I was once a captive of negativity; I couldn’t see how my life could be any different from the people around me. In fact, I called this perspective realistic. I was raised in a small town in Upper Egypt where my exposure and access to a lot of necessary opportunities was restricted. With a lot of hard work and persistence, I was able to beat the odds and get a full scholarship at the American University in Cairo (AUC). This turned out to be the breakthrough I needed and ever since then I have constantly pushed myself to keep beating the odds. Getting accepted to do research at Harvard, securing the funds to go there, and getting to work with some brilliant professor went a long way in giving me hope about a future outside of Egypt and its turbulent environment.
Studying at AUC, one of the most prestigious institutes in the country, really paved the way to get involved in the world of physics. As I began to delve into actual research, I was helplessly attracted to the intricacies involved in investigating any phenomenon.
I have been involved in research ever since my junior year. Being interested in optics at the time, I joined Prof. Mohamed Swillam’s team to study superfocusing mid-infrared waves in subwavelength dimensions. I used MATLAB and Lumerical FDTD to run many simulations and tried out various configurations to couple incident photons to surface plasmons. This was achieved by matching their momenta using different plasmonic techniques. Working on this project equipped me with the knowledge of the above-mentioned programming tools, and a solid background in Plasmonics. Most importantly, it taught me the art of research.
Last summer, I had a life-changing experience, working as a visiting undergraduate research fellow at Harvard University. I was assigned to design a scalable laser safety system that was to be installed in Prof. Gabrielse’s labs, mainly in Northwestern, and partially in Harvard and CERN. At first glance, it seemed like a straightforward engineering problem; However, once I started working on the project a lot of unexpected challenges arose. While designing a scalable system, there are a lot of variables to consider. Since the system had to be integrated with many different lasers made by various manufacturers, a ‘one size fits all’ solution was hard to find. Also, it had to work for a wide range of wavelengths and power (10uW to 30W). Most importantly, it had to be simple to manufacture and use, while being failsafe. By the end of the summer, I had been able to engineer a rigorous two-module printed-circuit-board (PCB) system that could monitor and control lasers. This system was able to display on a screen, which lasers were on, which goggles were needed, and how to control the lasers in case of an emergency. While working on this project, I learned Altium Designer to design the PCB, Python to program the microcontroller, Solidworks to design the mechanical mounting of my system, and I underwent machine shop training in order to make the mounts. I also had the opportunity to learn a lot about the Advanced Cold Molecule Electron Electric Dipole Moment (ACME EDM) group measuring the value of the electron EDM and the techniques used to measure it to 3 parts in 1013. I also acquired hands-on skills while aligning lasers and constructing tabletop setups. Because of this experience, I was able to fully appreciate how our tabletop experiment, worked on by a group of only 10 people, was capable of probing physical phenomena at energies of over 1 TeV. This was an impressive achievement, even when compared to much larger experiments, probing similar energy scales, such as the Large Hadron Collider.
I still remember the moment I fell irreversibly in love with physics; It was when I finished reading the last line of Bloomfield’s “How things work: The physics for everyday life”, during high school.
At AUC, I have been able to pursue my passion for physics and develop it to my fullest potential. There, my mathematical foundation and quantitative physics have been strengthened by courses like GR and Cosmology, Complex-Function Theory, Mathematical Physics, Advanced Electromagnetism, Nuclear and Particle physics, and Quantum Mechanics II.
Lately, I have found myself intrigued by astrophysics and cosmology and have been eager to dive deeper into these fields. A recent riveting paper by Erik Verlinde1 claiming that dark matter is not real, rather it is an interaction between baryonic matter and the dark energy woven in space-time fabric, was the final gentle push I needed to immerse my efforts entirely in these fields. The idea that this could potentially shake the idea of gravity, as Einstein formulated it, since it predicts the dark matter existence, absolutely enthralled me.
I believe that being a physicist is about being curious and bold in searching for answers. Physics is rooted in the belief that investigating every tiny slice of any research frontier will yield an indispensable piece of a fascinating bigger picture. I am confident that I will contribute in figuring out the next piece.
I am confident that University of Sheffield is a perfect match for me as it would be the most conducive environment to achieve my goals. One of the things I like best about this university is that it possesses a strong research community, and students tend to start research early-on. I believe that I can contribute productively to the ATLAS experiments with Prof. Costanzo. Also, I believe in its importance in detecting high mass WIMPs, and how this would unveil the nature of about dark matter, so we can come up with analytical models or numerical simulations. That’s why, I am interested in the DRIFT-CYGNUS Group work.
The mixture of fortune and hard work that have enabled me to accomplish the things I have so far, have made me realize that with persistence and determination, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. I have gained confidence that no matter how challenging my environment is, I will always have the ability to beat the odds and emerge successful. I am confident that with my passion for physics driving me, and the productive atmosphere of Sheffield inspiring me, I will perform to the very best of my ability and never stop learning.