Mariyam Bi

Mariyam Bi completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2016 at Coventry University. She went on to present her work at The Big Bang Fair.

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

A placement in Mathematics/Physics and Engineering excited me as I aim to peruse a career in Chemical Engineering. I wished to gain an in depth understanding of high-quality research, to accelerate my confidence in my own abilities. I was eager to work alongside professional scientists and/or engineers in a professional working environment. I had longed for an experience that accurately mirrored the level of work and research, which would be required of me at university and beyond, and taking part in a research placement in a field which links to my degree choice is excellent preparation to develop a work ethic beneficial for when I start university.

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

My project entailed engineering a mobile phone microscope using readily available and cost-effective materials, to create a system that produced high-quality images of similar magnification and resolution to those produced from a professional Laboratory microscope. The project notion stemmed from the idea of water droplets acting as a source of magnification, which was first observed by Roman Philosopher Seneca. In order to develop a functioning microscope, a much more practical source of magnification needed to be identified. Glass beads are the practical equivalent of water droplets, as they have a similar refractive index and a similar curvature. This means the glass bead could act as a convex lens, bending light rays inwards, producing a magnified image. This glass bead was embedded in a section of elastic material; this device was then mounted onto my mobile phone using elastic bands, creating a system that mimicked the behaviour of a laboratory microscope.

Was the placement what you expected it to be?

I was very excited when I was offered a place to carry out a research project at Coventry University. The placement was a lot more challenging than how I had anticipated it to be as accumulating accurate research in order to move forward in the project, was quite slow and demanding. However, once I was able to move onto the next stages of the project, i.e. actually inventing a functioning microscope, I didn’t expect how rewarding it would feel. Knowing that I had created a device which can be used to teach and enhance science education all around the world, especially in parts of the world where access to professional equipment such as laboratory microscopes is limited, is a very rewarding feeling. The excitement I get from knowing I have made a contribution to the world of problem solving is something I did not anticipate before undertaking this placement.

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

My supervisor emailed regularly, with a list of tasks that needed to be complete within a deadline. This was one of the aspects of the project that I found challenging; researching relevant and accurate information, and documenting it in a professional manner in a given time-frame. However, having successfully met the deadlines and moving forward in the project, strengthened my time-management and research skills. From completing this placement, I now know how to structure and write a scientific report, reference and cite the research I accumulated correctly, and present my findings in a professional and academic manner. In regards to general work skills, I feel much more confident carrying out extended research tasks as I know how and where to find accurate and reliable research from.

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

Persevere. Persevere and persevere. There will be times where you hit a dead-end with research. There will be times where you will find researching quite tedious and frustrating, but just keep pushing and find a different route to the desired outcome, because the physical results are worth working for. Re-kindle your enthusiasm and willingness to learn new things every day, because if you really engage with the process of the research placement, the rewards and outcomes are tenfold.

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

At the event, I set up a stall where I explained my project concept, process and outcome as well as the personal skills I gained from the experience, to exhibitors of The Big Bang Fair as well as professional judges and moderators. The judges really took an interest in what I had achieved. They were amazed at how my invention could take images of similar magnification and resolution compared to images produced from a laboratory microscope. I concluded, my mobile phone microscope can be used as a viable, cheaper alternative to the professional microscope and therefore, my device has a real-world application. It can be made accessible in schools where it is used to teach and enhance science education, for example, from learning about lenses in Physics to analysing samples in Biology.

This whole experience, from completing a research project in the summer of 2016, to being a finalist in the UK’s National Science and Engineering competition, was breath-taking. I enjoyed being surrounded by like-minded scientists and engineers my age, who have gone above and beyond to make a real, valuable contribution to the world of science, innovation, and invention. One thing I am grateful to have learnt from this experience is that being ‘intelligent’ is not grade-orientated. Being ‘intelligent’ or ‘academic’ is not solely dependent on the grades you get, but more about thinking out of the box and applying what you have learnt to better society by tackling real world problems. That said, you don’t need to find the cure for cancer. Just find something that creates a spark of fascination within you, like a spark kindled within me when I first observed that a water droplet could magnify the letters on a page; work towards manifesting that spark into an innovative reality.