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Zoe Louise Matthews | ASY-EOS | UK

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On se retrouve encore, enfin (we meet again at last)!

Bonjour, QD readers. Nice to see you again!

Whilst many historic things have been happening in science this year (the touch-down of Atlantis marked the end of NASA’s space shuttle era, a type 1a supernova could be seen from my bedroom window with a pair of binoculars, scientists bade a sad farewell to the TeVatron, a plethora of physics came out of Quark Matter Annecy, and a general feeling like this erupted in the science community surrounding perplexing OPERA neutrino results, to name only a handful), I have been absent from the QD community throughout, busy being swept up in my own world of excitement. Forgive the length of this blog, as I try to summarise!

Visiting heavy ion facilities:

1. Working at GSI, in Darmstadt, Germany, on the “S394” experiment to try and determine “symmetry energy”:

I spent a few months here on and off. The experiment uses various detectors to measure the “flow” of neutrons and protons coming out of high-density collisions of gold, ruthenium and zirconium ions (using beams from GSI’s ion accelerator fired onto targets). It’s a bit like squishing large nuclei together and then seeing how they expand, to try to understand how the neutrons behave differently to the protons. It is particularly relevant for understanding the behaviour of matter in neutron stars. I have said something about this already but I will save the details for a later blog, and my amateur video. Watch this space!

The ASYEOS S394 Experiment at GSI

2. Helping out on an experiment using the INDRA detector at GANIL (Grand Accélérateur National d’Ions Lourds), Caen, France:

This is where I am right now. GANIL is a seriously tranquil place. There are pretty gardens with rabbits and butterflies and apple trees everywhere, during what feels like the height of summer. You could almost expect a tellytubby to emerge from behind a bush. But at the heart of this green paradise lies an ion accelerator, feeding beams of heavy nuclei to a “fishbone” of target experiments. We are, in this analogy, at the chin of the fish, where INDRA (Identification des Noyaux et Détection à Résolution Accrue), a 4p detection array sitting inside a vacuum, is being used to measure collisions of tantalum with much smaller ions, like aluminium. The energy of the collisions is small enough that the two ions form an excited nucleus and then decay again, and INDRA measures the result.

GANIL: The accelerators and the "fishbone". INDRA is in D5 (the chin of the "fish" perhaps?)

Presenting on the ASYEOS S394 experiment at various conferences including:

1. IOP Nuclear Particle Physics Divisional conference in Glasgow:

This is one of the largest conferences of its kind, where all particle and nuclear physicists of all disciplines get together and celebrate their work. It was brilliant to see how much overlap there is between the fields – something I am learning now as a particle physics PhD student turned nuclear physics researcher.

2. The Gordon Conference of Nuclear Chemistry, Boston, MA:

My first trip to the US ever, to present a poster at one of the most prestigious conferences in the world…and I won the poster competition! The prize? To give a talk at the conference! What an honour. The food here was amazing too. Short animation maker Odd Todd was a guest speaker – if you are looking for someone to make your science into a funny bite-sized video for kids/the public, give him a look here.

3. IOP Rutherford Centennial Conference, Manchester:

Celebrating one hundred years of the atomic nucleus. As well as some wonderful historic talks (I love these), the conference featured so many aspects of current nuclear physics research, from the structure of nuclei to nuclear astrophysics to hadronic physics to quark gluon plasma. It was great to see so many familiar faces and famous scientists from so many different places gathering close to my home town. I was a quite disappointed when rioters embarrassed our country in front of them that week though.

Ernest Rutherford, the man who started it all

Joining Merseyside STEM and the Liverpool University Outreach group:

I have been involved with the “Physics is for Girls” and “Spectrum of Physics” events at the University and visited a school close to home in Birkenhead to talk to AS level students about my career. The more I work with kids the more I think that I would love to teach some day. Highlights of these activities included an insane pop quiz which proposed to possibility of diffracting a human being, and the brilliant performance of “Science is cool” by Sarah Annaud and Jennifer Bullock – playing with liquid nitrogen is so much fun and yet you can learn so much from it. Keep your eye out for the relaunch of the University of Liverpool’s physics outreach site for more information.

Planning a wedding:

Anyone know what this is? I found it in a field in Germany. Not quite a bluebell...

Most suppliers for our spring wedding are now booked. Planning a wedding is excellent light relief when you have many other things on your plate: It’s brought me closer to my mother, brought out my creative and list-making-organisey sides, and got me learning about girly things I neglected to think about before: I have been wildflower-spotting everywhere from Wales to Darmstadt, found my favourite classical piece of music (Elgar’s Salut d’Amour), and experimented with chocolate wedding cake making with my hubby to be. A small note to those of you who consider making a wedding cake at some point: your basic maths is going to come in very handy.

Sir Edward Elgar. Am I the only one seeing a resemblance to Rutherford, or is it just the 1900's moustache? 😉

Submitting my thesis (oh yes!):

Finally, after a few false-starts, distractions, pauses and challenges; and countless hours with nothing but me, the laptop and a bag of Haribo; it’s in. Please take this important piece of advice: Entering full time employment before you have finished your thesis makes finishing your thesis very difficult indeed. This is the advice that my fiancé gave me a few years back, but that I failed to heed because the opportunity to work in heavy ions was too exciting to miss. However, just like him, I made it through eventually, thanks to a great amount of support from my bosses, my old supervisor and the UK ALICE group. I have my viva in a month. Writing a thesis is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, and looking back it is hard to pinpoint what exactly makes it so much worse than just writing a series of papers/reports. I think the magnitude of the task can have quite an impact on you psychologically, making it into more of a challenge than it actually is. In my next post I will try to write my attempt at a  thesis-writing guide – something I had originally hoped to do in a diary fashion as I went along. How foolishly optimistic I was back then…


3 responses to “On se retrouve encore, enfin (we meet again at last)!”

  1. Kathryn Grim says:

    Welcome back! And congrats on submitting your thesis!

  2. Zoe Matthews (QD blogger) says:

    Thanks 🙂

  3. Shazz says:

    Your mystery plant is a Salvia, possibly Salvia superba or a close relative. Love the blog by the way- found my way here from “notevenwrong”.