Working to create an open and inclusive environment for all

 

We all live with unconscious biases and constrictive societal norms.  The School’s Equality and Diversity Committee meet monthly to discuss these and other such issues regarding Equality and Diversity, and are actively fighting against such biases to create an open and inclusive environment for all of our staff and students.

Gloria Hamlyn and Ozioma Kamalu are the School’s undergraduate representatives on the Equality and Diversity Committee. “We both joined because we feel that there is a long way to go before physics sees true equality, and we want to further the progress in any way we can. Since its beginning, science has been a collaborative effort and we feel that without every voice represented, the whole scientific effort is weakened.”

The School’s Equality and Diversity Committee has a number of responsibilities, with some of its current activities including:

–          applying for renewal of the Institute of Physics Juno Champion and Athena SWAN Silver award. These awards recognise the efforts of educational departments to improve gender equality within the academic community. The School’s application outlines future plans for implementations such as awareness training, gender ratios on hiring panels, and initiatives for greater provisions for disabled students and staff.

–          working with EUSA to discuss plans for the introduction of gender-neutral toilets in JCMB. This has proven successful in other university buildings around the campus, such as Teviot and Murchison House.

–          looking at ways to highlight more effectively the services EUSA’s The Advice Place provide to students at the King’s Buildings campus. Currently, there is only one advisor available for three hours, four days a week in KB, as opposed to the extensive services available in the Central Campus. Hopefully, with increased demand at KB, improvements to The Advice Place branch will follow as a result.

–          helping with the upcoming poster campaign which has been organised by the Physics and Astronomy Society. This campaign aims to bring a greater awareness to women and underrepresented groups of the past and present in physics who have gone unrecognised for too long. Keep an eye out for them around the JCMB!

Interested in finding out more or getting involved?  Gloria (s1511801@sms.ed.ac.uk) and Ozioma (s1559201@sms.ed.ac.uk) would love to hear your thoughts on E&D matters and are both happy to receive emails with suggestions that we can bring forward to the committee for consideration.

“Our aim is to ensure that issues that matter to you are heard and given serious thought by people through all levels of the School.”

Check out the School of Physics and Astronomy Equality and Diversity wiki page for information on complaints procedures, current school goals, and relevant contacts within and outwith the School:

https://www.wiki.ed.ac.uk/display/SOPAEDI/Equality+and+Diversity

Together we can create positive change for everyone by encouraging more engagement with these issues throughout the School.

 

Silver medal success

The University Physics Competition is an international contest for undergraduate students, who work in teams of three and spend a weekend in November analysing a real-world scenario using the principles of physics and writing a formal paper describing their work.

Congratulations to year 2 students Jacob Kemprud, Matt Chouzouris and Bowei Zhang who achieved a silver medal in the competition.  Out of approximately 300 teams, this trio were ranked in the top 18% – which is an excellent achievement!

Their task involved analysing a spacecraft’s dynamics during acceleration in the problem ‘Sending a Light Sail Propelled Nanocraft to Alpha Centauri’.

University Physics Competition:  http://www.uphysicsc.com/home.html

Research on a doctoral training scheme

Are you considering undertaking a PhD following your undergraduate degree? The School of Physics and Astronomy has research opportunities in astronomy, condensed matter, nuclear physics, particle physics experiment & particle physics theory.

The School also offers CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training) opportunities with partner institutions. These entail an additional year which centre around the development of technical and transferrable skills, which may include the completion of teaching courses, industrial placements, attendance at workshops and participation in outreach activities.

David Crosby graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2016 with an MPhys in Physics and is currently in year 3 of a SOFI CDT degree.

“During my degree I realised I wanted to pursue a career in research but wanted to focus on industrial relevant projects, so I applied for the SOFI (Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces) CDT training program.”

This multi-disciplinary CDT is a collaboration between the universities of Durham, Leeds and Edinburgh, and provides training in both academic and industrial-relevant soft matter research. Soft matter being the scientific term for anything squishy – this covers a vast range of materials such as foods, pharmaceuticals and paints.

“Being able to visit and work with different industries as well as gaining an understanding and appreciation for the different expertise and skills needed to solve real world soft matter problems is extremely beneficial.”

“After spending time in Durham and Leeds I am now back at Edinburgh working with Dr Tiffany Wood on characterising the structure and rheology of topical formulations, sponsored by GSK. The main focus of my project is to characterise the structure and rheology of skin creams as they are being applied to a substrate (i.e. skin).”

The School is currently a partner in two new CDTs: Soft Matter for Formulation and Industrial Innovation, and Mathematical Modelling, Analysis and Computation.

An ode to maths

So as we approach Burns Night, in celebration of the life and poetry of Scottish poet Robert Burns, we would like to share the poems our students have created to remember facts, equations and rules as part of their Mathematics for Physics 1 course.

Teaching Assistants cast their vote for the best entry and ‘Aphorisms on limits and differentiation’ came out top:

Aphorisms on limits and differentiation
(i) A derivative is the time that withers the petals of X.
(ii) A vertical asymptote is la femme fatale in the pub of functions.
(iii) A horizontal asymptote is the ethereal caress of infinity.
(iv) Applying the chain rule is like following the trace of matryoshkas on the snow.

We also like this one from a student reflecting on their learning journey:

Eulanor Rigby
Euler’s equation, picks up numbers
in the checkpoint where a question has been,
lives in a complex plane,
waits at the workshop, getting the help
from the friendly TAs,
it helps a lot .
All the checkpoint questions
where do they all come from?
All these strange equations
Where do they all belong?

(TAs = Teaching Assistants)

And this one about…. well look at the first letter of each line to tell you…

Knowing your…
Forever fun, whether increasing or decreasing, continuously they flow
Ugly and hardly rational
Neatly even
Cursing composite calamities
The seductive symmetry you fall in love with
If you’re faced with a difficult question that makes no sense at all
One sketch may lead you to salvation
Now you might ask what does this all have in common
So solve the problem, oscillate once more, it’s a periodic poem after all

From quantum physics to harvesting energy from stars: reflection on an interview with Freeman Dyson

I’m not sure which is more impressive. Freeman Dyson’s championing of a new era of quantum electrodynamics, or the scale upon which his formidable intellect had an impact.

In his own words, “My most important contribution was the unification of the Feynman-Schwinger-Tomonaga versions of quantum electrodynamics.”, when asked by Vedant Bhargava what he felt was his greatest scientific achievement. Yet his influence spans from fundamental particles like the electron on the scale of roughly 10−18m to a colossal megastructure dubbed a Dyson sphere that would encompass a whole star. Just for reference, the radius of the Sun is on the scale of roughly 108m. That’s something you need a powerful microscope to see right in front of you vs. something you can with your eyes (do not try this at home) 150 million kilometres away. Dyson’s influence is prevalent at every stage.

Not only was he an intellectual behemoth, but he lived through World War II and worked on multiple space-related projects (most notably ‘Orion’). During the war he worked for the Royal Air Force’s bomber command. But, in his own words, his job “had nothing to do with mathematics, either pure or applied”, but this section of his interview is still an interesting read nonetheless. Project Orion intended to create a spacecraft propelled by nuclear power, however, given time to reflect, Dyson now believes “There does not seem to be any type of mission that is well matched to nuclear rockets. Nuclear rockets are too heavy for local missions and too slow for high-velocity missions.”

Something else I noticed that I find particularly amusing, was that the competitiveness between Dyson and his colleagues (Michael Atiyah in this article) appears to have lost none of its vigour despite lasting long over half a century. “Game on”, Dr. Atiyah appears to say as Austin insinuates that Dyson would be double checking Dr. Atiyah’s proof to a million-dollar problem, the Riemann Hypothesis, and solving it in his own right.

Read the full interview coordinated by year 3 student Austin Morris.