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Advanced Higher Physics: From black holes to quantum theory

Rosie has her eye on a career in particle or astrophysics and a place won at the University of St Andrews after being inspired by her Advanced Higher Physics course.

“Honestly, there are so many interesting routes you can take with physics that I don’t really mind where I end up in 10 years. The absolute dream would be to get a PhD and work at CERN, but as long as I’m doing something that interests me, I don’t mind.”

First name: Rosie | Age: 17 | Advanced Highers: Chemistry, Maths and Physics

Why did you choose the Advanced Higher route?
I’ve always been set on the idea of working in a scientific field, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study at university. Taking Advanced Highers has allowed me to get a better feel for what my subjects are like at a more challenging level and led me to choose to do physics. I also believed that taking Advanced Highers would allow me to gain the skills necessary for independent study.

What other Highers/Advanced Highers are you studying/have you studied?
I’m currently taking Advanced Highers in physics, chemistry and maths. For my Highers I studied English, maths, French, chemistry, physics and human biology.

What made you choose your combination?
I chose this combination purely because they were the three subjects that interested me most. I also believe they were a good combination as they’re all highly connected.

And what about physics specifically?
I’ve always been interested in physics and I love the career possibilities it provides. I was especially interested in the area of quantum physics, and I knew that the Advanced Higher course delved further into this. Also, there are two physics teachers at my school who are particularly passionate about all things STEM, which made it an easy choice!

How are you finding it so far?
In all honesty, it’s been a bit of a challenge. The teaching style of Advanced Highers is far more independent [than the Highers course], and it was hard to get used to at first. However, I learned to manage my workload better and decided to timetable my free periods more efficiently, so that I was able to go over the course on my own more regularly. Now that I’m used to a more lecture style of teaching, I’ll hopefully be better prepared for starting university.

What have you been studying on your course?
This year, I particularly enjoyed learning about stellar physics, through which we learned about black holes and the evolution of the Sun. I also loved learning about the theory of general relativity and Einstein’s equivalence principle, which boggled my mind at first. In addition, I’ve learned about a wide range of physics concepts; from rotational motion and quantum physics to electromagnetism and waves.

Can you tell us a bit about your coursework?
My Advanced Higher project, which I’ve just completed, is about the speed of sound in different mediums. This involved me trialling many experiments to find the best three to include in my project. My favourite involved using a piece of equipment called a Rubens’ tube (pictured) to determine the speed of sound in propane. I was able to do this by connecting the tube to a signal generator and a gas supply. Once the tube is lit and the signal generator is set to a frequency, patterns of flames can be observed. This is due to a phenomena known as stationary or standing waves, which you learn about at Advanced Higher level.

Rosie's Rubens tube shows a row of flames at different heights forming a wave pattern.

What do you find most interesting about it?
Definitely quantum theory! I find the concept of wave-particle duality incredibly interesting and how, when you pass an electron through a double slit, it appears to go through both slits until you try and detect which one it travels through.

What do you want to do with your Advanced Highers?
I’m going to study physics at St Andrews, and providing that goes well, I would like to work in some area of either particle physics or astrophysics.

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years?
Honestly, there are so many interesting routes you can take with physics that I don’t really mind where I end up in 10 years. The absolute dream would be to get a PhD and work at CERN, but as long as I am doing something that interests me, I don’t mind.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking the Advanced Higher course in physics?
My top piece of advice would be to start your project as early as possible and not to leave it like I did. The earlier you start it, the more you can enjoy researching your chosen topic, instead of rushing yourself to finish it. I would also advise revising in small chunks, but regularly, to save the stress the fortnight before prelims.