Livia Eichmeyer

Livia Eichmeyer completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2018 at Lancaster University. Mahisha presented her project Structure and Diffusion around Grain Boundaries in Mixed Oxide Fuels at the Big Bang Finals. We talked to her about her experience. 

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I applied for a Nuffield Research Placement as I was eager to gain some experience of applying my classroom knowledge to the workplace, and to learn more about the various career options available in my field. I also wanted to do something useful with the 6-week gap between Years 12 and 13, so a Nuffield Placement seemed perfect for me!

What was your project about and did you know anything about the area before you started the placement?

My project focused on modelling the structure and diffusion of non-homogenous mixed oxide fuels around grain boundaries – in less technical terms, examining the behaviour of nuclear fuels which are made by mixing together powders of uranium and thorium. These fuels are valuable as they recycle nuclear waste and create safer end products. At the start of my placement, I had only a GCSE knowledge of nuclear fuels, and had never worked with any of the modelling programs that I used throughout my placement before.

Was the placement what you expected it to be?

At first, I was slightly nervous about my placement, especially since the project seemed to require technical skills far beyond my capabilities. However, I ended up enjoying it so much that I worked on it for an additional few weeks after my placement had finished. Both my supervisor and I were amazed by all that I had achieved and learned by the end.

How did your supervisor help you with your project?

At the beginning, my supervisor gave me a project brief and a set of articles to work through to gain background knowledge, and briefly introduced me to all the programs and software I would be using during my placement. Throughout my project he met with me a few times a week to go over any problems I was having and look through work I had done recently. He supported me throughout the placement and in writing up my report and made sure my experience was as productive and enjoyable as possible!

Did you gain any new skills, both scientific and general work skills, from undertaking your placement?

During my placement, I became confident with using command-line programs such as Ubuntu Terminal and Windows Powershell. I also furthered my understanding of nuclear physics and learned how to write a formal scientific report and analyse large amounts of data. Finally, I gained experience of working as a member of a research team in a professional setting.

Has your experience helped you to decide on a career path?

My experience heavily influenced my decision to go on to study Physics at university and has encouraged me to apply for a Year in Industry to gain some additional workplace experience. After my placement, I also decided to do a Masters’ Degree instead of a Bachelors, as having a go at University research made me eager to do more of it in the future.

What advice would you give to students applying for a Nuffield Research Placement?

My advice would be to make sure you read around the area you will be working in ahead of the placement, and to go carefully over any material that your supervisor gives you. Make sure you make lots of notes too; especially at the start of your placement, when you’ll be learning lots of new things very quickly. Good notes are also invaluable when it comes to writing up your report, so you will thank yourself for them later!

What was it like presenting your work at The Big Bang Competition?

Despite the descriptor being in the name, I wasn’t prepared for quite how big the Big Bang Competition was! There were more than 200 teams or individuals there showcasing their incredible projects, and it was amazing to be able to exhibit my work to such a diverse audience alongside them. Throughout the competition, I met many other young scientists, children interested in science, and adults that had successful scientific careers behind them. The experience was incredibly inspiring and gave me an insight into all that we can achieve, even without a laboratory or funding!