The main thing that happened this week was that I started going to the lab, which is really exciting! Although it is still early (i.e. Fresher’s Week is next week, and Full Term begins the week after that) and I haven’t completed the university-mandated safety training, I have been allowed to start learning how to use equipment in the clean room, which is pretty nifty.
Let me back up. My first day in the lab was on Tuesday, when I went in at 11 am to the Microelectronics group meeting/journal club. Since the group had gotten two papers accepted for publication in the previous two weeks, they had cake and champagne afterwards (and I got to sit there, listening to the gossip and politely refusing pieces of cake). After a quick lab/building tour from one of the postdocs, she and I had a chat with Dr. Andrew Ferguson, my MPhil supervisor. He outlined his expectations for me for the year and told me a bit about what I will be working on, and then we all went down to the canteen for lunch.
I had been previously warned by a physics PhD student in the MCR that the canteen at the Cavendish was not the best, but I had forgotten to bring a granola bar along with me and was starving. Besides, I reasoned, I have to try it at least once, right? Needless to say, the PhD student was correct. None of the entree-type stuff was wheat-free, so I just got a plate of broccoli and a few chunks of roasted potato, which did not make for a great lunch. Now I know better, and will make like the postdoc and bring my own lunch.
Afterwards, I went to the group secretary and was shown the stores (i.e. the stockroom) and “the Pen,” where a lot of grad students have their desks. Since none of the other new students have arrived yet, I got first choice, and I don’t even have to settle on a desk yet, so I might try moving around a little. The rest of the afternoon was divided between tracking down papers, theses, and books that my supervisor told me to read and having panic attacks about the sheer volume of work I have to do in a mere 10 months!
Fortunately, there is no cure for pointless anxiety like actually being productive, and the next day I had my first session in the clean room, just learning safety stuff, how to properly put on a bunny suit, and where everything is located. The next day, I (and by “I,” I mean “the clean room director,” but I helped a bit) got to clean a 5×5 mm silicon wafer and started some optolithography to pattern some Hall effect sensors onto it. Friday’s clean room session was learning how to use the reactive ion etching machine to actually etch the patterns on to the silicon, and next week we’ll pattern some gold on the contact paths so that tiny wires can be attached to apply and measure current, voltage, etc. All the while, of course, I’ve been reading papers and trying to get up to speed on ferromagnetism, ferromagnetic resonance (FMR), and all the relevant physical phenomena that I haven’t been paying enough attention to because they didn’t directly relate to my previous research. There was also a really interesting seminar by Bob Stamps at the University of Glasgow on artificial magnetic materials and chiral spin textures that kind of made me wish I were going to CU Boulder next year, since Minhyea Lee at the physics department there does similar work (trust me, it’s really cool). Still pretty excited about Harvard next year, of course.
That previous paragraph might not be terribly interesting if you’re not into physics, so I’ll add that I have been doing other things as well, like socializing a bit in the MCR, running (though it is very flat around here, so it’s a little depressing), and planning meals that I can cook on the weekends and eat all week.
Today, one of my housemates (Amanda) and I made a major excursion to a store called ASDA, southeast of the city center. It’s basically the UK equivalent of Wal-Mart, and we wanted to stock up on cheap grocery staple items there instead of buying them at Sainsbury’s (a more “upscale” grocery store). It took us a good 45 minutes of cycling to get there, much of it along the Cam (sadly, I did not take any pictures), and we managed to identify Churchill’s boathouse/shed along the way. ASDA had quite a few things that I couldn’t find at Sainsbury’s, like baking soda and powder (apparently everyone uses self-raising flour here, which has leavening already mixed in), cheap oats, cheaper spices, food prep mats, and a can opener (we have 3 in the house, all broken). I could write a whole post about the odd things that are really expensive or apparently nonexistent here that are extremely common/cheap in the States.
Even though we got back to our house quite a bit later than either of us had anticipated, Amanda decided to come along with me to the Coton footpath (where I’ve been doing a lot of running) and pick the blackberries (or “brambles,” as they are called here when made into jam) growing along it. I did a wee bit of trespassing onto the West Cambridge site in order to reach some of the more productive/less harvested branches. Since I work there now (it’s where the Cavendish Laboratory is), I figured it’s not a big deal. Anyway, now we have fresh berries that would have cost 5 pounds (or more) at Sainsbury’s, so that was 45 minutes on a Saturday evening well spent.
I’m writing this on Saturday night with few concrete plans for Sunday, but I’m hoping to make another trip to some grocery stores (there is one that sells mostly frozen food, called Iceland, closer to Churchill, and I’ll go to Sainsbury’s for fresh produce) in order to stock up on staples for the long term and fresher fruits and vegetables for the week. Hopefully I won’t have to go to ASDA for another month or more; it was quite a trip, especially carrying many pounds of groceries on my back. Apart from going running, and doing some work, of course, there’s a free jazz concert in town that I’m hoping to go to with my housemates. Next week is Fresher’s Week, so I expect things to get quite a bit more crowded around town and college as the undergrads and the rest of the new graduate students move in.
That’s all for now!