Our understanding of the world around us is based on the theory that describes the properties and behaviour of fundamental building blocks and is called the Standard Model of particle physics (SM). Although its formulation is one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century, it is, however, incomplete.
I am a member of the High Energy Physics group at the University of Cambridge, using data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, to search for evidence of a group of as-yet undiscovered particles. A possible solution to the incompleteness of the SM is offered by a theory called Supersymmetry (SUSY), as it is one of the strongest candidates for the explanation of physics which is not accounted for by the SM. SUSY extends the SM by postulating a supersymmetric particle for every SM particle. These particles possess almost identical properties to their SM counterparts except for slight differences in how they interact with each other. The quest to find its missing pieces has motivated the construction of particle accelerators probing fundamental particles at increasingly high centre-of-mass energies and luminosities, the LHC at CERN being the latest to continue this legacy.
It is these elusive particles that I aim to discover by designing ways to distinguish these SUSY particles from the SM particles that have been studied in great detail already.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
At school, I was always drawn to the sciences, particularly physics, because I thought they were the subjects that were going to help me to understand the world around me the most. I was a naturally curious kid, which is a good start if you want to become a scientist, and I enjoyed the practical lessons in the laboratory. I really enjoyed the experiments, particularly those demonstrating the fundamental laws of physics. One in particular, about measuring the motion of a pendulum, was among my favourites, as it showed that the pendulum’s movement can be described by one simple equation, that could also be applied to a whole range of other fascinating phenomena. I found it very satisfying that the same general equation, can be used to describe objects that appear as unrelated as a pendulum, and quantum particles. This experiment taught me a very valuable lesson as a scientist, about the power of a model that predicts the behavior of physical systems, whether they be a single pendulum or the entire universe. Now as a particle physicist, I focus on a model which I truly believe is one of the greatest achievements of scientific research in the last century. It describes the properties and behavior of all the known particles in the Universe, and as particle physicists have no imagination, we call it the Standard Model. It was when I first heard about the Standard Model, that I realised that I really had the passion to focus on my studies in physics, with the aim of becoming a professional scientist. For me, having one model with so much scope or power, is as close as science gets to describing nature at its most basic level, which really inspired me.
Anything else you'd like to share with us?
I am really passionate about passing on my excitement for physics to other people, particularly those groups that are typically underrepresented in the sciences. This is my motivation for giving talks about the research conducted at CERN to general audiences and school students, including my TEDxWomen talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4cQ7dfxMAM