Saturday, 20 January 2018

How I manage my time

One of my Instagram followers kindly asked me to write a blog post about how I manage to produce a radio show, write articles for Forbes, keep up with social media, take part in science events, do a masters, socialise and also find time for sleep!

The real answer is I don't have a clue! But there are things I do to help manage my time - so here are 5 things I do to keep on top of my work:

1. Keep a diary
I like to keep a diary where I pencil in important meetings, deadlines and goals for the day. I keep this with me all the time and whenever I'm working it's always next to me so I can tick off tasks as I do them but it also reminds me of what's coming up for me for the day. 

2. Plan your day
I often spend about 5-10 minutes before bed planning the next day and what I'd like to achieve. I aim to write down small achievable goals that I'll put into my diary and tick off as I achieve them. There are certain things that I try to keep consistent: I normally set Wednesday afternoons for Science Mixtape (radio show) preparation and Saturday mornings for Forbes articles. I tend to leave social media related tasks for my commute to and from university - my commute is about an hour so this gives me enough time to tweet, post on Instagram and do a bit of reading for Forbes article ideas.

3. Make time for fun 
This one is something I can struggle with, I tend to get so caught up in never-ending deadlines and tasks I need to complete. But one thing I've started doing in the last few years is scheduling time for fun and my favourite hobbies. I try and climb at least once a week, play music/sing/beatbox once a week and I always take Friday afternoons/nights off. I put them in my diary just as I would for meetings or work-related things. This is a reminder for me to take time to have fun and if it's not in my diary I tend to let the work-guilt take over and I'll end up working lots. By planning in my fun time it makes sure I take the time to put work aside for a few hours and de-stress and have fun!

4. Prioritise and learn how to say no
Sometimes I get requests to do certain interviews, events and other tasks and sometimes I am just drowning in work that I have to say no. It does make me super sad to say no to things :(  Before I would say yes to everything and end up in a position where I would do everything, burn out and forget to have me-time. Without the time to do these tasks, they'd end up being only 70% as good as I'd like or less or I end up reducing my fun time. So nowadays I try and only say yes to the things that I know I will have time for so that I can do them as well as I'd like, won't burn out and I'll have time for myself too.

5. Tomato Timer
I often use the tomato timer so that I can work more efficiently and get things done quicker. I'm prone to procrastination - especially with social media - so using the tomato timer forces me to stop looking at my phone. The tomato timer works by setting up a timer for 25 minutes of work time and then you can schedule in 5 and 10-minute breaks. It's a great way to break up your work so that you don't forget to take breaks and allows me to have short bursts of productive work which is great for writing reports or reading papers. I generally set myself a goal for the 25 minutes - something along the lines of: read and annotate a paragraph/page of X paper or write notes for my next Forbes article. Hope it works for you!

All in all, for me, it's all about organisation and keeping a routine. And yes, I do have days where I don't complete some or any of the things on my to-do list for the day. I always have to remind myself that I'm only human and there's only so much work I can physically do in one day and that sometimes life can get in the way of things too.

Also, motivation is key - I do so many things because I love the things that I do - I love talking about science so I make time for it even if it's part of my weekend. So do what you love and it won't feel like you're working - follow your heart and passion! :)

I really hope these tips have been useful and let me know in the comments if you use any of these and how you work efficiently - I'd love to know!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2017

Two years after exhibiting with Tokamak Energy at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, I'm back this year but this time with the Make A Supernova group! It's a collaboration of scientists from Imperial College, AWE and the University of Oxford that all work on laboratory astrophysics. The aim of the stand is to get the public aware of the exciting field of research called laboratory astrophysics!

For anyone that is unsure, laboratory astrophysics is the field of research where scientists recreate astrophysical scenarios in the lab. Small-scale experiments can be scaled up using scaling laws to find out more about astrophysical events. One of the mot exciting, violent and impressive events in the Universe are supernovae, they are dying massive stars that end their lives with a bang! They eject matter at speeds close to 10% of the speed of light and give off more radiation than our Sun will ever emit in its lifetime! Supernovae can also outshine an entire galaxy in a brief moment. These powerful events are also the beginnings of life since it is in these spectacular explosions where heavier elements like calcium that makes up our bones and iron which makes up our blood are made. This is where the saying we are made of star dust comes from. Without supernovae we wouldn't exist therefore studying these events is important for learning more about the origins of life. 

The Make A Supernova stand is all about recreating supernovae in the lab. A team of scientists from the University of Oxford (Nature Physics, Gregori et. al) managed to recreate the shock waves seen in supernovae explosions in the lab. They fired 3 laser beams using the Vulcan laser system at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory onto a miniscule carbon rod in an argon filled chamber. The rod heated up, turned into a plasma and exploded outwards, sending a shock waves outwards into the argon gas. A plastic grid was introduced into the setup to introduce inhomogeneities or 'lumps' into the flow just like the supernova Cassiopeia A (depicted in our logo below). 

Our stand at The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is based on this work and the field of laboratory astrophysics. But why am I there? Well, my MSci project which you can find out more about here, is a laboratory astrophysics related project where I was recreating bow shocks found in regions around newly formed stars in the lab. I'll be talking all things laboratory astrophysics at the Exhibition - feel free to ask me as many questions as you'd like - comment down below! 

Two/three months prior to the event I've been helping Dr. Suzuki-Vidal from Imperial College (Head of Make A Supernova stand from the Imperial team) prepare for the event. It's been so much fun having my own input into the event and being able to put my artistic and creative side to use - I loved it so much! Here's what the Imperial team have been doing in order to prepare for the event as well as us in action at the event in pictures and videos:

Go #TeamMakeASupernova ! We were sitting next to Spencer Kelly from BBC Click !! I totally FANGIRLED!!!

All the equipment has been transferred from Imperial to The Royal Society! Bring on #SummerScience

Yep, the hand gestures are a must when talking about supernovae!

I got to meet Spencer Kelly from BBC Click!!! Made my day!

Check out me and Spencer Kelly on BBC Click playing with the Air Vortex Canon demo at The Royal Society here! (6:08)

Plasma, the fourth state of matter, an ionised gas!

These two are obsessed with #PlasmaHorns -- whatever that means! ;)

Imperial Team! :)

One of my university lecturers, who happened to teach the 'Physics of the Universe' course, came to visit our stand! Thanks for coming Dr. Roberto Trotta! He's an amazing astrophysics and science communicator you definitely need to check him out here!


My MSci lab partner, Daniel Russell, helped out too! Our MSci project was in the field of #LaboratoryAstrophysics which was the field of the stand so we got to share our project experience with the #SummerScience visitors! Was SO much fun! You can check out what our MSci project was all about here

Prep day for #SummerScience - bringing in all the equipment from Imperial to The Royal Society!

Vlogging my experience of #SummerScience with #MakeASupernova

Having so much fun at #SummerScience ! :)

#MakeASupernova team with peeps from Oxford, Imperial and AWE! Was so great to meet all these super cool scientists!

Got to see the AMAZING @thermoflynamics perform some SICK science-y rhymes! 

#LunchBreak with the #ImperialTeam on Day 1 of #SummerScience
Had such beautiful weather!

Got to meet an amazing gravitational waves researcher from University of Southampton, Emma Osborne! She's also a YouTuber so check her out here and follow her @Emmanigma ! She's DOPE! She also gave me these super awesome postcards which you can purchase here.

Definitely check @Emmanigma out - she's ACE! She's such an inspiration and gave me so many lovely #scicomm tips ! #ForeverGrateful

Mega smoke ring maker

T-shirt design

First look at the stand! There's Colin Danson from AWE to add scale to the stand.

You can check out my short vlog of my experience of the event and the preparations leading to the event in the video below:

Just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to Jena Meinecke, Colin Danson and Francisco Suzuki-Vidal for organising an AMAZING stand at The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition! It was great fun to be a part of, I met some amazing scientists, science communicators, students and TV presenters! I even got to inspire an A level student to reconsider physics as a potential career path which made me day!

A special thank you goes to Francisco Suzuki-Vidal for making this experience super fun and for listening to my radical ideas for social media and for also doing Facebook LIVE videos with me!

All in all, it was a GREAT experience and I would definitely like to get involved again if the opportunity arises! I hope some of you reading this got a chance to visit The Royal Society and see the amazing scientific research on display! 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Next STEM Generation

The next generation of people are the future so in order to get them interested in STEM we must get them while they are young.

Let’s just take a look at what we see in toy stores. In the girls aisle we see a blur of different shades of pink, if we focus onto the items, we begin to see tutus and dolls.  The boys’ aisle, however, is a blur of blue which turns out to be construction toys which help develop their skills, like logic, problem solving and creative thinking. Shouldn’t girls be able to play with the same skill-enriching toys? If we are going to try and get the next generation interested in STEM this is the place to start.

Taking the young to planetariums, hands-on workshops and live events to see science in front of their eyes is a great way to stimulate their interest but the key thing here is maintaining that interest. As they grow they may start to outgrow the ‘family outings’ and begin to wander into the Universe on their own – so how do we keep them interested in STEM? We tell them that STEM needs them, that they are a young, curious mind that could help unravel the mysteries of our cosmos. One major way we can do this is by getting them involved with real science. Whether that is participating in identifying cancer cells, counting birds or controlling an experiment online that they can see and do real science at their fingertips. Make STEM something that can be done at home – using everyday objects to uncover the delightful surprises that STEM has to offer. Science shows like The Royal Institution Christmas lectures where the whole family can get involved and do science at home should be something that we see more on TV.

So we can act directly on the young ones but what’s to stop the parents from telling them that STEM is too hard or ask the question what can you possibly do with STEM? We need to educate the parents and let them know about the myriad of opportunities available to their children via STEM. This can be done by hosting events specifically for parents. We can get the parents into schools and educate them on the myriad of careers available to their child. Ex-students from the school could talk to the parents about their progression from the school so that they can see real life career paths that their child could also pursue.

But let’s take a step into the classroom. This is where those young minds first encounter STEM via academic means and this is where they decide if they want to take STEM further. Classrooms sometimes lack enthusiastic teachers, stimulating demonstrations and real STEMists (a scientist, technologist, engineer or medic). Now, of course we cannot make it compulsory for teachers to be enthusiastic but we can bring real STEMists in. Where the STEMist should not throw facts at the students but should instead spark their interest, whether this is via a hands-on experiment, a group project or through trips to real laboratories, observatories and other STEM landmarks that would get them engaged in STEM. The students need to be able to see that STEM has a purpose in their life and that with STEM they can truly change the world - they are the ones that shall sculpt the future, our future.

In particular, a STEMist who was an ex-student of the school would have a larger impact on current students as they used to sit in the same classroom seats as them. They can relate to them on a different level so that they can truly believe that they have the capability to follow in their footsteps and be successful in STEM. More importantly, bringing undergraduates who were also ex-students into the school could relate to the students even more as they are roughly the same age and they can share their experiences and knowledge about the wonders of STEM.

All in all, STEM needs to be approachable and the stereotype of STEM being hard and boring needs to be eradicated via interaction with the next generation through the methods aforementioned; hopefully this is the way forward for a STEM rich future!

-- Meriame Berboucha

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Recreating the conditions of space at our fingertips

I've now FINISHED my Physics degree at Imperial College!

As part of the fourth year of my degree, I had to carry out an MSci project. This is a research based project that allows students to work with research groups in the Physics department and carry out real research!

We had to bid for the projects we wanted and since I am heavily involved with and interested in the Plasma Physics Group at Imperial College I decided to opt for a project with the plasma group. I was lucky enough to find a lab partner that was really enthusiastic about plasma physics too (shout out to Danny for being an AMAZING project partner!). I was so excited to start fourth year and get down to the lab for some science-y fun! In the end, my lab partner and I were lucky enough to get the project that would involve working on the mighty MAGPIE machine!

MAGPIE stands for Mega Ampere Generator for Plasma Implosion Experiments. In simple terms, MAGPIE is the LARGEST university-based pulsed power generator! It generates a HUGE surge of current than blows up really thin wires turning them into a plasma. From here, we can try and recreate the conditions of space in the lab. MAGPIE is an absolutely HUGE machine that spans across two floors of the Blackett Laboratory at Imperial College. It is made up of four large capacitor banks which store a huge amount of charge! My MSci project is one of the most unique projects because not many people get to work on MAGPIE and I feel so lucky to have been able to work on mighty MAGPIE! I couldn't wait to get started!

A journey into space is challenging. It requires a big team of trained individuals, large rockets, lots of fuel and carefully thought-out mathematics and physics. Thus, learning about the inner processes of the phenomena and bodies in space can be a difficult task. Venturing out into the depths of our cosmos to collect data is problematic because of two main reasons: space is vast and the dynamics of objects in space evolve over timescales many orders of magnitude larger than the average human lifetime. Consequently, our Universe is most commonly studied by observing and analysing the light from it. This light has stored information which can allow us to find out vital data such as the speed of orbiting bodies and the chemical composition of stars. This was how we discovered the element, Helium.

Plasma, the fourth state of matter, makes up 99.999\% of the Universe, therefore, being able to gain useful information about the dynamics of space-plasmas is vital. Analysing the light given off by this exciting state of matter does not allow scientists to understand its dynamics. Consequently, a different method is required. Scientists can do this by recreating the conditions of space in their laboratories, a field known as laboratory astrophysics. Researchers at Imperial College London in the heart of the basement of the Physics Department mimic large astrophysical events such as supernovae explosions in the MAGPIE laboratory.

MAGPIE stands for Mega Ampere Generator for Plasma Implosion Experiments. It is the largest university-based pulsed power machine or ‘electricity generator’ that delivers a 1-million-amp current pulse in 240 billionths of a second! This generates a power of about 1 trillion Watts which is more than the average power generated by the UK National Grid! Using this large current pulse, scientists on MAGPIE can generate plasmas by sending this current through aluminium wires as thin as your hair which causes them to vaporise and turn into a plasma. Thereafter, I can watch the plasma flow around different obstacles.

On MAGPIE, I try to recreate the scenarios commonly associated with astrophysical jets. These are large, powerful streams of plasma and radiation that can be found near super massive black holes. In the same way that a curve of water forms in front of a race boat in water, a ‘curve of plasma’ known in science as a bow shock forms around the astrophysical jets due to plasma streaming outwards into space at near light speed, pushing matter in the vicinity out of the way. An example of a bow shock forming around an astrophysical jet can be seen below.

Image displays a bow shock around LL Ori, a young star in the Great Nebula in the Orion constellation. A bow shock formed when the stellar wind collided with the gas in the surrounding area.  Photo courtesy of NASA/ESA.

By watching plasma flow around different objects, I can reconstruct bow shocks in the MAGPIE experimental chamber. The main object of interest in my research work is that of intersecting bow shocks. When two bow shocks interact at a particular critical angle, they reflect off each other and merge so that another shock, known as a Mach stem, forms. I am searching for the elusive Mach stem which has never been observed in the laboratory before. By using scaling laws, I can scale-up my small, short-lived experiments to large astrophysical scales that are up to 20 orders of magnitude larger! Utterly mind-blowing!


Cutting the thin Aluminium wires to size for the wire array (plasma maker) I'm about to make

Central experimental chamber in MAGPIE

Me and my lab book

This is the contraption that holds the wires, that will then vapourise and turn into a plasma in the central experimental chamber in MAGPIE 

When MAGPIE is charging that red light flashes and sirens go off!

Gas pressures!

Ear defenders for safety!

Making a wire array - that concentration though!


Science always works better when there's a whiteboard involved!

My wire array is complete!

Optics and vacuum chambers!

Gas pressures

Check out our glass targets

The same targets but now with a different separation

Cutting thin aluminium wires for the wire array

Sometimes things in science experiments break and you have to fix them - here, I'm fixing a switch

MAGPIE experimental chamber in all its glory

Glass target

Overalls I had to wear when I went inside one of the Marx (capacitor) banks of MAGPIE - it's an oily ordeal

When lasers are on, do not enter

That BOOM! button is obviously the best button


I'm inside a Marx bank! Those weird pipes are (handmade) liquid resistors

Wire array and target alignment complete

Sometimes things break in science experiments

The wire cutting station

Flat glass targets

Working on MAGPIE can be a messy job!

My trainers have been well and truly MAGPIE-ed! #OilyMoly

Photoshoot I did for Diverse@Imperial week

Women can do physics too!

Bird's eye view of a Marx bank

Let's fix those switches in the Marx bank - Mission Accepted

I'm going in... 


Sometimes I make Facebook Live videos and get caught in action :P

Sometimes lab work can up your fashion game - ripped jeans are in fashion at the moment, thanks MAGPIE!

My poster for Diverse@Imperial week

MAGPIE central experimental chamber

Bird's eye view of the experimental chamber in MAGPIE

'Hopefully I can inspire the younger generation, particularly females, to catch the physics bug just like me!'



Trigger and arm!

The lid for the experimental chamber is heavy and has it's own crane to lift it up!

Data analysis 


Cutting glass to make some of the targets for an experimental shot - safety goggles because safety always comes first

MAGPIE photoshoot
I do love experimental physics!

That concentration face

Filing down wires for my target fabrication

A shot has been fired!

Reading around the subject/field of research so I can further my knowledge of the research work I am carrying out

Data analysis/Report writing

MAGPIE is pretty big!

Mirrors are super useful for getting lasers to change their direction of propagation/go around corners

A wire array that will end up 'blowing up' in an experimental shot when ~ a million

It's been SO much fun working on MAGPIE and I feel so lucky to have worked on this incredible machine. I'd like to thank Daniel Russell for being an AMAZING lab partner and for putting up with my banter, you're the best Danny! A huge thank you to Prof. Sergey Lebedev, Dr. Guy Burdiak and Dr. Lee Suttle for being amazing supervisors, for passing on their knowledge and expertise. Thanks to Jack Hare, Jack Halliday, Francisco Suzuki-Vidal, Thomas Clayson for being a pleasure to work with and for answering all my MAGPIE questions as well as offering great tea breaks during long hours of work on MAGPIE.

I feel sad that this chapter of my life has come to an end but I am ever grateful for all the amazing experiences I've had during my undergraduate degree - I've learnt so much, met wonderful people and did things that I'd never thought I'd ever do - like going to America! Thank you Imperial College for all you've offered me, it's been a blast! 


I'm going to be at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition talking about laboratory astrophysics with the Make A Supernova team which is a collaboration between scientists at Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and AWE. You can come along and find out more about my research and that of the other scientists in the team - if you do come don't be afraid to come up to me and ask me lots of questions (or even take a selfie)! I'm more than happy to answer your questions! Save the event in your diary and come to the Royal Society between the 4th and 9th of July and you could make your own MEGA smoke ring at our stand too! Check us out @MakeASupernova on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you do come up to our stand, take a picture with our Instagram frame and use the hashtag #MakeASupernova