Sam Hillman spent 5 weeks working at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington last summer. His project, entitled ‘Characterisation of DC NanoSQUIDs’ ultimately led to a trip to Texas to present his work at the International Sustainable World (Engineering, Energy & Environment) Project Olympiad! Supervised by Dr Olga Kazakova, during his placement Sam looked at how to achieve the detection and manipulation of single electron-flips.
Sam with fellow Nuffield student Stephanie Tudgey at the I-SWEEEP Olympiad in Texas.
How did you get involved in the Nuffield Research Placements Programme and why did you want to take part in the programme?
The Nuffield Research Placements Programme was advertised by my college. I took part because I wanted to experience an area of science that had a tangible and practical outcome to see if a career as a scientist suited me.
What were the aims of your project, and how did you go about achieving these?
My project was a small part of an ongoing project in which the National Physical Laboratory hoped to achieve the detection and manipulation of single electron spin-flips (a quantum effect). I was testing some of the control devices to check that they behaved as expected. This required me to use some of the low-temperature equipment and electronics owned by the NPL in several different configurations.
What did you learn most from your placement experience?
That in research nothing ever goes as planned! I spent a lot of time troubleshooting and fixing problems, whether it be software, hardware or human error.
What are your longer term plans and how did your placement experience affect these plans?
I hope to read physics at Warwick University. My placement experience helped me to confirm that I would like to move into research after that.
How does it feel to have won the I-SWEEEP prize to go to Texas, and what are you most looking forward to?
Although it may be a cliché, I was very surprised when I was first told. It is a fantastic opportunity. I think I am most looking forward to seeing what an American science fair is really like – it should be fascinating to see how they approach research.
After his trip to I-SWEEEP, Sam told us more about his experience...
"The International Sustainable World (Engineering, Energy & Environment) Project Olympiad hosted in Houston, Texas was an amazing event. The range and depth of projects from all over the world into the future of our planet was truly inspiring. Whilst in the host city, contestants visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the NASA Space Station. The rest of the time was spent in the George R. Brown Convention Center with my project display. There was a public viewing day and a judging day, both of which were really enjoyable as people are generally very interested. I won a silver medal for my display, which also entitled me to $600 prize money and a partially-funded scholarship at North American College. I also received a further independent award for innovation and creativity from HUNSTEM, which is a part of the University of Downtown Houston. There were many different companies and organisations present. The best part of the trip was that you got to make friends with people from all over the world, some of whom I’m still in contact with today."