Mariam Zaidi

How did you get involved in the Nuffield Research Placements and why did you want to take part in the programme?

I had an interest in learning about scientific research, and wanted to get a feel for what it's like working in a lab. Fortunately the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) is close to where I live.  My first initiative was to contact them requesting to undertake a mini project.  I was then lucky enough to be granted a Nuffield placement.

What were the aims of your project, and how did you go about achieving these?

In essence, I wanted to research into how the heart develops in an embryo. The heart being such an intricate and complex organ goes through a sequence of developmental phases and this is what I focused on during my project. In particular, I studied how the arterial valves form. I used a variety of computer programming software and microscopy equipment to analyse the changes that the heart goes through in a set of embryonic mice hearts. I also used some staining techniques to identify the cellular components of these early tissues. It amazed me to find out that there are so many different ways of analysing techniques that one can use!

What did you learn most from your placement experience?

Scientific research is not what it always seems like. It's actually fun - everyday you're getting involved with something new, whether it is a continuation of previous work or a whole new project. I realised how important it is to help identify causes and even possible treatments of various diseases. Science progresses every day and being part of a lab environment and for these few weeks it highlighted this to me in a clear and memorable experience.

What was it like exhibiting at the Big Bang?  How does it feel to have won the top prize in the Science & Maths category?

Exciting! Initially I was quite apprehensive about how I'd perform in front of the judges and if people would understand my project. This fear soon evaporated as I came to see how friendly and supportive everybody was. Meeting other like-minded fellow scientists was a great way of interacting, making new friends and it was just a lovely experience. The whole event was fantastic and I feel really privileged to have won an amazing prize!!

The memories I have of the Big Bang Fair are priceless and am grateful to everybody who made my time there a fabulous one. It also always reminds me of my Nuffield Project time, without which I would not have been able to develop and progress in my scientific career.