Article by Sarah Tobin McGovern (Laidlaw Scholar 2022, Theoretical Physics)
My research project was titled “Exotic Matter: What can we understand about exotic states of matter and their properties under the strong interaction?” I carried it out under the supervision of Prof Sinéad Ryan with the School of Maths. The project aimed to use a numerical simulation method called Lattice Quantum Chromodynamics to gain an understanding of so called ‘exotic matter’, that is, matter that is made up of particles which do not fit into the traditional quark model. Such exotic states include hybrid mesons (such as charmonium and bottomonium), tetraquarks and glueballs. I mainly focused on hybrid mesons, which are mesons with an excited gluonic field.
Beginning this project was, I must admit, daunting. Having completed just two years of my undergraduate degree in theoretical physics, I was worried that I would simply not have the knowledge necessary to carry out worthwhile research on such an advanced topic, and that I would become overwhelmed when faced with high level academic research papers containing mathematical notation and physical theories I had yet to encounter in my studies. I spent the first part of my project reading up on the theory that I would need to carry out the simulations. My supervisor helped me to find texts that were at a level I could understand and advised me not to stress about understanding every single detail of the papers. This tactic really worked for me, as I was no longer spending hours agonising over difficult mathematics and instead accepted that I was not going to understand absolutely everything about this field at my current level.
Aside from learning a great deal about my chosen research topic, this project also taught me invaluable lessons about time management, research skills and, in fact, about myself. Going into the project, I wanted to prioritise developing my planning skills and attempting to minimise procrastination and stress for the duration. It is not often that I am faced with an opportunity to work on just one project in a self-led manner for such a length of time, so I knew that this would be a great opportunity for me to push myself and to see how well I work when there aren’t external pressures such as homework assignments and exams to motivate me to work consistently. Knowing this, I was able to really prioritise keeping up a sustainable routine for the six weeks. Sure, I had weeks where I wasn’t as productive as others, but instead of stressing about what I was getting done and forcing myself to work through my tougher days motivation-wise, which has in the past led to burnout, I allowed myself to have days which were more restful. What I discovered was that when I didn’t overwork myself on days where I wasn’t up for it, I would actually bounce back sooner and my motivation would return!
I look forward to continuing my development, both as a researcher and as a leader, as I continue to engage with the programme. I can’t wait to see what the next year will bring!