Blog posts

Imperial Lates: Space – On Science and Self

On 7th December, W&NBiP Society hosted a series of talks at the Imperial Lates: Space event. Titled On Science and Self, we had four amazing researchers speak about their experiences: describing how they got into physics and what they love about their job. Many thanks to Cara, Sophia, Shivangi and Ayushi for showing the human side of science.

Shivangi:

If I can develop interest and provide the courage and confidence to even one person to pursue Space research, it’s worth my time and effort.

7th December turned out to be more fun than I had anticipated. While my morning was busy with attending and discussing a recent paper in our journal club, the evening was reserved for trying to get people interested in what I do. But as it turns out, I didn’t really need to do anything. Imperial Lates, which was organised with the theme ‘Space’ this time showed me that people, irrespective of their ages and profession were very much fascinated by Space and Planetary research!

The evening started off with us being assigned a corner in the college main foyer to display a LEGO model and some videos of the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission. Right next to our table was a cocktail stand (Icenine) that served three cocktails based on the icy moons of Jupiter- Ganyme’jito, Europa Martini and Marga’listo. Although we got a lot of people interested in the cocktails and the LEGO, the main highlight of the event came later when I had to present my academic journey and postdoctoral work for the ‘Women in Space’ talks. I was extremely glad to watch the room getting full and the excitement on everyone’s face when I talked about the mission and the moons. The discussions and Q&A round was even more eventful with hopefully the audience taking home some understanding of the research I presented. While I was hoping to impart some of my experience and knowledge, I in turn returned more confident about what I do. People often ask me why I do outreach and my answer has been consistent. If I can develop interest and provide the courage and confidence to even one person to pursue Space research, it’s worth my time and effort. But now I can also add that it proves to be useful as a self motivator as well!

Copyright Brendan Foster

#WomenonWednesdays: Yasmin Andrew

For our final #WomenonWednesdays interview of 2023 we spoke to Dr Yasmin Andrew, student liaison officer and researcher in plasma physics!

As an introduction, what is your area of expertise within Physics?

My plasma physics research is on magnetically confined fusion.  I plan and run experiments on a number conventional and spherical tokamaks across the world, including MAST-U and ST40 in Oxfordshire, and DIII-D in San Diego. The specific topic I work on, with a very talented team of physicists, is fusion plasma turbulence and self-organisation in a very narrow edge region of the tokamak.  My interest in the dynamics of self-regulation between different plasma variables and causality, which I study using a combination of dedicated tokamak experiments, high resolution diagnostic data, 3-D turbulence simulations and novel statistical analysis approaches.

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#WomenonWednesdays: Abigail Levison

This week for #WomenonWednesdays we spoke to Abigail, a third year physics undergraduate, currently on her year abroad in Switzerland!

Describe your path into physics, what kickstarted it?

My path into physics is slightly unusual: I had planned for all of sixth form to study maths at university since that was always my favourite subject at school. I even applied to do maths at some universities. It took sitting the STEP papers (an admissions test used by some universities for maths) for me to realise I loved applied maths much much more than pure maths. Every time I read about pure maths I thought, “that’s cool, but what can I use this for?”

I discovered that the problem-solving I loved from maths and further maths A level was in fact closer to the maths in a physics degree than in a maths degree. And when I came to Imperial and started my physics degree, I knew immediately that physics was exactly the subject I wanted.

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#WomenonWednesdays: Ellie Tubman

For this week’s #WomenonWednesdays interview, we spoke to Dr Ellie Tubman, a lecturer in Experimental ICF / HEDP Science.

As an introduction, what is your area of expertise within Physics?

I am a plasma physicist working on fusion energy and laboratory astrophysics using laser facilities such as NIF, Omega and Orion. You may have heard of NIF in California where they recently achieved ignition last Christmas where we got more energy out than we put in to our fuel, a really exciting result! I am particularly interested in the magnetic fields that can be generated in the interactions and how that affects the phenomena. At Imperial I am involved in teaching 1st year laboratory.

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#WomenonWednesdays: Nikita Chaturvedi

This week for #WomenonWednesdays we spoke to Nikita, a PhD student in plasma physics!

As an introduction, describe your pathway into physics, what kickstarted it?

I was first drawn to physics through maths in high school – I enjoyed the subject itself but liked the applied side much better. Physics seemed to combine the theoretical side of maths into something grounded in reality, at least that’s what I thought until starting quantum mechanics in uni! Once at Imperial I started off terrible at computational physics, but grew to enjoy it over the years, so much so that I ended up doing an MSc in a field called computational fluid dynamics. There is something very satisfying about translating governing equations into a code, and using it to simulate complicated systems. My master’s degree then laid the groundwork for my PhD, which is also based in numerical physics.

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#WomenonWednesdays: Clarisse Bonacina

For this week’s #WomenonWednesdays interview we spoke to Clarisse, a fourth year physics undergraduate student.

Describe your path into physics. What kick started it?

I grew up in the South of France and did my education there under the French system (the French Baccalaureate). I decided to go to the UK for my studies simply because I liked the idea of going abroad. In my area, it’s quite uncommon to do that, so I sort of embarked on this journey knowing very little about how difficult it was to get in, how demanding the course would be, how many opportunities I would have. I didn’t have any ort of international exposure prior to that. It was a big step up throwing myself into university in a country where the language is not my native tongue. And I’m glad I didn’t know, I think I wouldn’t have had the confidence to just throw myself into this if I knew, I’m glad I had the courage to go into the unknown like this. I’m now in my in my 4th year and I would do it all again.

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#WomenonWednesdays: Amaya Calvo Sanchez

This week we spoke to Amaya, current postgraduate co-president of the Women and Non-Binary in Physics Committee.

Describe your path into physics, what kickstarted it?

I grew up in Torrelavega, which is in a rural part of northern Spain. I was very lucky that my family and environment were always very supportive and encouraged me to explore many different interests. I was enrolled in our local music conservatory while in regular school and considered classical guitar and other creative roles as possible career paths. I was also good at maths and really enjoyed it. When we got to physics in high school, I found in it the same problem-solving and pattern-finding elements that I’d previously enjoyed in my music education. I also liked that I found it challenging — I felt struggling through problems only made the result more satisfying. I went on to do my undergrad degree in Physics with Theoretical Physics here at Imperial, which was a huge jump in difficulty, but I gained a strong foundation and exposure to a lot of different fields. I finally narrowed down my interests to quantum optics and quantum information once I completed my BSc project.

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#WomenonWednesdays: Julie Euvrard

For this week’s interview we spoke with Dr. Julie Euvrard, a new Lecturer in Experimental Solid State Physics and the founder and PI of the Echoes Lab in Blackett.

As an introduction, what is your area of expertise within Physics? 

My research focuses on new types of semiconductors that are alternatives to traditional silicon for various applications such as solar cells, LEDs, transistors… You might have heard of OLEDs, used in some phone and TV screens. These LEDs are made with organic semiconductors (‘O’ in OLED). Organic semiconductors are carbon and hydrogen-based molecules or polymers exhibiting semiconducting properties. They are interesting for applications requiring mechanical flexibility (you may have seen videos of foldable screens), optical transparency, and large area. Organic-based technologies also have the potential for lower fabrication costs, giving hope for cheaper solar energy solutions. It is this last application that motivates my research and helps me link my interests with societal needs. 

Another class of materials I am working on are halide perovskites. Perovskites have a crystalline structure, like silicon, but are made of different atoms. The perovskites that are particularly trendy in research are composed of a mixture of atoms such as Pb and I, and organic molecules (for example CH3NH3). Hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites happen to be very good solar absorbers. Unfortunately, the lifetime of perovskite-based solar cells remains too low for commercialisation. 

My interest lies in the physics of these emerging semiconductors and how it differs from traditional silicon. What you learn in semiconductor and device physics classes are key and necessary background, but it does not describe the behaviour of all materials. I use experimental tools to uncover this behaviour and relate it to what we know. 

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Great Exhibition Road Festival 2023

Ginevra Casati, a PhD student in the Plasma Physics group, was able to tell her personal 15-minute story of awe and wonder: “Looking Up to Our Favourite Constellations”. Here are her reflections from the event!
Ginevra Casati telling her story of awe and wonder
Ginevra Casati telling her story of awe and wonder at the Great Exhibition Road Festival 2023.

As physicists we are trained to communicate our science in a highly specific manner: concise, clear, objective, with little room for personal flair or whimsicality, so when I had the opportunity to learn how to tell a story to a lay audience, I was intrigued, but also a little bit daunted.

Choosing a story to tell was not simple. I was afraid my audience wouldn’t be entertained if I shared something completely autobiographic. I also wanted to leave my comfort zone and step out of the bounds of the research that takes up my working hours. I found that sharing a story about personal growth and passion with an audience of strangers made me feel vulnerable, but also more excited than talking about my results in front of scientists.

I really enjoyed the process of thinking creatively about my story and I was thrilled to have the chance to practice my storytelling skills with people of the caliber of Prof. Claudia de Rham.

On the day, the reality of presenting at the Victoria and Albert Museum had me nervous and intimidated. As I made my way down exhibition road I was overwhelmed by the infectiously fun atmosphere of the festival, everywhere I looked there were curiosities on display, innovative workshops and the whole road was awash with bright colors. In that moment I realized I was part of the festival, and the feeling of belonging to something so huge made my nerves disappear almost completely, replaced with a powerful desire to leave my mark on the festival as best as I could.

Stage fright was kept at bay by my close friends who came to support me.in more than one instance I felt a bit overwhelmed or didn’t remember how to continue the story and looking at their smiling faces gave me the push I needed!

Connecting with the audience during and after the story was special, I really enjoyed discussing parts of my tale with members of the audience and hearing how they interpreted what I said and how it resonated with them.

Overall, it was an exhilarating experience which I am eager to repeat next year!

CUWiP 2023

This year, WNBiP were able to support two fourth year undergraduates to attend the Conference for Undergraduate Women and Non-Binary Physicists (CUWiP) in Liverpool. Here’s what Yuqing Wu and Adèle Julia have to say about their experiences!

Yuqing: One of the highlights of Term 2 in my final year was being able to represent Imperial College at the 2023 Conference for Undergraduate Women and Non-Binary Physicists (CUWiP). This annual conference aims to encourage greater participation of women, non-binary, and under-represented genders in Physics, by connecting them with other talented Physicists. For me, it was an excellent opportunity to meet other Physics students across the UK, and gain insights into academia which I certainly hope to pursue in the future.

One of the first events of the conference, and probably my favourite, was a visit to one of three science sites near Liverpool. In my case, that was a trip to Daresbury Laboratory, an STFC-funded site focusing on particle physics. Among other things, I saw the detailed construction of a room-sized particle accelerator (sudden flashback to my first year project, where I wrote code to model a beamline, but never saw one in person thanks to covid…), and instrumentation for the time projection chamber of the DUNE experiment (in other words: how to construct a gigantic wire frame to help detect neutrinos). It was fantastic to see the knowledge I gained in four years’ worth of classes brought to life!

As a conference, there was naturally a long list of scientific talks in store for all attendees. We heard from many motivational speakers, such as Prof Carla Figueira de Morisson Faria, Prof Laura Harkness-Brennan, Dr Izzy Jayasinghe, and Dr Susha Parameswaran, to name just a few. The talks mainly centred on their research, and journey through the world of academia as a woman. The talk on chiral molecules and Wikipedia editing, delivered by our very own Dr Jess Wade based on her research and activism at Imperial, was definitely one of my favourites! (More recently, I might even have crossed paths with her group’s demonstrations during the Great Exhibition Road Festival.) There were also plenty of opportunities to discuss life as a scientist more informally, such as a Q&A-style session with a panel of early-career scientists, and small-group chats with some lovely PhD students from the University of Liverpool. On a more serious tone, there were several talks or activities focusing on how to promote gender equality in Physics, or STEM more generally – there were so many creative suggestions, and I sincerely hope I can see some of them implemented one day.

The conference is not entirely academic, however, and there were plenty of icebreaking events, such as quizzes and small-group activities. Liverpool is such a historical city, and our conference organisers took care to show us the best Liverpool has to offer during a self-guided city tour, culminating in a formal dinner at the Maritime Museum. Of course, I also grabbed another few precious hours in Liverpool between the end of the conference and my train journey back. Over these four days, I’ve met so many other aspiring Physicists, several of whom – writing over three months later – I’m still in touch with. I’m incredibly glad to have been offered this opportunity to attend CUWiP.

Adèle Julia and Yuqing Wu at CUWiP 2023
Adèle Julia and Yuqing Wu at CUWiP 2023
Jess Wade talk
Jess Wade inspiring future physicists

Adèle: Hi! I’m Adèle and just finished my Physics MSci at Imperial. I was lucky enough to attend CUWIP in March in Liverpool. CUWIP was a three-day conference, packed with talks, panels and activities, and attended by about 120 female and non-binary students from universities in the UK and Ireland. I had a really great time and would strongly encourage you to attend too.

The team that organised CUWIP was absolutely amazing. All the students were very friendly and the atmosphere was quite relaxed. It was really good to meet and hear from female physicists, from PhDs all the way to professors.

During the talks, speakers presented their research and then told us about their careers. It was very touching to hear the speakers being so honest and vulnerable about their experiences. As I embark on post-grad life and plan for my future, recalling what they had to contend with is reassuring to me. It was also great to meet relatable role models. I was able to identify with all the physicists, who are thriving as scientists. I felt empowered after those three days, with many examples of impactful women in academia who have succeeded through their passion and hard work. It definitely made me more motivated and self-confident about doing a PhD and staying in academia.

On one of the conference days, I chose to join the group that toured the Jodrell Bank Observatory and heard a talk by a female post doc in cosmology. I am really interested in doing a PhD in cosmology and this was a fantastic opportunity for me to find out more about research in this field.

The conference ended with a dinner in the Merseyside Maritime Museum at the docks in Liverpool. It was a very special moment where I felt part of a community, a big one, made up of strong, motivated and smart women all united by our love and passion for physics. Our cohort felt like a giant safe space and that’s a feeling I want to hold on to and seek out in my future career. CUWIP is one of my best memories of my time at Imperial.