Valentine Masson

I am a 16 year-old student from the French Lycée in South Kensington, and I was offered the amazing opportunity to volunteer in the Thrish lab during my half-term! I first came across Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering at its Open Day in September, and became more and more interested in the course and especially by the innovative projects its PhD students are working on.

During my week in the research lab, I was able to help out in a PhD project focused on granular jamming. I was given balloons, couscous and ground coffee and told to experiment with it and come up with a way to perform granular jamming by inflation instead of by suction. I was only testing a new idea, but if it were to work, this could be used to simulate tumors in organs so that medical students could one day learn physical examination procedures without waiting to have a real patient.

The idea was to insert a balloon into another one filled with grains of couscous or coffee (slightly smaller), so that by inflating the first balloon, the pressure inside would increase, and the entire structure would grow stiffer. I tested different techniques such as with couscous or ground coffee, with or without bandages wrapped around the balloon, or even sealing it into an airtight plastic bag. After making a few, I moulded each of the balloons in silicon rubber to keep the structures compact, and then inflated them using a fish tank compressor. I was also taught to use an Arduino board, and how to code for it, so that I could then control the stiffness of the balloons from my computer.

I learnt so many different skills in the Thrish lab that I hadn’t expected to be taught, and was also able to get a good idea of how research is done. Thank you so much to everyone! You made this experience unforgettable and above all inspiring.