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Day in the life of a third-year Physics student – My industrial project

As a third-year Physics student, I was looking to develop some skills applicable to the commercial world rather than just a research environment, but I wasn’t able to spend 12 weeks doing an internship. When choosing my modules, I discovered that the Physics department offered a module called Team Project, where you are put in a group, given some lab space, an academic to advise and a problem that a company wants to investigate.

The type of problems that companies require our skills as Physics students range from, measuring babies heads (it’s not as simple as you might think) to building prototypes of new product ideas. Some teams travelled to the client’s premises and factories. These are real research projects where the outcomes extend beyond a summative mark. Sadly, I can’t discuss the details of my project fully because it’s commercially sensitive, but it involved using a physical phenomenon to test water tightness.

Prototype board being programmed

During my project, we built a prototype of a device which was suitable for evaluating the feasibility of using the proposed physical phenomena. We also built a model of the type of applications which such devices are used for. Then, experiments along with computer simulations were carried out and the results were compiled into a report for the company to use. I enjoyed the project because it was a proof of concept, there was no lab script because no one had done this before so we had to figure out what to do and manage the project such that the client got their project completed on time.

This project has not only improved my Physics skills and taught me how to produce prototypes. It has given me some commercial awareness, such as the need to protect intellectual property and how to deal with clients through the weekly emails. In an academic research environment, you are aiming to get the best possible results with the lowest uncertainty. However, in an industrial environment, the motivation is different. The results have economic implications attached, and they want to get products to market which are economically viable rather than winning Nobel prizes for femtosecond resolution.

We were given training on business skills such as project management and taking minutes of board meetings. During our project, we met the CEO of the company and we were given a guest seminar about running a business and the values required. In our Physics degree, we have all developed an intellectual ability which is far greater than when we started, and the ability to work in an academic environment, but this module provides training in business skills.

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Gabriel Callaghan

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