All posts by Cristobel Soares-Smith

05Sep/19

Physics outreach project nominated for Times Higher Education Award

A Queen Mary outreach project which takes physics research into schools has been nominated for a Times Higher Education Award 2019.

The School of Physics and Astronomy’s ‘Physics Research in School Environments’ (PRiSE) programme is shortlisted for the Widening Participation and Outreach Initiative of the Year for the event known as the ‘Oscars of higher education’.

The award will go to the most imaginative and innovative project that promotes diversity and encourages people from non-traditional backgrounds to enter higher education or extends the reach of the institution to new areas of activity.

PRiSE enables underrepresented students across London to experience cutting-edge particle and astrophysics through 6-month-long independent research projects.

As part of the programme students and teachers receive introductory workshops and school visits from researchers, helping them undertake a piece of research which they then present at a conference held at Queen Mary. Around 30 schools take part every year.

It has overwhelmingly built students’ confidence in science, developing skills not typically encountered within school, and has had lasting impacts on their physics and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) aspirations.

The programme has also resulted in a peer-reviewed paper, with student co-authors who successfully identified sounds caused by solar storm.

Dr Martin Archer, PRiSE project lead from Queen Mary’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “I have been developing PRiSE over the past five years and it’s been wonderful to not only see the long-term effects these projects are having on young people and their teachers. For this to be recognised nationally through the nomination is utterly fantastic”

PRiSE has developed teachers’ practice through the relationships forged with Queen Mary. As a result, teachers develop new lesson content, skills and mentoring; gain confidence in discussing research; and share students’ work raising their school’s STEM profile.

It is also informing the sector, with SEPnet and Ogden Trust adopting it into their strategies, Royal Society recommending it to their teacher network, and USA’s National Oceanic and Space Administration encouraging other researchers internationally to adopt it, with take-up from some universities already.

THE editor John Gill said: “I am delighted to say that the ‘Oscars of higher education’ go from strength to strength. With 23 categories this year, we’re also showcasing more exceptional stories than ever before, and it’s a real honour for us to shine a spotlight on all those who have made it as far as these shortlists – their stories deserve much wider circulation.”

These are the 15th annual THE Awards, and the first to feature a range of categories covering all university activity under one banner – excellence will be recognised both in academia and across the professional services.

The Awards ceremony is the biggest night of celebration in the UK HE calendar, and will take place at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane in London on Thursday 28 November 2019.

A student presents his poster at the PRiSE student conference

02Aug/19

GRADnet Training Programme 2019-2020 Announced!

GRADnet is pleased to announce the list of forthcoming GRADnet Training events for the academic year 2019-20.

These events are only for SEPnet postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.

These events are free to attend (SEPnet pays for your accommodation and course fees for residential courses) and travel expenses can be claimed from your department.

List of training events:

23 October 2019: GRADnet Induction at 1 Park Crescent, International Students House, London W1: This is compulsory for all September/October 2019 starters.

6-7 November 2019: Measurement Science Conference, the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex. (10 places available for SEPnet PhD Students)

27-28 November 2019: Astrobiology and Planetary Science, the Open University, Milton Keynes.

2-3 December 2019: Turning Science into Business, the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex.

4 December 2019: IOP/SEPnet Career Panel Event for Physicists at the Institute of Physics, London N1. (networking event for physics students and postdoctoral researchers.)

15-16 January 2020: Machine Learning and AI, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London.

17-19 February 2020: Teams, Communication and Leadership – Winter School at Cumberland Lodge, Great Park, Windsor.

25-27 March 2020: Student-led Research Conferences at University of Southampton, Highfield Campus. (Arrival 4pm on 25 March for meet and greet ): Soft Matter: the unseen science all around us and The Big Data Era in Astronomy

27-28 April 2020: Quantum Computing, University of Surrey, Guildford.

6-9 July 2020: Opportunities beyond your PhD – Summer School, Herstmonceux Castle, West Sussex.

13-16 July 2020: NExT PhD Workshop, Cosener’s House, Abingdon, Oxford.

Registration open now to SEPnet postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers!

 

24Jul/19

Benefits of attending GRADnet Summer School 2019 as a Postdoc!

I didn’t really know what to expect from the GRADnet Summer School, especially approaching it as a postdoctoral researcher as opposed to a PhD Student. Since my postdoc contract expires at the end of the year, I saw it as a good opportunity to expand my horizons and gain some inspiration about what I could do next. It’s always been my ambition to find a vocation outside of academia, so the chance to interact with employers from a range of different backgrounds was worth a shot. Moreover, it could be a chance to develop my ideas about how my PhD in Physics and experience in research could be transferred to other fields.

I was a bit worried that the activities might not be pitched appropriately for a professional researcher, but that fear proved to be unfounded. The seminars – two each day – were well built with a wide array of experiences in mind. Seminars which stood out to me were the Intellectual Property workshop run by WP Thompson and a talk on public engagement from the Science & Technology Facilities Council.

Between seminars, I had the chance to attend two employer-led workshops each day, which comprised an hour talk about their work and a group activity. Typically, the group activities were well thought out to bring across a specific point, and as a consequence they were highly engaging. A highlight was a workshop from Ultra Electronics, where we were tasked to design the most useless microwave which still fitted within the design specifications – my team decided that the specified OLED display should be only 1 pixel and communicate through Morse code. But amongst the fun, there was a serious take away – our training as Physicists has given us skills which come in handy in plenty of different contexts. In this environment, our technical Physics knowledge doesn’t count for nearly as much as our agile thinking and teamwork.

On the final day, we split into teams and took part in a “consultancy challenge”, where we tried to solve, in a matter of hours, the kind of problems a consultancy might work on for weeks. My team’s assigned problem was to make a recommendation about where the successor to the Large Hadron Collider should be built – at CERN in Geneva, or in a new site in China? Not only did we have costs and scientific merits to consider, but my team chose to emphasize the possible ethical issues of working with the Chinese government. Time was tight – we had only a few hours to put together a poster presentation and a pitch to sell our solutions. This extremely limited timescale forced us to focus on the principle of being “just good enough” to solve the problem, but no more rigorous. My team even won a prize for our efforts! The whole exercise really emphasized to me the importance of the leadership and time management skills I’ve developed. I left the summer school with renewed self-confidence, fresh ideas for new careers, and quite a few new friends.

Thank you to Dr Steve Chick, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Surrey for giving his perspective on attending this year’s GRADnet Summer School 1-4 July 2019 at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, Middlesex.

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory:  Team 3 – Stephen Haywood, RAL, Bradley Garland, Dan Kelsey, University of Sussex and Stephen Chick, University of Surrey.

05Jul/19

GRADnet Consultancy Challenge Winners!

Congratulations to our consultancy challenge winners at the GRADnet Summer School 1-4 July 2019 at the National Physical Laboratory, in Teddington, Middlesex.

The consultancy challenges are an opportunity to take on the role of a consultant and propose a solution to a “real world” challenge that is facing an employer.  In doing the challenge postgraduate researchers discover the skills one has developed during one’s doctorate are transferrable to genuine business solutions.

The challenges this year were provided by Gil Travish, Adaptix Ltd; David Gorton and Duy Le Bui, BlueOptima and Dr Stephen Haywood, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The winners are:

Adaptix Ltd:  Team 3 – Gil Travish, Adaptix Ltd, Michael Soughton, University of Sussex, Marta Venanzi, University of Southampton and Dominic Duffy, University of Surrey.

BlueOptima: Team 3 – David Gorton, BlueOptima, Adam Kennington, University of Surrey, Andrey Abramov, RHUL, Alexander Booth, University of Sussex, Carlos Vergara, and Michael Kritsotakis, University of Sussex.

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory:  Team 3 – Stephen Haywood, RAL, Bradley Garland, Dan Kelsey, University of Sussex and Stephen Chick, University of Surrey.

Peoples Choice Winners:  Adaptix Ltd Team 1:  Veronica Benson, Employer Liaison Director, SEPnet, Michael Spencer, University of Surrey, Giri Mani, RHUL, Jelena Gorbaciova, QMUL, and Maria Pintea, University of Kent.

Well done to all the participants.

05Jul/19

GRADnet Summer School PGRs get the measure of NPL!

The fifth GRADnet Summer School took place on 1-4 July 2019 at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, Middlesex.  Thank you to NPL because this is the third time they have hosted this event and offered laboratory tours, water rockets and a BBQ with the wonderful backdrop of Bushy Park.

40 postgraduate researchers signed up to this year’s school which provided an opportunity to experience some wide-ranging opportunities outside academia and to interact with employers from a variety of organisations.

A Sussex student said it was a “fantastic school, very well organised” and that they found “pretty much everything very useful”. The most valuable thing they took away from the school is that “academia is not the only way to do science and a job in industry doesn’t have to be a “fall-back”.

Thank you to all our speakers and employers who provided talks, workshops and consultancy challenges: NPL, University of Sussex, WP Thompson, IOP Teaching, Santander, Ultra Electronics, GlaxoSmithKlein, RBA Acoustics, UKAEA, Adaptix Ltd, BlueOptima and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

 

 

 

25Feb/19

Why sign up for a GRADnet Winter School? A PGR’s perspective.

Cumberland lodge is every bit as striking as its reputation implies. Just 15 minutes from Woking station, and situated in Windsor Park, it is both convenient and secluded. I felt very fortunate to be staying there for the GRADnet winter school 18-20 February 2019. It’s a comfortable and well catered venue, with good menus for all dietary requirements.

The winter school aims to cover leadership skills and discusses the current understanding of best practice and common problems. This year it was led by Dr. Trevor Long, who has an outstanding background in the field, as well as a perfectly tuned approach to a practical learning experience.

This is illustrated by a study of the NASA Columbia disaster of 2003. Accounts of the disaster are separated into the perspectives of four figures who were closely involved and the group is split into teams. Each team reports on the contribution of one of the four teams. The Columbia study was very engaging and effective, certainly the highlight of the workshop for many people there.

Many of the concepts and observations on leadership presented were very interesting and thoughtful. It signposted issues important to teamwork in both academia and industry.  An additional feature of the workshop brought together five industry team leaders to aid our understanding of how to put our new leadership skills into practice.  Some of the content did come across as a little enigmatic and it was certainly presented from the perspective of industry.

The trip to Windsor also deserves a mention. It was an excellent demonstration of the sensitivity of physicists to location based variance in the value of beer. The town is charming, of special interest to international students, and the castle is also pretty.

This workshop has a lot to recommend it.

Thank you to SEPnet PGRs from QMUL and Southampton for their contribution in writing this article.

Employer panel with ingenie, Ultra Electronics, Blue/Red Optima, Stifel and the UK Space Agency.

 

Students participating in the “Marshmallow Challenge”!

21Feb/19

Columbia Space Shuttle Mission in Windsor!

The GRADnet Winter School took place on 18-20 February 2019 at Cumberland Lodge, Great Park, Windsor. Dr Trevor Long, consultant, led the workshop for over 30 delegates.

This workshop was an integrated learning event where delegates developed insights into the importance and nature of leadership and effective team working.  These are skills they will require in any career in academia, government or the private sector.

Formed around a multi-media case simulation of the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle mission NASA engineers and leaders seek to understand the nature and threat associated with a technical problem that occurred on launch. Over the course of the mission, they analyse the damage, assess the risks, and decide what to do.  Leadership, organisational culture, communication, personality characteristics, formal systems and job positions are amongst many complex issues that affected the course of the decision-making process.

A panel of employers shared their experiences and the challenges they have faced when leading a team in a senior role on the second day:  Selim Cavanagh, ingenie; Rikki Douglas, Ultra Electronics ; Jason Rolles, Blue Optima; Sheela Sharma, Stifel (Europe) and Alex Shepherd, UK Space Agency

Thank you to the employers for their participation and to Trevor for making this workshop a success.

SEPnet PGRs who attended the workshop said:

  • This simulation provided “an important skillset for postgraduate students”;
  • The event was packed, enjoyable and provided a thought-provoking simulation and talks (especially on the importance of communication). There was also an informative careers panel;
  • The best aspects for me are that it has motivated a lot of thoughts and has challenged me to think about myself. The employer panel was extremely productive.  A lot of good insight was shared.

Marshmallow Challenge winning team:

Kent: Emerald Taylor, Alex Paul, Luke Cornwell and Akiko Sato (Kent).  QMUL:  Jesse Coburn.

L-R:  Emerald, Alex, Jesse, Luke and Akiko

Well done for constructing a 22″ tower! Amazing feat of engineering with spaghetti and tape!

 

 

24Jan/19

Stellar event at University of Hertfordshire!

The Interface between observation and theory workshop took place 17-18 January 2019 and was kindly hosted by the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield.

Over 40 delegates attended the workshop and they enjoyed the good range of talks from exoplanets to cosmology:

  • “Great range of speakers, almost everyone got something relevant and useful”
  • “The talks were given clearly with space for questions. Good to meet fellow researchers and have space for discussion.”
  • One of the best aspects of the programme was the machine learning talk as it’s a new thing potentially useful for everybody.”

Thank you to all our speakers for participating in this event and making it a success:

Ben Burningham, University of Hertfordshire: Characterising exoplanets from theory and data driven perspectives.

Noelia Noel, University of Surrey: Resolved stellar populations and star clusters in Local Group galaxies: Unravelling galaxy formation and evolution.

Jim Dale, University of Hertfordshire: Modelling star formation in the Milky Way.

Jim Geach, University of Hertfordshire: Machine-learning techniques in Astrophysics.

Sebastian Hoenig, University of Southampton: Stars, dust, and outflows: Modelling the infrared emission from AGN.

Claudia Maraston, University of Portsmouth: Stellar population synthesis models.

Chiaki Kobayashi, University of Hertfordshire: Interpreting the Universe both near and far with cosmological simulations.

Thank you to the lead academics for organising this workshop – (Sugata Kaviraj, Jan Forbrichand, Sean Ryan (all University of Hertfordshire) Kathy Head (Research Administrator, University of Hertfordshire) and Cristobel Soares-Smith (GRADnet Manager, SEPnet).

 

 

 

20Dec/18

Daphne Jackson Fellow ignites passion for astrophysics amongst children in care

Daphne Jackson Fellow Dr Carolyn Devereux, based at the University of Hertfordshire, has led a programme of events to engage children in care in astrophysics research.

Carolyn, a foster carer herself, organised bespoke observatory open days for children in care and their foster carers, and young people who are carers.

One event attracted 120 attendees new to astronomy, from toddlers and teenagers to adults, with activities such as planetarium shows, lab experiments and telescope demonstrations.

The programme is designed to accommodate the possibility of challenging behaviour, address traditionally low attendance rates among this audience and respond to specific learning needs, such as autism.

Carolyn who is based within the School of Physics, Astronomy and Maths, Centre for Astrophysics Research, at the University of Hertfordshire, worked with the council-run Hertfordshire Virtual School, which brings together children who are looked after.

At a Hertfordshire Virtual School residential event for Year 10 children in care, Carolyn organised a ‘Mission to Mars’ session to help motivate the children for their science GCSE. A school educational adviser said the children’s’ “thirst for science was definitely quenched”.

The University of Hertfordshire runs a wide-ranging astrophysics and astronomy public engagement and outreach programme, for which Bayfordbury Observatory, the University’s own teaching facility, acts as the hub.

Carolyn worked for the General Electric Company (GEC) in industrial research before her 12-year career break. She is returning to astrophysics research with a Daphne Jackson Fellowship, sponsored by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

11Dec/18

Advanced Materials Workshop: 8-9 April 2019 at RHUL

Register now!

Who: 1st and 2nd Year Physics postgraduate researchers working on theoretical and experimental advanced materials wanting to learn what each other can do.

What:  A  2-day residential workshop that describes the background science of advanced materials and experimental and theoretical techniques to study them.

When: 8-9 April 2019

Where:  Royal Holloway, University of London (Accommodation at Travelodge twin occupancy)

Numbers: Circa 25-30 delegates

This residential school provides an overview of research on advanced materials. It comprises lectures, tutorials, hands-on computing practice and, working in small groups, students will write a proposal for central facilities resource. Assuming only a knowledge of undergraduate level physics, it should be beneficial to students working on both theoretical and/or experimental projects.

Strong correlations: The session will cover the theoretical concepts necessary to understand strongly correlated systems.

Numerical modelling: This session will introduce Monte Carlo, molecular dynamics, and first-principles quantum mechanical simulation.

Optical spectroscopies: This session will cover the basics of optical spectroscopy, spectrometers and spectrographs using photoluminescence, Raman spectroscopy and absorption spectroscopy.

X-ray and neutron scattering: This session will cover neutron and synchrotron sources, instrumentation, basic scattering theory, structure determination, magnetic structures and excitations, lattice dynamics and diffusion.

Register here.  Registration deadline 1 March 2019.

This event is free (SEPnet pays for your accommodation and course fees) for SEPnet postgraduate researchers and travel expenses incurred can be claimed from your Physics Department.