I am a particle physicist. I analyze data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to search for as-yet undiscovered particles.
As a scientist I think it is very important to explain to the public what I am looking at in my research. That is why I make my work accessible to everyone who is interested. I was especially excited about being asked to give a talk for TEDxLondonWomen, because I feel it is particularly important to show young women that they can also pursue a career in the sciences. I have always wanted to understand why the world around me was the way it was. At school, I just wanted to finish the other lessons and get into the science lab. It was the only way I found to quench my curiosity.
Hunting for new particles involves analyzing lots of data from a detector at CERN. To do this I have to write computer code to instruct the computer which calculations to perform to tell us something useful about the data.
Modern particle physics experiments are often the size of a large cave and are very complicated to build and use. There are whole teams of scientists working on monitoring a small part of the detector. Even more are needed to analyze the data. That is why it is very important that people communicate their ideas clearly when they are working in big teams, like when I give talks to colleagues.
During my research I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing people. I even had the chance to meet Professor Stephen Hawking, whose work I greatly admire.
As someone with a physical disability, I often have to think of techniques to get my work done that are different from other people. For example, instead of using a mouse or keyboard to type my work, I dictate what I want to write to an assistant. In a simpler way, when I worked in the lab during my degree, I told an assistant how to use the equipment to perform the experiment.
The satisfaction I felt when performing experiments in the lab and understanding
something new about the universe shaped my studies. I earned a master’s in science at Imperial College London and a PhD in Particle Physics at the University of Cambridge.
To perform the experiment I work on (the ATLAS experiment at CERN), we accelerate particles using magnets until they zoom around a really long tunnel underground and collide. It would not be possible to stand next to the tunnel while the experiment was in progress, because of the radiation and the high magnetic fields. But this is a photograph of what the tunnel would look like if you could.
Particle physicists have a pretty good understanding of all the particles that we have discovered so far. However, there is strong evidence that there are more particles throughout the universe that we still know nothing about. For example, when we look at how fast far away galaxies are spinning, we see that they are spinning too fast to just be made of the stars that we can see. There must be additional “stuff” in them. It is my job to find out which particles this “stuff” is made of.