Thanks everyone for all of your amazing questions! I had a great time over the past month 😊
I’m a postgraduate researcher in experimental quantum physics who drinks way too many cups of tea ☕ When I’m not in the lab I like to read, bake, knit and play with my cat. I love cosy games like animal crossing, pokemon, stardew valley, and genshin impact 🎮
I live in Guildford with my partner and our cat, Heidi. My favourite hobby is scuba diving but I haven’t been able to do much since I started my PhD (I’m actually a professionally qualified dive master and have helped teach scuba diving in the past). I love unwinding with video games in the evenings and can often be found snuggled up with my Nintendo Switch. I also run an Instagram page where I talk about physics, quantum technology and my life as a researcher as well as writing articles about science for websites like Physics World!
I happen to have an invisible disability and I’m autistic which can be challenging at times but I try not to let it stop me from pursuing my passions.
I study semiconductors which are the materials that computer chips are made of. Semiconductors have a conductivity between that of an insulator and a conductor. They make up most of your phone and computer. I’m trying to understand how electrons behave in semiconductors so that we can use a property called ‘electron spin’ for future technologies.
In fact, the field of physics that I’m in is called ‘spintronics’ which is a combination of the words ‘spin’ and ‘electronics’! If we can work out how to reliably control electron spin, we could make technology like quantum computers and it could also make your internet speed even faster.
Here’s a video I made explaining spintronics in 3 minutes:
and here’s a picture of one of some of my devices on a chip:
and this is what it looks like compared with my fingers:
Pretty small, right?
I’m developing a new way to create structures in semiconductors using a machine called a ‘focused ion beam’. It looks like this:
and it lets me shoot particles at my devices. Sometimes we use it to add layers or little towers of atoms to the device, but usually, I use it to dig tiny holes and trenches:
This hole has a diameter of 10 micrometers which is less than the diameter of a human hair!
Once I’ve used the focused ion beam to make a new nanostructure (which just means that it’s really, really small), I measure them at extremely low temperatures to study the device. I then either apply HUGE magnetic fields or shoot lasers at them or both to see how the electrons in the material behave under these conditions. This is done using our big superconducting magnet who we call ‘Emily’. Here she is:
This lab is my favourite place to be on campus. It is a bit noisy though! The magnet system uses a pump to cool down to such low temperatures and it sounds a little bit like a steam train. Here’s a little look around the lab:
Inside the magnet, my devices can be cooled to a temperature of around 2 Kelvin which is -271.15 degrees celsius. I can then apply magnetic fields up to 7 teslas to the device which is stronger than the magnetic field of most MRI machines and the equivalent to around 700 fridge magnets. When I want to shoot lasers at the device, I use a series of lenses and mirrors to direct and focus the laser beam.
You might have noticed before that there are teeny tiny wires attached to my devices (they’re very hard to attach). It’s these wires which I use to make measurements of the electric current following through the devices. We find that putting the devices in these extreme conditions impacts the behaviour of the electrons inside and I use this to understand the electron’s spin and check whether the devices I make work as expected!
My Typical Day:
I get up and head into the lab 👩🔬 While I’m there I’ll make some new devices or do some measurements. I’ll probably do some coding to analyse my results. Hopefully, I learn something new or make an interesting discovery!
At the moment I’m spending 2 days a week in the lab and the other 3 working from home. I’ll run through a typical lab day here because they’re my favourite days! On non-lab days I spend most of my time analysing my data, writing scientific papers, reading scientific papers, and doing computational modelling to accompany my experiments.
Here’s what my day generally looks like:
7:00 I wake up and make the first cuppa of the day and feed Heidi before I leave the house!
8:00 I walk into the lab which takes me about an hour. I used to take the train in, but prefer to walk these days.
9:00 Time to start work! I like to get started with my experiments as soon as I arrive as it often takes hours to cool the system down to cold enough temperatures. You might find me using the focused ion beam, working with Emily, or even doing some work in the cleanroom:
If you’re curious about what it looks like doing quantum physics research, here are a few time-lapse videos of me working in on various things in labs:
12:00 Lunchtime! I always have an hour-long break for lunch and try to go for a walk to stretch my legs.
1:00 Usually back to the lab. At this point, my experiment is usually underway (sometimes the experiments last for days) so I’m just monitoring it. It’s the perfect time to do some coding to analyse some of my previous data or write up some of my results.
Then once I’m happy that the experiment is running, I’ll usually have a tea break and read a paper:
3:00 Quite often I’ll be finished with my lab work for the day so I might head home at three to work at home. When I get home, I’ll do more reading, writing or data analysis. Sometimes Heidi helps me out!
5:00 The end of the day (usually). I try my best to work from 9-5 so that I don’t burn out. In the evening, I spend lots of time playing with Heidi, cook dinner, watch TV, read and maybe do some gaming. At the moment I’m playing pokemon legends arceus, animal crossing and genshin impact.
What I'd do with the prize money:
I’d like to create a quantum technology outreach kit using lego and 3D printing that I can take to science festivals and into schools. Once I’ve tested it all works, I’d love to make the designs available for anyone to make the kit using lego and a 3D printer!
Norwich High School for Girls until 2014, the University of Surrey until now!
GCSEs: Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Maths, English Language, English Literature, Fine Art, Geography, German, Latin
A levels: Physics, Maths, Chemistry
Undergraduate degree: MPhys in Physics (4 years) at the University of Surrey
PhD: Currently doing a PhD in condensed matter physics at the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute
During my undergraduate degree, I had a summer job where I worked in an agricultural lab close to my parents’ house. I was a lab assistant and measured the quality of lots of types of grains that were used to make beer and flour.
My degree included a placement year where I worked in industry while doing research for a piece of work called my master’s thesis. I got to work at a company called ‘The Centre for Integrated Photonics’ where I was on a research and development team making semiconductor lasers. I got to design, test and analyse these lasers to try and make the internet faster.
I’m currently a postgraduate researcher in physics at the University of Surrey. This means I am working towards getting my PhD and I spend my time doing research and sometimes teaching. For example, I’m a laboratory demonstrator for physics undergraduates.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
tea-drinking quantum physicist
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to be a physics researcher.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No, I was a bit of a goody two-shoes at school!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Liane Carroll (a jazz singer).
What's your favourite food?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To have more time in the day (so I can read more books!), to work on interesting projects for my whole career, and to have more self-confidence.
Tell us a joke.
Never trust an atom. They make up everything.