Surrey Physics Blog

The blog of the Department of Physics at the University of Surrey

Paper from an MPhys student

Our MPhys students in the Physics Department at Surrey all go off for a year–long research placement as part of their undergraduate master’s programme.  They join research groups and get actively involved in the ongoing research projects.  It is very much not an experience of “this is what research is like” but rather “this is research – and you are doing it”.

The students often produce results leading to research publications, and yesterday I received notification that the work of one of our (now-ex-)MPhys students has just been published in Physical Review C, with our student as first author.  The work is on the nucleus of an isotope of silicon, and on how a series of experiments that the student performed in collaboration with his placement hosts, and others, led to a determination of the shape of the isotope (it’s a squashed sphere, a bit like the Earth).  Our student, Tom, is now studying for a PhD in a different are of physics, but I bet he is the only one of his peers with a first-author paper in nuclear physics already in his CV.  Well done, Tom!

The paper is here: Effect of ground-state deformation on isoscalar giant resonances in 28Si

MPhys Symposium 2016

Surrey MPhys 2015 cohort

Today saw our annual MPhys Symposium, in which the students who were away from us for their year-long research placement give a presentation on their work and experiences.  As ever, the talks were all of a really high standard.  Better than many that I see when I go to research conferences.  Our students did us, their placement hosts, but mostly themselves very proud indeed.

Left to right in the picture, we have Lily Siegenberg, Conor Spray, Katie Ley, Oscar Hall, Sam Hallam, Harry Sims, Gareth Evans, Peter Keen, Hannah Dunn and Ryan Simpson.  Tom Chillery also gave a talk, but I convened the group to take the picture when he was out of the room having a discussion about nuclear physics.  Sorry Tom!

Institute of Physics talk from Clare Burrage at Surrey



Sorry for the slightly poor photo attached to this post.  I’ll explain why it’s the way it is shortly.  So, last night saw one of the regular evening lectures, open to the public, organised here at Surrey on behalf of the Institute of Physics South Central Branch. The speaker was Dr Clare Burrage from the University of Nottingham, talking about “The Dark Side of the Universe”.  It was a good time to entice Dr Burrage as a speaker.  For one thing, the 2015 Maxwell Medal and Prize was awarded to her for her research into dark energy, and for another, her talk was closely related to Einstein’s General theory of Relativity, which has been celebrating its 100th anniversary in the last few weeks (with various dates being picked according to various criteria, but with agreement that the anniversary is right around now).

Her talk covered the vast amount of the Universe that we don’t understand.  Based on current observations, if one were to take a typical small volume of the universe, the energy contained in the volume would consist of 4% associated with “normal matter” — atoms etc. (with the mass being equivalent to the energy content, through Einstein’s famous E=mcrelationship), while the rest would be split between “dark matter” — stuff which does not radiate light, and “dark energy” — a placeholder name given to whatever it was that causes the observed acceleration in the expansion of the universe.

She covered, amongst other things, the possible link between quantum mechanics and the fluctuations it causes even in the vacuum of space, and the dark energy.  It’s all speculative at this stage, as she was clear to point out when reaching a dividing line in her talk between a first part covering scientific orthodoxy and a second with hypotheses and ideas for what the resolution of the 96%-we-don’t-understand problem.  Despite the fact that the talk was (very well) pitched at a general science-interested audience, and that I am a physicist, I certainly feel like I learnt something about cosmology from her talk.  That has to be the sign of a good talk.

The poor picture is because, as the host, I was standing at the front to introduce the speaker and only got to sat down as she started.  The turnout was so high (a little over 200 according to my count, which I did by counting only empty seats), that I had to sit right in the corner at the front to take the picture of one of her slides for this planned blogpost!

The next talk in the series, by the way, is on Wednesday 10th Feb 2016, by Dr Suzie Sheehy of the University of Oxford, who will give a talk entitled “10 Things you Should Never do with a Particle Accelerator“.  See you there!


Congratulations, Dr Goddard

Phil, enjoying finishing his PhD

Yesterday I did something I’ve only done a handful of times before – I watched my PhD student undergo his viva voce examination.  For him it’s the culmination of nearly three years of work, and is part of the slightly curious system by which PhDs are awarded.  He spent his three years working with me and his other supervisor, exploring a new approach to calculating nuclear fission, he wrote it all up in a thesis of 180 pages, and then he submitted it.  The final stage, which took place yesterday, is that two examiners, who have read the thesis, grill the student about it.  It’s a strange kind of exam – in which the person being examined knows more about the details of what is being examined than the examiners, though the examiners will likely know more contextual stuff.

The quest for longitude, coming to Guildford on 14th May

Picture of Dr Higgett

Rebekah Higgitt talking at Flamsteed Astronomical Society

The last of this academic year’s Institute of Physics South Central Branch talks hosted at the University of Surrey is on Wednesday 14th May.  Each year I try to have one talk which is about the history or philosophy of science, and this talk is the one I’ve organised for this year.

It’s by Dr Rebekah Higgitt, of the University of Kent, and it’s titled “Not to be found by Clockwork alone”: the essential role of astronomy in the quest for longitude.  The full abstract can be found on the Branch Calendar, and a biography of the speaker on her University profile.  Dr Higgitt tweets as @beckyfh.

Smart Nanomaterials this Wednesday

Dr Ting The latest of the series of Institute of Physics (IoP) branch talks that I organise takes place this Wednesday, 2nd April.  The speaker is Dr Valeska Ting, of the University of Bath, and she will be talking about materials which are specially engineered to be able to story very high densities of hydrogen gas thanks to their particular nano-porous structure.  I can’t really go into too much more detail yet, since I haven’t seen the talk, and am not an expert in the topic, but I’m looking forward to learning more.

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