Pupils from Craigour Park Primary School in Edinburgh interviewed some of our staff and PhD students about their research. In this article, they spoke to Dr Jenni Smillie about the most enjoyable and most challenging aspects of her work.
What are you most proud of in your job?
That is a really difficult question to start with. I think I am most proud of the impact on other people. So, there are lots of different bits to it. I also teach. I supervise students and help them with their work and projects. Also, it’s great being a part of a big community trying to answer important questions.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Another really good question. The hardest part of my job is that my job is never finished. We never have all the answers, so we can work really, really hard all day, and we still have a lot to do. You never really reach a point of the day, where you think “Oh! That’s finished! I’m going home now!”. There is always something else to be done and you never feel like you’re finished.
How does the Large Hadron Collider work?
Oooh, I can see you have done your research. That’s brilliant. The Large Hadron Collider, firstly what it is, is a huge experiment. It is about 27 miles round in a circle, and I did look it up once and it said it is slightly bigger than going around and underneath the whole of Edinburgh. It is a bit bigger than that. The collider takes tiny particles, which are like small building blocks that everything around us is made of. It makes the particles go super super fast, so that they travel nearly as fast as light.
Does your job include atoms?
Yes, my job does include atoms, but also particles which are much smaller than atoms. A long time ago, the central question we were trying to answer was what the smallest thing is. What are we all made of? I mean everything, not just people. Tables, chairs, plants. For a long time, people thought the answer to that was atoms, but now we know that atoms can be broken into even smaller pieces. Most of the time I work with particles, which are inside atoms.
Give me a fact about your job that would wow us?
It is a fantastic job. It is an honour to have a job where you can just sit and think of answers to questions. To think that my job is to go to an office in the morning, to think what I want to look at that day – that is pretty amazing. The fact that we find answers what nobody in the world knows – if we get there – that is amazing.
What is your favourite ice cream flavour?
My favourite flavour is definitely mint chocolate chip. Always. I am very serious about ice cream.
Are your daughters also interested in science?
My daughters are only 2 and 5. They ask lots of questions and my five-year-old is interested in cars, and a little bit of science. My two-year-old doesn’t really know because she is too young.
Where are you from?
I was born in Paisley but live in East Lothian. I moved when I was younger.
What was the best place that you visited? Why is that the best?
My favourite place to visit was the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. I get to travel to lots of places to meet other scientists, because you have to meet face-to-face and not just talk over a phone.
What was your favourite subject in school?
I enjoyed Maths when I was younger, but not anymore because now I enjoy Physics.
What advice would you give to someone that wanted to be a scientist?
I think it is important to ask a lot of questions and keep asking until you get an answer. Now you can use Google to help, but back when I was younger Google didn’t exist.
Links and resources
- Check out all our Craigour Park Primary School interviews.
- Read more about this project with Craigour Park Primary School, Edinburgh.
- Learn more about Jenni’s research.