant amount of autonomy and responsibility, but with the opportunities to ask questions when needed. My colleagues were friendly and invited me to social activities and I hope to keep in contact with Ancon in the future.
Ancon is a high tech company offering revolutionary new molecular detection technology which provides unprecedented levels of sensitivity (much lower than parts per trillion), presenting a unique solution to many industries including military, security, and defence.
The assessment of residential façade sound insulation performance using road traffic as a source
During the weeks over the winter break I began searching for a summer internship of some kind to try to give myself more work experience to put on my CV, and an idea of what the workplace was like. I applied to the placement at Noise.co.uk as this was one of the projects that best suited my skillset and I felt I would be able to make a contribution to this field. It was a great experience to work in a UKAS-accredited laboratory as it gave an insight into how a scientific workplace would be run and whether I could keep up in this environment.
The project itself was looking into the differences between different methods of testing the noise-reduction capabilities of façades and investigating the inconsistencies between the predicted sound levels inside of a room and the actual measured values. This involved spending the first few weeks contacting homebuilders to allow us to use their properties to conduct our research and learning to use the equipment.
Tests we carried out meant being on site for between one and two days and included driving as far afield as Windsor and Manchester. These were beneficial for me as it meant learning to think on my feet and make decisions without being specifically told what to do at all times.
One of the highlights of the internship was probably the satisfaction of getting a MATLAB code to work. Over the whole eight-week period the programs that were written were slowly evolving and becoming more complicated and tricky. This would take large periods of time and a lot of coffee but upon getting that program to complete its intended task it would all be worth it. Also the project itself was a highlight as it felt good to work on something that was new and would make an impact in a specific field. We are all used to doing experiments in school or in university that have been done thousands of times before, but this was something that we were looking into for the first time and at the end of the project lead to a feeling of accomplishment.
The project allowed me to develop a lot of important skills, including communication, computing, and dealing with unpredictable situations. This placement definitely lived up to my expectations, and I had a good time throughout. It was an eye opener into how the world of work actually works, but I am still unsure of the actual direction I wish for my life to take. But I know that whatever path I do choose I will be far more ready for it than I was eight weeks ago.
Noise.co.uk is a nationwide noise and vibration consultancy practice.
Placement: University of Nottingham
I decided to apply for a summer placement in the hope of gaining some insight into the world of research, as well as an idea of what area of physics I would maybe want to enter in the future. The lasers in modern atomic physics particularly attracted me as I had just learnt about the theory of their operation in my third year, as well as the methods of cooling atoms and producing Bose-Einstein condensates. Being able to use them in a practical application was an opportunity I greatly desired.
During the placement I made a locking system for a laser. The laser was locked onto a transition frequency of Rubidium 87. It will eventually be installed into a new 2D trap that is being used in the main experiment to make Bose-Einstein condensates. It drew on lots of different areas: atomic physics to know how to achieve an absorption spectrum, optics to set up the laser line, and electronics to make the feedback system to lock the laser. This I enjoyed immensely as it helped me improve my experimental skillset, especially in electronics. I learned a lot about how to optimize circuits and the importance of their use in this area of research.
However, I found that the initial excitement of the placement started to wear off, but for entirely personal reasons. I think the pace of doing experimental work nine-five, five days a week is not suited for me, as it was a slower process than I imagined. However, if I had not been given this opportunity I would never have learned this, and achieving a locked laser by the end of the placement did give a sense of accomplishment. In light of this, I will do my final-year project in a different area of physics, to get a greater feel for doing research in different subjects in help inform the decision about my future further.
The fellow researchers that I got to work with were very informative and helpful, while giving me the responsibility of working things out for myself. I received great tips on keeping thorough notes. This helped keep my aims clear so as to not aimlessly mess about until the set up works, but methodically make changes to optimize the experiment.
The skills gained, especially in electronics, will be indispensable. I hope to be able to implement them in my project for my masters degree next year. The greatest thing to come out of my internship though is the opportunity I have had to see what studying for a PhD and research would be like. While I am not 100% certain what I want to do in the future, the experience I have had has been unique and gratifying. I have had a great time, and this is a can’t-miss opportunity for anyone considering going into research in science. It has enabled me to make a more informed decision about my future, and is one of the best work experience placements I’ve received.
Tanaporn Na Narong
Placement: University of Bristol
There were quite a few projects I was interested in when browsing through placements. However, this one, on thermionic emission of diamond films, attracted me the most. Not only because of its direct relevance to what I had covered in Condensed Matter Physics, but also the interesting properties of diamond itself.
I started off reading and learning a lot about diamond morphology and how to grow diamond films on different substrates using the Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) technique. After familiarising myself with the instruments, I was assigned two main tasks: one was to study and improve the self-assembly seeding methods used prior to growing diamond, and the other focused mainly on measuring thermionic properties of different types of diamond films.
After a couple of weeks, I could see how topography of the films, and morphology of crystals, may differ on varying seeding parameters and pre-treatments on the substrates. Having collected enough data from a series of experiments, I was able to draw some conclusions and suggest some improvements to the existing seeding methods.
It wasn’t until the last few weeks of internship when I started learning about thermionic emission, a phenomenon in which electrons are emitted as a result of direct heating onto a sample, either lithium-boron or lithium-nitrogen co-doped diamond. I looked at two setups with different heating methods. Unfortunately, the setup using laser heating was still undergoing troubleshooting and calibrating processes. Therefore, instead of starting making measurements, I was helping to do preliminary experiments and fixed any problems with the setup.
Apart from spending most of my time running around in the laboratories, about an hour every week was spared for a group meeting, where everyone in this research group gathered to present their progress from their roles, keeping each other updated. The atmosphere was very supportive and stimulating, a lot of questions asked and discussions about the results. The meetings reminded me of the value of teamwork, and provided the opportunity to listen, learn, and share at the same time.
Overall, the internship has been a very good practice for experimenting and handling laboratory setups. I realised it is very important to be meticulous in designing experiments, calibrating devices, and making any measurements. In experimental physics, even the smallest mistake can lead to significant errors that are difficult to identify. I would always keep this in mind when carrying out any future projects. This placement has been a valuable and rewarding experience, which really inspires me to stay in physics. I believe there are a lot more interesting applications of the knowledge in this field, and I am still eager to learn more during my time in the university or later in graduate and postgraduate levels.
My summer was very much well spent and full of new experiences. I find the working environment at the University of Bristol very friendly with a handful of lovely and helpful people including Neil Fox, my supervisor, postdocs, and PhD students in the CVD Diamond Group. I really enjoyed my internship here and will remain in contact with them in the near future.
Placement: National Physical Laboratory
I completed an eight-week placement studying graphene at the National Physical Laboratory. I applied for this placement because I am very interested in graphene – my final-year project at university will also be on the subject of graphene, and so it was a natural choice to try and gain some experience in the same field.
I began my placement by conducting a literature review. By reading many papers on the subject I learnt a lot about how graphene may be produced, measured, and its properties altered. It was also important that I understood the techniques I would be using and how the samples I would be measuring were produced. I presented my findings from the literature review to my supervisors and the other summer placement students in the group. After this I was trained to use two different scanning probe microscopes, which I used to image the surface of four samples of graphene grown by chemical vapour deposition on silicon carbide. All four samples were imaged using Kelvin probe force microscopy, a type of scanning probe microscopy (SPM) ideal for investigating the electronic properties of graphene, by measuring the surface potential.
The best thing about doing this placement has been applying the knowledge and skills I have been taught at university. I had previously learnt about how SPM and Raman spectroscopy work, but actually using this knowledge to perform real measurements is a completely different experience. I have also had the chance to work with graphene, which was fascinating as it was only first isolated in 2004. One other interesting highlight was seeing confocal microscopy performed, I had never heard of the technique before but it was interesting to see how powerful it is. I have also gained skills in data analysis and image processing. These are very important because acquiring the data is only a small part of research – interpreting the data correctly is equally as important.
I have always planned to do a PhD after my undergraduate course, and my plan has not changed after this placement. Now that I have some experience of experimental physics I feel more comfortable planning my future. I am confident that after my final project at university, which is theory-based, I will have enough experience to choose between pursuing a career in experimental or theoretical physics.
Everyone at NPL was extremely friendly. As you are working with expensive equipment and samples, asking questions is strongly encouraged, and so everyone is happy to help you with anything. One thing I didn’t expect was that there would be so many summer-placement students. This made it even easier to learn new and interesting things when discussing what they were doing for their placement.
The experience and knowledge I have developed is huge, and I have loved doing it. Moreover as the placement was eight weeks long I have still had plenty of time for a summer break.
The National Physical Laboratory is the UK's National Measurement Institute, and is a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards, science and technology available.