Alice Cheng

'The placement was definitely not what I expected to be. I thought of a lab based placement where I would either do little work, or I would be overwhelmed with work. Nevertheless, the placement exceeded my expectations in both the experience itself and the flexibility it provided, and I found it very enjoyable.'

What was your project about and did you know anything about the area before getting started?

My project is within astrophysics on the topic of gravity assist; this is a technique used by spacecrafts in deep space to reach far or hard to reach places such as the comet Rosetta and the dwarf planet (though he status is still debated by some), Pluto. Gravity assist uses the motion and the momentum of the planet (usually Jupiter in our solar system due to its large mass) to speed up or slow down the spacecraft depending on its velocity, relative to the planet’s reference frame. This meant that a spacecraft and be sped up by a large amount using none to minimum fuel and reach the region in deep space faster. I also looked at other ways of propelling the spacecraft with none to minimum fuel usage which can help space exploration within and beyond our solar system. With the New Horizons spacecraft visiting Pluto and the discovery of new exoplanets, these ideas can have possibilities of helping the future of deep space exploration.

Before my placement I knew briefly on what Gravity assist is, what can be calculated using equations of motion, some deferential equations and the conservation of momentum. Nevertheless, I feel that I learnt more in depth about the areas that I know before and I have also learnt concepts that I've never heard before, in various areas of physics such as fluid dynamics which I've found very interesting.

How did your supervisor help you with your project?

My supervisor talked through some ideas and areas I could research into as well as holding several meetings in terms of progress and more ideas to take the project further. He helped me with my experiments by gathering equipment, and making sure the venue was available for the duration of the experiment. He kept the project open which allowed me to take the project in the way I liked and work independently if I chose to.

What advice would you give to students applying for a Nuffield Research Placement?

  • Try to briefly research about the topic of your project before you start it to gain an insight into what you want to do for it.
  • Don't worry about settling in because you will get used to the place fairly quickly and the people are always friendly.
  • Don't let travel stop you from going on this placement because Nuffield have a very good bursary scheme and the placement is worth it.
  • Talk to people and try to make friends because you might see them again in the future in work or at university. This also makes the placement more fun.
  • Don't worry about the project outcome. Just go for it.