Amy will be standing on one of our soapboxes at our London event, on the 30th of May. Come and hear her talk about “Atoms: A Window into Space“
When I found out that I had been selected for Soapbox Science 2015, I was so excited that I think I might have jumped up out of my chair. Outreach has always been something I am very interested in, and I (sometimes literally) jump at any opportunity to get involved and talk about the exciting things we learn and do as scientists. This is entirely the fault of the incredible mentors I’ve had throughout my life, many of which have been, and are, strong, smart and hard-working women. From my mother and grandmothers, to my lecturers and PhD supervisor, throughout my studies and career so far, I have been lucky enough to work with and learn from enthusiastic teachers and researchers. Each one helping to shape the type of scientist I am and hope to be. So, if I get an opportunity to try and be the same role model that they are for me, I will happily leap at the chance.
I am currently working towards my PhD in the Earth Sciences Department at UCL, studying the interior of the smallest planet in our solar system, Mercury. To explain how I study something we can’t directly observe, never mind being quite a few millions of miles away, I’d like you to imagine Mercury is a cake. If you wanted to know about the inside of a cake, its texture or structure (without cutting it up and eating it in one sitting as I have been known to do) you could look at the ingredients from its recipe. What happens to a mixture of sugar, butter, flour and milk at high temperature? By studying the properties of my cake mixture, I could find out about the interior of my cake. I essentially do the same for Mercury; I look at its main ingredients and see what happens when you subject them to the pressures and temperatures you’d find in the centre of a planet!
How do the materials change, and what changes about them? Depending on the properties of the materials that form the innermost planet, you can start to build a picture of Mercury’s internal structure and how it has evolved over time. So, how do I study these materials? My research investigates materials by simulating the interactions between the atoms that make them. It only takes a relatively small number of atoms to be able to learn about the properties of the material. But while the atoms themselves are very small, this is no small task. These calculations need a very big computer, a supercomputer named ARCHER.
I spend much of each day working on a computer, whether it be my own or connected to the UK’s National Supercomputing Service, ARCHER, but I wouldn’t say I fit any stereotypical scientist mould. I have a deep-rooted love of high heels, plus for someone who spends most of my time in front of a screen, I’m actually very outdoorsy. I may be looking for a recipe for Mercury, but I don’t believe there is any set recipe for a researcher. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by inspiring scientists, each one very different to the other. From my experience, it would seem that it is the unique qualities each person has brought to the scientific dinner table that has made them great. The only common ingredients being hard work, enthusiasm for their subject and a pinch of curiosity for good measure! So if you love science, and find yourself asking “how does that work?’ or “why does that happen?” then pursue it, you might be the missing ingredient to solving some of the endless mysteries nature still holds.
[ARCHER image courtesy of EPCC, University of Edinburgh]