Archive for Department of Physics & Astronomy

Physics & Astronomy at Sussex – The Videos!

Posted in Brighton, Education with tags , , on January 20, 2016 by telescoper

So the annual University admissions cycle is getting into gear, which means I’ll be spending quite a few Saturdays giving talks and chatting to prospective students and their parents. As we prepare for  the first of Applicant Visit Days at the University of Sussex (on Saturday 23rd January) we’ve produced a number of videos featuring current students in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. I thought I’d share a couple here.

First here’s Anjelah, a student on our 4-year MPhys degree in Theoretical Physics. She still seems quite keen, despite having taken my Theoretical Physics module in her second year!

Here’s Joe, a 4-year MPhys (Physics) student:

And here’s another by Linn, who is on the BSc in Physics with Astrophysics degree:

You’ll notice that both of them talk about our dedicated study spaces, which the students really like. We’re one of the few Physics & Astronomy Departments in the UK – in fact the only that I know of – that has turned over the management of a large suite of rooms over to our students. We don’t just allow them to use the rooms 24 hours a day; we also give them a budget for furniture and books and they basically decide what they want and how to arrange it all. We also provide a constant supply of free tea and coffee (although I have to admit that I do pop in there from time to time and help myself too).

 

The Renaissance of Sussex Physics

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on January 10, 2016 by telescoper

I’m grateful to Darren Baskill for compiling this plot which shows the number of graduates in Physics (including Astrophysics) from the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex since 2004.

Physics

The last two columns are projections, of course, but we can be rather confident about the numbers. The increase over the last few years is predominantly a result of having  more students enter our Physics programmes, but there has also been a significant increase in progression  rates (as a consequence of excellent teaching), which is why we think the predicted numbers of graduates in 2016 and 2017 are likely to be accurate.

One reason for the recent growth was that in 2008 – a particularly low year on the above graph – the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) recognized that Physics departments in the South East were struggling to recruit sufficient numbers of students to be financially viable. This led to the formation of SEPNet, a five-year programme which resulted in an injection of cash to promote physics across the South East of England via a range of activities, including a vigorous outreach programme. This almost immediately began to increase the number of applications to do Physics at Sussex (and indeed across the SEPNet consortium), with the result that 3-4 years later the number of graduates started to climb. SEPNet-2, which started in 2013, has developed this initiative still further, with new initiatives in collaborative graduate education.

(For the record note that I took over as Head of School at the beginning of 2013. I will make no further comment…)

This increase in student numbers has generated more income for the Department, all of which is invested back into teaching, research and other activities (including more outreach!) to create a broader curriculum, more choice for students, and more teaching staff;  the number of staff in Physics & Astronomy has increased from 23 to 40 since 2013, for example.

The income generated by this expansion has allowed us to broaden our research base too. This seems an appropriate time to mention that a new research group in Materials Physics has just been established within the Department. Professor Alan Dalton from the University of Surrey will be joining the Department next month as Professor of Materials Physics, and several further appointments will follow to establish a new research activity in his area of interest.

Alan’s research interests focus on understanding the fundamental structure-property relationships in materials containing one- and two- dimensional structures such as carbon nanotubes, graphene and other layered nanomaterials. Alan is  particularly interested in developing viable applications for nano-structured organic composites (mechanical, electrical and thermal). He is also interested in the directed-assembly and self-assembly of nanostructures into functional macrostructures and more recently interfacing biological materials with synthetic inorganic and organic materials and associated applications.

I’m delighted by this development, which will not only create an entirely new research activity but also add significantly to the range of options we can offer students, as well as new opportunities for undergraduate projects and placements. It also has enormous potential to build links with other Departments, especially Chemistry (which is part of the School of Life Sciences).

To end with, I thought I would also comment on another chart that Darren produced:

FemalePhysics

Apart from showing the very high levels of achievement of our students, this provides quantitative evidence of something I had suspected for some time. Although the proportion of female Physics students overall has hovered around 23% with little change since 2004, the propotion of female students getting first class degrees is significantly higher than for male students.

So there you are. Women are better at Physics than men. Discuss.

 

Clearing Advice for Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy Applicants!

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on August 12, 2015 by telescoper

Well, tomorrow is the big day. This year’s A-level results are out on Thursday 13th August, with the consequent scramble across the country to confirm places at university. Good luck to all students everywhere waiting for your results. I hope they are what you expected!

For those of you who didn’t get the grades they needed, I have one piece of very clear advice:

1-dont-panic

The clearing system is very efficient and effective, as well as being quite straightforward to use, and there’s still every chance that you will find a place somewhere good. So keep a cool head tomorrow and follow the instructions. You won’t have to make a decision until 5pm tomorrow, so there’s plenty of time to explore all the options.

As a matter of fact we will have places in the School of Mathematical & Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. Whether you’re interested in Physics, Astrophysics, Astronomy or Mathematics (or even a combination of those subjects), why not just take a look at the University’s Clearing Page and give us a ring? I’ll be helping out on the phone lines tomorrow myself, so I might get to talk to you in person.

Anyway, here’s a video featuring our excellent admissions team, led by the inestimable Rob Evans, to explain the process:

The 2015  National Student Survey results are just out and they show that the Department of Mathematics has a 94% rating for overall satisfaction; the Department of Physics & Astronomy has 91%. Click the relevant link for more information on our courses in Physics & Astronomy or for Mathematics!

The Frontier of Computing – Quantum Technology

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on June 6, 2015 by telescoper

I came across this video last week and thought I would share it here. It was made by a group students and is called The Frontier of Computing – Quantum Technology. It features Prof. Winfried (“Winni”) Hensinger of the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

This gives me a chance to plug once more the unique Frontiers of Quantum Technology MSc Course at the University of Sussex, which seems to be attracting considerable interest this year!

Helping Blind Physicists

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on February 4, 2015 by telescoper

The Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex has been supporting some fantastic research into the accessibility of science education. Daniel Hajas, a blind second year physics undergraduate student has been working with Dr. Kathy Romer, Reader in Astrophysics, on a research project related to innovative assistive technology.

Daniel came up with the idea of an audio-tactile graphics display (TGD) that should allow representation of graphical information in audio and tactile modalities, mostly focusing on figures used in mathematical sciences such as graphs, geometric shapes etc. The TGD is a device  with approximate dimensions of a tablet that can sit on a table top and can be connected with a PC using either a wired or wireless solution.

During the summer of 2014, Daniel wrote a research proposal, attended an assistive technology oriented conference and since the beginning of this academic year has been searching for partners/funding. Daniel and Kathy recently submitted an application to the Inclusive Technology Price (ITP).

Since October they have made contact with IT and cognitive science experts from the Sussex IT department and are also in contact with an LHC Sound project (CERN) team member to assist with sonification. Daniel and Kathy plan to establish collaboration with experts from various fields, find research partners and funding. Such an interdisciplinary research requires collaboration of various Sussex Departments if not other Universities from across the UK.

Daniel's 3D Vector Board

Daniel’s 3D Vector Board

Daniel has also been busy inventing the ‘3D vector board’, a small plastic board with two flexible rubber stripes perpendicular to each other which can be can moved around such that they show the axes of a coordinate system. The board has a grid on it with 1×1 cm squares. At the junctions four little holes are drilled in the corner of the squares. This allows the vectors (metal sticks of different length) to be fixed on the board. Since there are horizontal, diagonal and vertical sticks i.e. the sticks are either in the plane, perpendicular to or in an angle respect to the plane of the board 3D vector scenarios can be modelled easily.

Although Daniel intended to use the board solely for his own purposes, feedback suggests this relatively simple tool could be used efficiently in education for demonstrational purposes. Both visually impaired and sighted students could benefit from it. Sketches on paper or black boards only allow 2D representations. The 3D vector board might also work well in illustrating aims of the TGD project. Although the main goal is to develop a very advanced high-tech assistive device over a period of years, Daniel and Kathy might also come up with a number of low-tech ideas to improve accessibility of mathematical sciences for visually impaired students.

See Daniel’s project website for further details about his research.

Athena SWAN Bronze for Physics & Astronomy at Sussex

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2014 by telescoper

Athena Swan

Only  time for the quickest of quickies today, but I have some very good news to pass on so, without further ado, here we go. Today we learned that the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex has received a the Athena SWAN Bronze Award in recognition of our commitment to advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. The Athena SWAN charter has been running since 2005, recognising the commitment of the higher education sector to address gender inequalities, tackle the unequal representation of women in science and to improve career progression for female academics.

This award has been the result of a huge effort led by Dr Kathy Romer but also involving many other members of staff in the Department and across entire  the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences generally. The Department scored at or above the national average in all key areas: student intake (UG, PGT, PGR), research staff, academic staff, REF submissions and so on. That said, the Athena SWAN process has highlighted several areas where improvements can be made, such as in the mentoring of female postdoctoral researchers, and enhanced levels of training in equality and diversity matters such as the influence of unconscious bias. We are very pleased to have received the bronze award, but there is still a very great deal to do. Many other institutions and departments have already progressed to the Silver or even Gold award, but our Bronze is at least a start!

 

 

Sussex and the World Premier League of Physics

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2014 by telescoper

In the office again busy finishing off a few things before flying off for another conference (of which more anon).

Anyway, I thought I’d take a short break for a cup of tea and a go on the blog.

Today is the first day of the new Premiership season and , coincidentally, last week saw some good news about the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sussex in a different kind of league table.

The latest (2014) Academic Rankings of World Universities (often called the “Shanghai Rankings”) are out so, as I suspect many of my colleagues also did, I drilled down to look at the rankings of Physics departments.

Not surprisingly the top six (Berkeley, Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Caltech, & Stanford) are all based in the USA. The top British university is, also not surprisingly, Cambridge in 9th place. That’s the only UK university in the top ten for Physics. The other leading UK physics departments are: Manchester (13th), Imperial (15th), Edinburgh (20th), Durham (28th), Oxford (39th) and UCL (47th). I don’t think there will be any surprise that these all made it into the top 50 departments worldwide.

Just outside the top 50 in joint 51st place in the world is the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex. For a relatively small department in a relatively small university this is a truly outstanding result. It puts the Department  clear in 8th place in the UK, ahead of Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester, Queen Mary, Nottingham, Southampton,  St Andrews, Lancaster, Glasgow, Sheffield and Warwick, all of whom made the top 200 in the world.

Incidentally, two of the other departments tied in 51st place are at Nagoya University in Japan (where I visited in January) and Copenhagen University in Denmark (where I’m going next week).

Although I have deep reservations about the usefulness of league tables, I’m not at all averse to using them as an excuse for a celebration and to help raise the profile of Physics and Astronomy at Sussex generally.  I’d therefore like to take the opportunity to offer hearty congratulations to the wonderful staff of the Department of Physics & Astronomy on their achievement. 

With the recent investments we’ve had and further plans for growth I hope over the next few years we can move even further up the rankings. Unless of course the methodology changes or we’re subect to a “random” (ie downward) fluctuation…

 

 

 

Advice for Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy Students on Clearing!

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on August 14, 2014 by telescoper

Got your A-level results? Not made your first-choice University? My advice is:

1-dont-panic

We still some have places in the School of Mathematical & Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. Whether you’re interested in Physics, Astrophysics, Astronomy or Mathematics (or even a combination of those subjects), why not just take a look at the University’s Clearing Page and give us a ring?

As a matter of fact, I’ll be around myself from 8am this morning to talk to interested students!

Click the relevant link for more information on our courses in Physics & Astronomy or for Mathematics!

Promoting Women in Physics at Sussex

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on April 28, 2014 by telescoper

At the end of a very busy day of meetings I suddenly remembered that I forgot to pass on a nice bit of news about the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

It doesn’t seem very long ago at all that I announced the promotion of its first ever female Professor of Physics in the Department, Prof. Antonella de Santo. In fact it was in July last year. Well, just before the Easter break I was delighted at the promotion panel’s decision  to appoint the second female Professor in the Department. The successful candidate this time was Clauda Eberlein, who has been promoted to a Chair in Theoretical Physics with immediate effect.

I’ve already posted about how the proportion of female undergraduates studying physics as been stuck at around the 20% mark for a decade despite strenuous efforts to widen participation. A recent (2012) study by the Institute of Physics contains a wealth of statistical information about staff in Physics departments, which I encourage people to read if they’re interested in the overall issue with equality and diversity in physics. Here I’ll just pull out the figure (based on a 2010 survey) that out of a total of 650 Professors of Physics (and/or Astronomy) in the UK, just 5.5% were female. At that date about 20 physics departments had no female professors at all; that would have included Sussex, of course.

The first ever female Professor of Physics in the United Kingdom was Daphne Jackson, a nuclear physicist, who took up her Chair at the University of Surrey way back in 1971. It’s interesting to note that when Daphne Jackson studied physics as an undergraduate at Imperial College she was one of only two women among the 88 undergraduates in her year.

Congratulations to Claudia on her promotion, but the news doesn’t end there. Claudia will actually be taking over as Head of the Department of Physics & Astronomy in January 2015. She is currently Director of Teaching and Learning for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and will take up her new role when the current Head of Physics & Astronomy, Philip Harris, stands down, having served his term in admirable fashion. Anyway, when Claudia takes up her post as Head of Department she will join an elite band of female physicists to have been appointed to such a role. Does anyone out there know how many other women have headed a Physics department?

 

 

 

 

Awards and Rewards

Posted in Beards, Biographical, Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on April 14, 2014 by telescoper

A surge in the polls for footballer John Brayford of Sheffield United (in the Midlands) has left my dreams of the coveted title of Beard of Spring in ruins. I’m still in second place, but with the leader on 83.7% I think I’ll shortly be writing my concession speech…

Fortunately, however my disappointment at fading into oblivion in one competition has been more than adequately offset by joy at being awarded a Prize by students from the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex. You could have knocked me down with a feather (had I not been seated) when they announced my name as winner of the award for Best Expressed Research. Here’s the trophy:

award

I’m assuming that it’s solid gold, although it’s surprisingly light to carry. I’m not sure where I should store it until next year when presumably it will be handed onto someone else. It did occur to me to send it up to Newcastle United. At least that way they will have something to put in their trophy cabinet…

DSCN1446

Anyway, I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me, although I’m still not at all sure what “Best Expressed Research” actually means nor do I know what I did in particular to deserve the award. Not that any of that really matters. It’s honour enough to be working in a Department that’s part of a School where there’s such a wonderful friendly and cooperative atmosphere between staff and students. I’ve worked in some good physics departments in my time, but the Department of Sussex is completely unique both for the level of support it offers students and the fact that so many of the undergraduates are so highly motivated. Maybe that’s at least partly because there is such a close link between our teaching and research across the Department. Some people think – and some universities would have them think – that research-led teaching only happens in Russell Group institutions. In reality there’s plenty of evidence that, at least in Physics, Sussex does research-led teaching better than any of the Russell group.

Amid all the administrative jobs I have to do these days the opportunity to do a bit of teaching every now and then is the only chance I have of staying even approximately sane. I’m not sure how many other Heads of School at Sussex University do teaching – I’m told my predecessor in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences didn’t do any – but the day I have to stop teaching is the day I’ll retire. Teaching students who want to learn is much more than mere waged labour – it’s one of the most rewarding ways there is of spending your time.