You might already know this, but I'm a laser/plasma physicist and I'm just about to finish my masters in research in Photonics from Imperial College. I am currently working at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, where my current research is basically in the field of laboratory astrophysics - recreating the conditions found in space in the lab! And exciting news for me .. I've just finished my FIRST EVER experiment at SLAC!
I had collaborators from my home university, Imperial College, other collaborators from Livermore National Laboratory. It was also a chance for me to write my first ever proposal, see previous blog post here.
In this experiment, we're basically trying to recreate the conditions found in the interiors of planets such as Neptune and Uranus. I'll delve more into this in another blog post.
But for now, let's delve into the life of a physicist on experiment at a scientific facility. Here are 5 things I've noticed whilst on experiment:
1. SOMETHING WILL ALWAYS BREAK
After the first week of setting up I quickly realised that we were always bumping into problems that we didn't think we would have and certain things we thought wouldn't have problems, ended up having problems and it was almost scary how many things could break in one day. Those of you that have been on experiments before understand the struggle I'm sure.
2. EVERYTHING TAKES WAY LONGER THAN YOU THINK
One thing I noticed from the beginning was that, EVERYTHING, took way longer than we planned. We always had a plan, every night before the next day we'd make a plan and sometimes we'd speed through it and sometimes we would
3. TAKE NOTE OF EVERYTHING, BECAUSE YOU WILL FORGET
University taught me how important lab books were, but being on experiment when you're tired, really enforced the important of taking a log of what you're doing. Your future self will thank you later!
4. SLEEP DOESN'T NECESSARILY TAKE PRIORITY
This is my first ever experiment and I didn't realise how little sleep I would get. Some days involved working until 2am in the morning and starting the next day at 6am. Self care went off the edge during this experiment, and it was super hard to make sure that I took care of myself.
Also, I noticed that in academia it's a given that on experiment you won't get any sleep, which I personally am not a fan of, staying healthy is super important. Also, there were comments floating around that implied that if you coudn't ahndle the long hours then academia wasn't for you.
Let me know your thoughts on this, because I'm not sure if I agree with expecting people to not take care of themselves on experiments. :(
5. DATA SEEMS TO APPEAR ON THE LAST DAY
I feel like with all the experiments I've been on, and heard about from others, the juicy data seems to come through on the last day.
All in all, though, I've had a great time, got to meet some cool people and do cool science! Hopefully onwards and upwards from here for hopefully the next experiment! Let me know about your experiment experiences in the comments below. :) Happy experimenting!