Harriet van der Vliet
Summer placement at the National Physical Laboratory
Project title: Work on graphene and the development of new quantum electrical standards
"My summer placement was at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, where I worked under Professor Alexander Tzalenchuk, Dr Ruth Pearce and fellow Royal Holloway MSci physics graduate Viktoria Eless, who is now beginning a PhD with Royal Holloway and NPL. I worked in the quantum detection group of NPL.
In my eight week placement I was predominantly working with a dilution fridge containing a graphene sample which had a Hall bar device on it and I was recording resistance measurements across the sample and looking at the weak localisation peaks plotting the graphs on Origin, to see whether they were suppressed by applying microwaves to the sample, as they are suppressed by temperatures which had previously been seen.
I completed various other tasks in my eight weeks including writing a LabVIEW program to link a signal generator to the computer so it could be used remotely without manually turning on the microwaves or changing frequencies and powers. I made a breakout box for another part of an experiment, did a lot of soldering and some metal bonding of real samples of graphene and I used the Vector Network Analyser to sweep frequencies to see how the two microwave cables we were using were transmitting and coupling to one other. I also gained an insight into purchasing as I rang many companies all over the world to try to get some specific gold contacts manufactured for NPL by metal stamping or laser cutting, for our graphene samples. I also did some work with Atomic Force Microscopy, working with COOH coated cantilever tips and looking at the attractiveness between the tip and the graphene sample and analysing this by plotting force curves using MatLab.
From my summer placement I gained a lot of new skills such as writing LabVIEW programs for real data acquisition and being in charge of running long experiments myself and analysing the data from them. I also saw what research science is like and how you never know the correct answer and do not know what you are expecting something such as a graph to look like, which is very different to laboratory work at undergraduate level, where people around you have done your experiment before and you know what to expect. This was a huge learning curve but having so many amazing physicists around who you could ask as many questions as possible and having Alexander Tzalenchuk as a supervisor was brilliant and I learnt so much from him.
Working at NPL was a fantastic opportunity and I would recommend anybody to apply there for a placement if they are interested in research or even if they are not sure and want to see what it is like, because the experience I have gained from this summer placement will add so much to my future career and also my CV, along with making some great contacts and meeting and working with some of the amazing people that work here."