MSc Particle and Nuclear Physics students Clara, Peter, Seb, Stephen, George and Daniel made a science communication video as a part of their Research Skills course. We asked them how they managed to explain the nuts and bolts of neutrino physics in a digestible way.
Why choose Edinburgh to study your Master’s degree?
George: I was really interested in Particle Physics and this is obviously such an incredible department for that speciality. A nice added benefit is that everyone on the programme has to do Research Skills so we get to do cool stuff like this.
Daniel: I had a break between my bachelors and my masters – two years out where I was a science teacher. I then decided I want to carry on learning instead of teaching stuff I already knew so I then came back. I think it’s Edinburgh’s reputation that drew me here.
Did previous teaching experience help in making the video?
Daniel: I think so, it was about communicating quite complex ideas which I was quite used to doing. But yeah, we all managed to write our own bits in a really nice clear way individually.
What inspired you to choose this format?
Clara: I’ve seen some “draw my life” videos on YouTube which was the main idea at the beginning. Two years ago I did a similar project, and I chose this format because I really think drawing is one of the best ways to understand physics, if you’re not a physicist. It can really help you visualise ideas.
Did you struggle to draw something?
George: At the start, we were going to draw a picture of Pauli, but it just to way too long and didn’t look like him so we ended up using a cut-out.
Clara: There was one part where we wanted to compare the mass of a neutrino and the mass of an electron. We got the idea of an analogy between an elephant and a pea…
Daniel: We were trying to bring it into a real-world example, because obviously, this stuff can seem a bit detached from reality, but everyone knows what an elephant and a pea is, so it’s much easier to relate to.
How did you balance explaining and simplifying?
Clara: I think because we’re all students, everything is not obvious for us and it can be a little bit complicated. I was thinking: How would I explain this to my mother or my sister?
George: I feel like sometimes professors forget what it’s like being a student and learning this all for the first time. We still have the ways into that.
Any advice for someone who would like to create a similar video?
George: I guess just keep it fun. The fact that we were enjoying it, I think you can see that in the final product too.
Clara: Focus on the drawings, choose ideas that aren’t too complicated.
Daniel: And diagrams! No proper diagrams, use drawings! It makes it so much more engaging. Keep it as little scientific as possible, relatable to the real world.
You mentioned areas of current research. Do you believe a fourth, sterile, neutrino exists, and that it accounts for dark matter?
Daniel: There are good reasons, but I find it quite hard to believe until it’s been actually detected. For me it seems like someone’s imagination running a bit wild.
George: There is a couple of exciting experimental anomalies that suggest there could be a fourth neutrino state. I think MiniBooNE is one of them and there are things scientists need to investigate where heavy neutrinos fit into a lot of models.
Learn more about MiniBooNE
Peter: I think the main point is that there is something there, maybe it’s not necessarily a fourth neutrino, but there is something to explain all the problems in physics certainly.
What are your plans for the future after university?
Peter: I’m applying for PhD’s right now, mainly looking at ATLAS.
Learn more about the ATLAS experiment
Clara: I’ll be doing a PhD at the Paris Observatory working with an atomic clock.
George: I’m looking for PhD’s in neutrino physics. I just really enjoy this area. There’s loads of mysteries and unanswered questions, it’s very exciting. I’m interested in both theory and experiment which is difficult when you’re applying, but there are a couple of groups around the world that do both.
Daniel: I’m the only one who is not looking to do a PhD. I’ve enjoyed doing physics but I’m ready to move on to something else now. I’m looking for positions on graduate programmes and I’m quite passionate about climate change and sustainability issues. I’m hoping to go down the route of green energy.
Are you finding it difficult to work in the online environment?
Daniel: It’s become normal but that doesn’t mean I’m happy with it. It’s tough not seeing anyone, I’m quite used to collaborating with people a lot whereas now I’m just trying to get my head around these problem sheets alone, it’s not easy.
George: I think if it was like this in the 1st semester we wouldn’t have been able to make the video.
The following MSc students were involved in making this videos about neutrinos: