Fortress UROP

Dr Tafara Estelle Makuni
3 min readJul 27, 2021
Header: TCE Fortress UROP

Spend the summer in Cambridge? Why would anyone want to do that after surviving Tripos? Well, hopefully I can tell you why.

The UROP [1] is a chance for undergraduates to take part in research at the university, and to take a peek at the life of a PhD student or academia. UROPs often extend, or supplement research already undertake by the department. This summer my research has been on the “Cycling of Tritium in the Environment”; which is the same topic that I will be working on for my 4th year project. The work over the summer has involved a literary review and comparison of existing models; the final product of the UROP will be a nested model.

If your physics is a bit rusty after a summer off, tritium is the radioactive form of hydrogen and is released from a plethora of sources, including: natural cosmic ray bombardment of the stratosphere, radioactive fuel reprocessing plants, and thermonuclear detonations to name a few.

A large quantity of tritium was emitted into the atmosphere during the nuclear tests of the 1960s, but due to its half-life of 12–13 years levels today have almost reached those of natural background levels, and so interest in modelling tritium has declined. Recently, however, interest in tritium has increased due to design assessments currently underway on possible new nuclear reactors for use in the UK; the inventory of tritium that would be required if fusion power were to be implemented on a commercial scale; and the possibility of its use as a tracer for water flow (tritium is usually found in the form of tritiated water HTO).

My fascination with this project stems from a want to help secure energy supplies for the future, and one option is of course nuclear power. My interest was sparked after completing a placement at Wylfa nuclear power station in North Wales during the first long vacation, continued as I took the 3rd year module Nuclear Power Engineering. Having really enjoyed both, I assumed that I’d enjoy the challenge of this project too, which I have!

All Cambridge Engineers are expected to complete at least 8 weeks of work experience to graduate with an MEng (usually 4 weeks during the first long vacation, and 8 weeks during the second). Some (but not all) UROPs can count as industrial experience — something to be checked with the industrial experience coordinator. A UROP is a useful thing to have on a CV if you would like to delve into research in the future, as it is evidence of a real interest. There are a large number of UROPs available, which are advertised on the UROP website throughout the year [2]. Keep an eye on it, as new ones are added constantly, and it’s likely that one could be of interest to you!

However, before you become carried away with excited UROP projects, I would personally recommend completing a non-CUED [3] based industrial experience at some point during your time at Cambridge. It allows you to gain valuable interview experience, adapt to a new environment, and experience what the “real world” is like outside of academia (all rather helpful for future industry employment). Doing a UROP in your second or third year means you will then have had an experience of both research and industry, leaving you in a great position to decide in which direction you would like to take your future.

I have really enjoyed my time as a UROP student — it has really unearthed a different side to Cambridge. I like having one project to concentrate on, rather than attempting to juggle lectures, labs, supervisions, private study, and various other things.

Cambridge and the department seem calmer in the summer, and I’ve had the chance to realise that Cambridge is a really nice place to live; it’s been great to see some more of it in the sunshine!

Editor: Tafara Makuni.
Edited: July 2021.

Author: Becky Jeffers.
Published: TCE Freshers’ Edition 2012.

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[1] Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme
[3] Cambridge University Engineering Department