Sara Evers shares her experience at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics
When a friend told me about the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, I decided to apply without knowing very much about it. The first surprise came when I got invited and shortly after found out that two other girls from my year were attending. We decided to book tickets for the same trains, and we ended up on a six-hour train journey to Oxford together.
Since our train left Edinburgh very early in the morning, we
had a few hours in Oxford before the conference started and decided to visit
some sights, including the History of Science museum, which fittingly included
an exhibition of remarkable women in science. That evening, the conference
started with a welcome reception and buffet. There we got to meet many of the
other girls attending from all over the UK and Ireland.
The first full day of the conference started with a visit of Rutherford Appleton Laboratories (RAL), a national research facility, with a range of different departments and areas of research. The most exciting part for me was the particle accelerator ISIS, the onsite muon and neutron source. Apart from that, the facilities host a central laser facility, a space research and engineering department and many other interesting facilities. Apart from the tours, we also got a series of talks from several female engineers working at RAL, who told us about their work, how they got where they are today and also about internship and graduate opportunities at RAL.
In the afternoon, we got a talk from Professor Alexandra Olaya-Castro from UCL, who told us about her research and her inspiring career path and the challenges she faced along the way. After that we got to attend different workshop. I took part of a medical physics workshop. As someone who has always been interested in medicine and biology, being able to meet and talk to three medical physicists and getting lots of information about the different career options and training schemes was very insightful.
On the second day, we started off with two talks. The first
speaker was Doctor Francesca Day, who is both a theoretical particle physicist
at Cambridge University and a stand-up comedian. She gave a talk about Science,
Creativity and Stereotypes, talking both about her personal story and research
and about general gender and inequality issues in Physics. The second speaker
was Ms Carole Kenrick, a resident scientist working in primary schools in
London, where she is trying to get young children invested and interested in science.
After the talks in the morning, we got a tour through some of
the laboratories at Oxford University. I got to see a particle physics lab,
where they worked on detectors for ATLAS, the particle accelerator and detector
in Switzerland. We also saw a group working on producing solar cells out of
biomaterials and some groups working on telescopes in the Astronomy department.
In the afternoon we got another talk from Dr Rain Irshad, who was talking about her career in space science, starting with her aim to become an astronaut and the many setbacks and changes in life, and how she ended up working at RAL space. Following her talk, there was a career panel, with six physicists who are now pursuing careers outside physics (e.g. Patent law, data science, government adviser). To me, this showcased the many opportunities I will have with a physics degree. The day ended with an informal chat with different scientists and PhD students at Oxford University, where we got to ask questions in a very relaxed atmosphere.
The conference ended on Sunday with a talk from Dr Suchitra Sebastian, talking about combining a career in physics with having a personal life and an academic panel. Attending this conference benefitted me in many different ways. Hearing from all the physicists about their work and their career path inspired me a lot. At the same time, I got to realise how many different career options there are with a degree in physics and how one can get into these different areas. On top of that, it was very motivating to hear about all the setbacks people had to overcome but still made 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 got to hear about several internship programmes, some of which I will definitely apply for next year, as well as information on postgraduate studies and funding, which will be very helpful in a few years’ time.
But the most inspiring aspect of the conference wasn’t even 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 single 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 Professor Daniela Bortoletto, and the School of Physics and Astronomy at Edinburgh University, who enabled us to attend the conference by covering our travel costs to Oxford.
This was a great student-led event with opportunities for students and graduates. One of the UoE student hosts was Lewis Lappin who has just started an internship through the SPiN placements scheme. He is working this summer as a robotic systems engineer with GMV.
2019 National Student Space Conference: attendees, exhibitors, staff and some of the speakers. Image credit: UKSEDS
The UK Space sector
The UK space industry is seeing very ambitious growth. There are currently 130 organisations (companies, research organisations) in the UK space sector. This is an increase of 27% in the last two years and amounts to 9% of all UK employers.
The industry is essentially split into two segments: upstream and downstream. Upstream focuses on sending objects into…
Thanks to Jennifer Edwards from Lockheed Martin for her guest blogpost. It’s good to get an insight into where physics & astronomy can take you and how the knowledge and skills you develop can be applied.
I graduated from the University of Southampton in the summer of 2018 with a Masters Degree in Physics with Astronomy. When I began my degree, I was unsure as to what career path I hoped to end up on, but explored by doing two summer placements as an engineer during my studies.
The first was for Archangel Aerospace Ltd. as a Systems Integration Engineer working on UAV design, and the second working for Rolls-Royce as a Development Engineer. I found that I really enjoyed applying the Physics ‘textbook knowledge’ I had learnt, and that the critical thinking and analysis skills I had learnt on my degree benefited me hugely in my work.
Lockheed Martin UK’s graduate scheme provides the opportunity to partake in four placements over a two-year period. Initially, I was concerned that going into an engineering company without having an engineering degree would hinder me or that I would find myself behind the other graduates, but that was not the case. As well as building technical skills and knowledge from across the company, the scheme provides the opportunity to develop skills such as management skills, application of the engineering life-cycle, and teamwork and communication skills.
I started the graduate scheme in September 2018 as a Systems Engineer – an interdisciplinary field of engineering that primarily focuses on how to design and manage complex systems over their life cycle. My first placement involved modelling and simulation of re-entry vehicles, achieved by running bespoke prediction codes and statistical analyses. My Physics degree provided me with a good background level of knowledge of key physical phenomenon and some coding skills, however it was the ability to grasp new information quickly that was the most significant advantage.
I am currently working on operational analysis on a research and development project, for which I am relying heavily on my background physics knowledge, including optics and thermodynamics. As well as this, many of the key ‘soft’ skills I learnt during University are used daily, such as independent learning, time management and communication skills. I would recommend looking into engineering for any physicists who are interested in applying their scientific knowledge to real-life problems, enjoy working in a team and have a desire to learn and develop new skills.
Jennifer also told me:
I hope this gets people thinking about career options in engineering as there’s a big UK shortage!
The science of what makes good chocolate has been revealed by researchers studying a 140-year-old mixing technique. The team in the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy have uncovered the physics behind the process responsible for creating chocolate’s distinctive smooth texture.
Scientists have uncovered the physics behind the process – known as conching – which is responsible for creating chocolate’s distinctive smooth texture. The findings may hold the key to producing confectionary with lower fat content, and could help make chocolate manufacturing more energy efficient. A team led by the University of Edinburgh studied mixtures resembling liquid chocolate created using the conching process, which was developed by Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt in 1879.
Their analysis, which involved measuring the density of mixtures and how they flow at various stages of the process, suggests conching may alter the physical properties of the microscopic sugar crystals and other granular ingredients of chocolate. Until now, the science behind the process was poorly understood. The new research reveals that conching – which involves mixing ingredients for several hours – produces smooth molten chocolate by breaking down lumps of ingredients into finer grains and reducing friction between particles.
Before the invention of conching, chocolate had a gritty texture. This is because the ingredients form rough, irregular clumps that do not flow smoothly when mixed with cocoa butter using other methods, the team says. Their insights could also help improve processes used in other sectors – such as ceramics manufacturing and cement production – that rely on the mixing of powders and liquids.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved a collaboration with researchers from New York University. The work in Edinburgh was funded by Mars Chocolate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
For more information about science at Mars UK, visit their website.
Professor Wilson Poon, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the study, said:
We hope our work can help reduce the amount of energy used in the conching process and lead to greener manufacturing of the world’s most popular confectionary product. By studying chocolate making, we have been able to gain new insights into the fundamental physics of how complex mixtures flow. This is a great example of how physics can build bridges between disciplines and sectors.”
The recent black hole image, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – a network of eight linked telescopes – was rendered by Dr Bouman’s algorithm. Good article by Katy Steinmetz in Time Magazine online:
Though her work developing algorithms was a crucial to the project, Bouman sees her real contribution as bringing a way of thinking to the table. “What I did was brought the culture of testing ourselves,” she says. The project combined experts from all sorts of scientific backgrounds, ranging from physicists to mathematicians, and she saw the work through the lens of computer science, stressing the importance of running tests on synthetic data and making sure that the methods they used to make the image kept human bias out of the equation.
Bouman says that most of the time she’s not focused on the fact that she’s in a field where women are the minority. “But I do sometimes think about it. How do we get more women involved?” she says. “One key is showing that when you go into fields like computer science and engineering, it’s not just sitting in a lab putting together a circuit or typing on your computer.”
She plans to continue work with the Event Horizon Telescope team, which is adding satellite dishes in space to the network of telescopes here on Earth that were used to produce the image released on Wednesday. With the increased perspective and power, she says, they just might be able to make movies of black holes in addition to still images.
“It’s exciting,” she says. And that’s also her message for the next generation who might consider careers like hers. “As long as you’re excited and you’re motivated to work on it, then you should never feel like you can’t do it.”
What are Knowledge Transfer Partnerships?
The KTP scheme is one of the UKs largest graduate employment programmes and one of the longest running. It helps business to innovate and grow by providing three-way collaboration between universities, organisations and graduates.
Businesses link up with an academic or research institution, which then help to recruit a suitably qualified graduate, known as a KTP Associate. Employed by the university, the associate then works for the company on strategic projects, helping to improve business performance and increase productivity. As a KTP associate, the type of work you carry out depends on your qualifications and the company that you work for, but as an example, KTP projects could include:
reorganising production facilities
introducing new technologies to an organisation
designing new or improved products, processes or services
developing new business strategies and breaking into new markets.
With over 300 job opportunities available every year, the scheme can take from 12 months to three years to complete. Upon completion, around 70% of employers offer associates a full-time job, usually in a management role.
What sectors can I work in?
KTPs are primarily aimed at small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) but companies of all sizes, including not-for-profit organisations in a variety of industries can take part in the programme. You could work a wide range of industries, those particularly of interest to physicists and astronomers are:
engineering and manufacturing
science and pharmaceuticals
environment and agriculture
energy and utilities
business, consulting and management
What are the benefits of a KTP?
experience of managing a challenging, real-life project of vital importance to a business
opportunities to gain professional qualifications – often business related
a competitive graduate salary, usually in region of £25,000 to £35,000.
the possibility of full-time employment at the end of the project
access to a budget of £2,000 per year for training, £2,250 for travel and a further £1,500 for necessary equipment.
Am I eligible?
To be eligible for the KTP scheme graduates need a 2:1 Bachelors degree in a relevant subject or a Masters or PhD. You’ll also need the right to work in the UK.
To find vacancies online head to Innovate UK. Here you’ll be able to register your interest in the programme, create a profile so recruiters can find you and search current vacancies.
Ewan shows how a degree in Physics can take you in interesting directions.
Ewan Hemingway, Research Engineer, Canon Medical Research Europe
I first studied physics at Edinburgh University for the Computational Physics MPhys degree. I was interested in acoustics at the time and my Masters project looked at numerical modelling of guitar value amplifiers. However, one of the 5th year elective courses that really grabbed my attention was a series on soft matter physics, and this prompted me to pursue PhD opportunities. Following a recommendation, I joined an EPSRC-funded PhD in the Physics department at Durham University. There I worked on various problems in computational fluid dynamics, specifically in the area of active matter (the study of living fluids).
I was also lucky to gain some industrial experience through a consultation / research project with Schlumberger.
After my PhD, I stayed in Durham for two more years as a post-doc, where I focused on modelling flow instabilities in polymer physics.
Most recently, I joined Canon as a research engineer in the Image Analysis group. I have been there for just under a year, but already I have worked on a range of interesting problems, e.g., using deep learning for image segmentation.
What is Operational Research (OR)?
Using mathematical techniques and software to solve complex organisational problems. and make better decisions! “The science of better” www.scienceofbetter.co.uk.
Many examples worldwide include: workforce scheduling; building networks; processing queues.
GORS is the UK Government’s community of OR analysts, 600+ strong, working across 25+ departments. Examples of their work: – Optimisation techniques to estimate the number of desks needed to minimise queues through airport immigration – Prioritise funding for development projects in rural areas
They require a numerate degree, they want physicists and they have current vacancies in Scotland.