The Second Semester

Hello!  A slightly belated welcome from me to the Surrey Physics blog.  I’m one of the regular contributors, along with Jim Al-Khalili, Richard Sear and Clare Harvey.  I thought I’d kick off by introducing myself and some of what I do in the Physics Department at the University of Surrey.

Now, as it happens, it’s the first day of the second semester, which means that the final year undergraduate projects are starting.   What better way, then, to summarise myself than by talking about the different projects I have running this semester.

My research area is nuclear physics, and this year my projects are all nuclear-based.  They are:

  • A project on understanding nuclear fusion reactions.  This involves use of some pretty cool (and free!) visualisation software, called Visit, to analyse collisions of nuclei, calculated using a code I wrote along with some of my colleagues.  The code is pretty sophisticated and produces a rich and complex set of results, which then requires some serious analysis in order to understand what is going on.  The project is ideally suited to one of our students, who spent her professional training year learning how to use Visit and apply it to hydrodynamics.
  • A project on infinite nuclear matter.  This is a model nuclear system, something like a neutron star, in which calculations are a little simpler to achieve than in real nuclei, because we can ignore troublesome things like the nuclear surface.  It’s a good test-bed for ideas about nuclear forces, and despite the universe not actually being filled with an infinitely large nucleus, the calculations can be related to observed properties of the nucleus, such as the way they vibrate.
  • A project on pairing in nuclei.  The phenomenon of pairing – the tendency of particles to prefer to form pairs of two particles – is a widespread one in physics.  It appears, for example, in superconductivity in metals and is due to the intrinsic angular momentum of the fundamental matter particles.  In nuclear physics, it is responsible for some interesting effects, such as that when you excite nuclei in an experiment from their lowest energy state, to an excited state, they can shrink in size.  This is a bit unexpected, since we usually think of nuclear ground states as being very dense already, and excitations tend to be less dense configurations.
  • And finally, one on methods of solving nonlinear differential equations.  I need to be able to solve these equations (called the Hartree-Fock equations) before I can do any of the work for the above projects.  Nonlinear equations are a certain class of equations that are generally pretty hard to solve.  There are lots of different tricks for trying to solve them, and one student is doing a project with me evaluating different methods.

As always, I hope both the students, and I, will learn a lot from the projects – and I’m looking forward to them all 🙂