In the last week I’ve been trying to manipulate the optical properties of various polymers as part of the project I’m helping with over the summer, along with helping out at the CSI Summer School. In the latter case, a lot of the 3 week course has been integrated into the forensic science module for natural sciences, so it was good to get some revision! It’s also getting nearer to the time when students going into their third year have to think about what project they want to undertake, which can vary from single discipline areas such as geology and astrophysics, to interdisciplinary areas like bioinformatics and planetary science.
As a natural sciences student wanting to go into research this seems a little daunting, as previous students have generally pursued research in the areas of their chosen 3rd and 4th year projects. Over the last two years I’ve become increasingly interested in physical chemistry, in particular computational approaches to finding solutions to the Schrodinger wave equations for large atoms and molecules. This stems largely from an extension task I did on Density Functional Theory in my first year, followed by taking an advanced study module in molecular quantum mechanics in my second, and all under the supervision of a very inspiring physical chemistry facilitator. So one area I was looking at is in a computational chemistry project, testing experimental results with different approximation approaches and assessing their validity under different circumstances.
My other keen interest is, perhaps like many, anything to do with space. Long before coming to university, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series (and many of his books) left a big impression on me. Studying solar and planetary sciences in my first year was fascinating, and I ended up studying the viability of near earth asteroid mining for that module’s extension task, coincidentally handing it in on the same day James Cameron and other enthusiasts announced their future plans for doing just that! I also did an extension task on the viability of terraforming Mars for the ecology module, which was particularly interesting because I was lucky enough to talk to Martyn Fogg, who was incredibly generous with his time. Furthermore, the astrobiology module in the second year has definitely been the highlight of the course so far, not least in revolving around one of the most exciting questions in science today, but also as a clear example of the need to understand how physical, geological, chemical and biological aspects relate, to really attempt to address questions like the origins of life.
So we shall see…Perhaps I should aim for a physical chemistry project in an area of planetary science! The list comes out in a few weeks, and you can see lists of past projects here. For those interested, the trailer for the new Cosmos series (this time hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson) was released recently. And if you haven’t heard of Carl Sagan, Reid Gower has done some fantastic work in bringing clips from his audio books to life.