Well done to the 15 School of Physics and Astronomy Students who received an Edinburgh Award at a ceremony in April.
The Edinburgh Award
The Edinburgh Award recognises the non-academic University activities, such as volunteering work, community activities or part time work, which some students take part in. The Award encourages students to reflect on and develop the skills gained through taking part in such activities. One of the important aspects of the Award is the opportunity for students to articulate what they have gained from such activities – a skill which will be of advantage when communicating with potential employers.
The School’s Edinburgh Award recipients had contributed to the School’s Physics Outreach Team or the Maths Buddies scheme.
The Physics Outreach Team work to engage the wider community in physics and science through the delivery of educational activities. Students delivered activities at events such as the Festival of Physics, and at various venues in the city. Students also planned and organised their own activities, including a weekly science club in a local primary and high school, and an astronomy science event at Craigmillar Community Science Festival.
Physics Outreach Team award recipients are:
The Maths Buddies scheme enables senior students to provide support and guidance to more junior students with regards to their mathematical physics course material. During sessions, junior students complete maths assignments in the company of peers, get support on course-related questions and coordinate with likeminded people who enjoy solving maths challenges. Buddies also provide guidance and answers to questions posed online.
The Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics UK (CUWiP) aims to inspire physics students, highlight career options and provide a supportive community.
Students Sara Evers, Lucy Arditi and Storm Colloms (all year 2) attended the Conference, now in its fifth year, at the Department of Physics, Oxford University in March. Sara tells us what the conference entailed, and how she benefitted from attending…
The first full day of the conference started with a visit to national research facility, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories (RAL). The most exciting part for me was the particle accelerator ISIS, the onsite muon and neutron source. The lab also hosts a central laser facility, a space research and engineering department and many other interesting facilities. As well as attending tours, presentations were made by several female engineers who told us about their work at RAL, how they got where they are today and about internship and graduate opportunities.
In the afternoon, we heard from Prof Alexandra Olaya-Castro from University College London about her research, inspiring career path and the challenges she faced along the way. Following that I attended a medical physics workshop. As someone who has always been interested in medicine and biology, being able to meet and talk to medical physicists and gain information about the different career options and training schemes was very insightful.
Day two started off with talks: Dr Francesca Day, who is a theoretical particle physicist at Cambridge University and a stand-up comedian gave a talk on ‘Science, Creativity and Stereotypes’, which focused on her personal story and research, and general gender and inequality issues in physics. Ms Carole Kenrick, a resident scientist working in primary schools in London, talked about getting young children invested and interested in science.
Tours of the laboratories at Oxford University were conducted in the afternoon, and I got to see a particle physics lab, where they worked on detectors for ATLAS, the particle accelerator and detector in Switzerland. I also saw a group working on producing solar cells out of biomaterials and some groups working on telescopes in the Astronomy department.
Following this was another talk: Dr Rain Irshad shared information on her career in space science, starting with her aim to become an astronaut, the many setbacks and changes in her life, and how she ended up working at RAL Space. I then attended a career panel, with six physicists who are now pursuing careers outside physics (e.g. Patent law, data science, government adviser). This showcased the many opportunities you can have with a physics degree. The day ended with an informal chat with scientists and PhD students.
The conference ended with an academic panel, and a talk from Dr Suchitra Sebastian about combining a career in physics with a life outside of work.
Attending this conference benefitted me in many different ways. I realised there are many different career options available to those with a degree in physics, and learned how one can get into these different areas. It was very motivating to hear about all the setbacks people had to overcome, despite making it to where they are today. I now have a better understanding of what it means to do physics research both in academia and industry and what alternatives there are. On a more practical level, I learned about several internship programmes, some of which I will apply for next year, as well as information on postgraduate studies and funding, which will be very helpful in a few years’ time.
The most inspiring aspect of the conference however wasn’t the great programme, but that I got to meet so many female physicists and physics students, all very passionate about this subject. Being used to usually having a male majority in every lecture and workshop, sitting in a lecture theatre full of female physicists is quite an empowering feeling. Over the weekend, I got to meet so many great and inspiring people and made many great connections and friendships that will hopefully last for a long time. I’m very grateful to both the organisers of the conference, especially the main organiser Prof Daniela Bortoletto, and the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, who enabled us to attend the conference by covering our travel costs to Oxford.
One component of our undergraduate degrees is to enable students to cultivate the experimental design, project management, technical and presentation skills which are needed to work successfully in a physics-based research environment. This is achieved primarily through the Senior Honours and MPhys Projects.
More specifically, students undertaking these projects learn to: conduct and summarise the crucial aspects of a literature review; organise and use a comprehensive log of the work completed in their project; and write a report on the pertinent aspects of the method and produce a critical discussion of the results and conclusions. MPhys students also have to present an oral summary of the aims, methods and results to their peers, and design and produce a web-based summary for a lay audience. These students undertake their project work within one of the School’s research groups – thus working alongside current researchers and gaining a direct experience of work within a research environment.
In order to showcase student projects, the School organised its first Undergraduate Research Conference this April. During the conference, students and staff had the opportunity to view the Senior Honours Project Posters produced by year 4 students and the MPhys Project Public Summaries produced by year 5 students. Conference attendees heard from alumna Anna de Graaff whose talk on ‘A search for missing baryons in the cosmic web’ reflected on her undergraduate project which became a refereed journal paper, and Dr Paul Clegg who described his supervision of a student’s project which formed the basis of a published paper.
At the Conference, prizes were awarded to the students who produced outstanding project posters and public summaries.
Senior Honours Project Poster prizes:
Gloria Hamlyn ‘Examining the gender gap in the Force Concept Inventory’
Jules Giroul ‘The motion of asteroid 3753 Cruithne’
Jack Gargan ‘Gravitational waves and their detection’
Emma Corlett ‘Advanced Photdetectors: WLS Plate Timing’
Amy Paxton ‘Search for hydrogen storage compounds un ammonium chloride at high pressures’
Hilde Metzger ‘Inharmonicity of piano strings’
MPhys Project Public Summary prizes:
Freddie Ferguson – for a very atmospheric flipbook for children that explained the principles of dark matter detection
Katie Garrett – for a ‘Draw my life’ video from the perspective of a massive star on the verge of core collapse
Tomas Soltinsky – for a card game in the mind-bending Pokemon style that reveals how astrophysical simulations work
Ieva Cepaite – for a rap on machine learning that was informative while keeping it real
Jamie Stewart – for a children’s storybook on earthquakes and materials at high pressure
Georgia Clark – for a murder mystery at the LHC
Harry Carstairs – for an interactive outreach exhibit on ultrasound scans
Amy Teasdale – for a website that gives a feel for life as a soft matter experimentalist
Due to the success of the conference, and positive feedback received from students, the School aims to run this as an annual event.