IOP prizewinners tour Harwell Campus

17 July 2014

Four young scientists toured the cutting-edge facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), Harwell, on 2 July as part of the reward for their success in the IOP prizes in national science competitions.

IOP prizewinners tour Harwell Campus
Stephen Kill/STFC

Gianamar Giovannetti-Singh won the Institute of Physics Prize in the UK’s National Science and Engineering Competition and was presented with £500 in cash at the Big Bang Fair in March. He and runner-up Lily Battershill went on the tour along with Ricki Duffield and Peter Duffin, who won the Institute of Physics prize for best project in the physical sciences section of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, held in Dublin in January.

The four school students and their companions saw RAL Space, including the space test chamber, ISIS, the Central Laser Facility and the Particle Physics Department (PPD) as well as hearing talks from ISIS instrument scientist Chris Frost, PPD scientist Emmanuel Olaiya and laser scientist Ceri Brenner. They also heard a talk on the physics of aurora from Ian McCrea and an overview of RAL Space from Hugh Mortimer, chair of the IOP’s Environmental Physics Group.

The event included an opportunity to talk to early career researchers and to hear about career and placement opportunities at RAL and the other sites managed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. They were welcomed at the start of the day by Prof. Richard Holdaway, director of RAL Space, and given closing farewells by Prof. John Collier, director of the Central Laser Facility.

All four were impressed with the site and said how much they had enjoyed the day. Gianamar, who is about to start his A2 year at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge, especially enjoyed a demonstration of levitation using supercooled magnets and hearing about the accuracy of the space instruments being developed at RAL. He had won the physics prize for a thought experiment on “how much information can fit in a box?” and hopes to study natural sciences or theoretical physics.

Lily was impressed by the high level of research being conducted at RAL and by seeing how different scientific disciplines overlap in the work going on there. Having just finished her A-levels at Ivybridge Community College, Devon, Lily commented how she could suddenly see how the physics she had learnt related to the research underway at facilities such as ISIS. Her runner-up prize was for a project on graphene’s potential as an atomically thin and optically transparent microphone and loudspeaker. She hopes to study civil and environmental engineering.

Both Ricki and Peter, who have just finished GCSEs at Wellington College, Belfast, were surprised by the size of the Harwell Campus. Ricki, who would like to study aerospace engineering, particularly liked seeing RAL Space and the place where scientists test instruments that are to go into space. Peter enjoyed everything, including seeing some components of a particle accelerator. “It was brilliant and it’s definitely encouraged me more to do physics at university,” he said.

Their physics teacher, David Cardwell, who is an IOP member and head of the physics department at Wellington College, supported them in their project on the detection and impact of solar flares in the upper atmosphere, and accompanied them on the tour. “It’s been really good and the variety of things we have seen has been tremendous,” he said. “It’s been great for them to see vibrant people doing research and giving presentations. They may not previously have seen working at a place like this as a real possibility but it has given them a bit of confidence and shown them what’s available.”

Abigail Robison, Rowan Boardley, Katie King and Thomas Simpson, from Queen Katharine School, Kendall, who were a team of runners-up for the physics prize in the UK competition with their project on mixing polymer binders with viscosity modifiers, were unable to attend the event.

Pictured left to right are Lily Battershill, Peter Duffin, Gianamar Gianamar Giovannetti-Singh and Ricki Duffield.