Save the Date: SUPA Annual Gathering: 22 May 2024

Scottish-born scientists, David Thouless and Michael Kosterlitz, along with Duncan Haldane from London, have been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter. David, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, originates from Bearsden.  Michael Kosterlitz, a physics professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island comes from Aberdeen.  SUPA has extended congratulations to both.

The Scottish Centre for the Application of Plasma-Based Accelerators, SCAPA, creates a state-of-the-art environment for collaborative research that will support research, development and application of laser-driven accelerators and next-generation radiation sources. It will promote collaboration between academia and industry, and enable engagement of the UK research community with large international projects. SCAPA houses two high power lasers to drive accelerators and radiation sources, one high-repetition laser for target manufacture and diagnostics, 7 beam lines in three shielded areas, a control room and preparation laboratories.

Charlotte Desvages

On 30th September 2016 Researchers from across SUPA took part in Explorathon2016, Scotland’s contribution to European researcher’s night. A one night celebration of research, Explorathon was an extravaganza of discovery, debate and entertainment. Events were held in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. 

In St Andrews, Valerie Bentivegna (Dundee) presented her biophysics research as standup comedy in a Bright Club set. Helen Cammack, Jonathan Keeling, Brendon Lovett, Kyle Ballantine and Aidan Strathearn (St Andrews), presented “Quantum digits and dances” at the Byre theatre, explaining the mysteries of quantum mechanics. 

In Edinburgh Charlotte Desvages and Reggie Harrision from the acoustics group demonstrated the physics of musical instruments at the “Curiosity Forest”. 

A key knowledge exchange output of SUPA comes from its six hundred graduate students. Many of these students have industrial sponsors, either through one of the four Centres for Doctoral Training, or via another arrangement between their host university and industry. An excellent illustration of the benefits that can accrue from industrial involvement in a PhD is provided by a recently completed studentship from SUPA’s INSPIRE programme.

The studentship was a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Toshiba Medical Visualisation Systems Europe and concerned the development of acquisition and analysis methods to image coronary arteries and cardiac function. The student, Chengjia Wang, supervised by Keith Goatman (Toshiba Medical) and Scott Semple (University of Edinburgh), successfully defended his thesis at the end of June. This topped off an extremely successful collaboration with two manuscripts in preparation with Chengjia as lead author to add to the multiple conference presentations, co-authored papers, and a patent on the registration of medical images.

In 2015 the universe was officially proven to be weird. After many decades of research, a series of experiments showed that distant, entangled objects can seemingly interact with each other through what Albert Einstein famously dismissed as “Spooky action at a distance”.  

A new experiment by an international team led by Heriot-Watt researcher Dr Alessandro Fedrizzi has now found that the universe is even weirder than that: entangled objects do not cause each other to behave the way they do.

Distinguishing cause from effect comes naturally to us. PhD student Martin Ringbauer from the University of Queensland explains, “Picture yourself in a room where someone is flicking a light switch. Intuition and experience lets you establish a simple causal model: the switch causes the lights to turn on and off. In this case, correlation implies causation.”

“If we could entangle two lights, you would see them turn on and off at random, regardless of how far apart they are, with no obvious switch and in perfect lockstep. Einstein’s preferred explanation of this mysterious effect was that there must be a hidden light switch which acts as a common cause for our entangled lights.”

SUPA launched a new Public Engagement Network on 8th September at Heriot Watt University. Researchers from across SUPA gathered to discuss how SUPA can support public engagement with physics in Scotland.

The event opened with a panel session on Considerations for Public Engagement chaired by Siân Bevan. Grant McAllister introduced SSERC and stressed its role in providing support and resources for teachers across Scotland. Aidan Robson and Helen Cammack discussed the challenges and opportunities inherent in taking part in public engagement activities as an academic. Both are enthusiastic supporters of SSERC. Stephen Breslin CEO of the Glasgow Science Centre spoke about Science as culture and the need for a science centre to create enjoyment and enthusiasm (which lead to repeat visits) Heather Earnshaw introduced the IoP’s improving gender balance project by graphically illustrating the audience’s gender bias. A lively discussion followed.

An ERA-NET competition on photonic sensing launched on 1st September, with a closing date for stage 1 proposals on 5th December 2016. ERA-NET is a European scheme to build cooperation and coordination of research activities carried out at national or regional level in the Member States. In practical terms this means that activity is funded in each country at the national level, in the UK this is through Innovate.

The photonic sensing competition is open to R&D project consortia consisting of a minimum of two separate legal partners from at least two different participating countries and/or regions as follows:

  • Austria
  • Flanders Region (Belgium)
  • Germany
  • Israel
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Turkey
  • Tuscany Region (Italy) and
  • United Kingdom

The objective of this call is to strengthen the research and development of photonic techniques for the technology readiness levels (TRL) 3-6 (proof of concept to technology demonstration in relevant environment). The competition is aimed at the most relevant sensing technologies with the highest impact on the human life. The following five application areas are in scope:

The sensing of gases in the air we breathe has become increasingly important as society strives to improve quality of life. Current and future legislation, energy conservation, pollution reduction, safety applications and food production are all examples of market drivers for sensor systems. Emerging Smart City and IoT initiatives are likely to be major future contributors to accelerating the growth of the atmospheric gas sensing solution market.

As a physics graduate student in Scotland, you are a SUPA student. This gives you the benefit of being part of a grouping of eight physics departments/schools, and the additional opportunities provided by the SUPA Graduate School. Our goal is to help you to become the best physics graduate students in the world.

The SUPA Graduate School provides you with video conferenced lectures – in the newly upgraded rooms at each university – bringing the expertise of eight universities to your doorstep. Please read through the SUPA Graduate School Student Brochure which contains details of all the courses, what you are expected to complete, and all the information you need to know about being SUPA.

You will most likely be attending several induction events around this time – your local physics department/school, college, university, possibly CDT, and more. These events will provide you with a wealth of information that is designed to help you get the most out of your time as a post-graduate student.

Brexit has thrown up many questions, not least of which is the current and future status of Horizon 2020 and other EU research funding.

The European office of the UK Research Councils – UKRO is seeking guidance and we will provide information when it’s available. A statement from Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, is available on the UK Government website.

Razorbill Instruments is a start-up company that makes cryogenic compatible products that are used as the critical part in various physics experiments. We are, in a very real sense, a SUPA company. Of our three founders, Jack Barraclough, Cliff Hicks and me, Cliff was a SUPA researcher when the company was formed and Jack and I were just graduating from SUPA’s very own Condensed Matter CDT. Ever since the company was officially founded – at the end of 2014 – we’ve kept these very close ties to SUPA. 

John Brown grew up in Dumbarton where he became a stargazing addict at age 10 with the start of The Sky at Night, the launch of Sputnik, the opening  of Jodrell Bank and viewing of Comet Arend-Roland. He started Dumbarton Academy Astronomy Club before entering Glasgow University (GU), with the support of a Student Grant plus a GU Bursary Exam award (12th place).  Following his 1st Class BSc (1968) in Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, during which he did vacation research at ROE (1966) with Michael Smyth and Harvard  (1967) with Gerald Hawkins (“Stonehenge Decoded”)  he was appointed to a 3 year GU Astronomy Dept. Research Assistantship with teaching duties conducting doctoral research  under the supervision of Regius Professor PA Sweet (of Sweet-Parker reconnection and Eddington-Sweet circulation fame). 

HORIBA Jobin Yvon IBH recently marked the official opening of their new premises on Finneston Street Glasgow. Horiba Jobin Yvon IBH Ltd was formed in 2003 when the Strathclyde University spin-off company IBH merged with Horiba Jobin Yvon. Formed in 1819 Jobin Yvon is one of the oldest names in Spectroscopy and IBH are one of the pioneers of physics spin-offs in Scotland having been incorporated in 1977. IBH is now the World’s leading supplier of fluorescence lifetime systems, which, along with fluorescence microscopy and plate readers, are the most rapidly growing parts of the whole fluorescence market. 

Many of us are familiar with the SUPA video conferencing (VC) rooms in each of our institutions.  They are used predominantly to provide the Graduate School courses for SUPA students, but also provide a useful meeting resource for research activities in the less busy times between semesters.

The European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder mission has demonstrated the technology needed to build a space-based gravitational wave observatory.

In what has been an exceptional few months for the field of gravitational wave science, with the first direct detection having been recently announced, [link ‘first direct detection’ to newsletter article on GW detection] the European Space Agency (ESA) has announced the first results from the LISA Pathfinder mission – and they exceed all expectation.

For many years the international gravitational wave community has targeted having ground and space based observatories.  The ground-based network is now operating with mind-boggling sensitivity, and continually improving, such that we have now made the first direct detections of gravitational waves.  But we are only just scratching the surface of the scientific rewards to be harvested from decades of research to date.

Andrew MacKeller-the winner of SUPA Student Poster Competition 2016

A new feature of the 2016 Gathering was a Student Poster Prize Competition. Each of the eight SUPA partner universities nominated a student to present a poster. The prize, sponsored by Kaiam Corporation (Livingston), was judged by a panel comprising three members of the SUPA International Advisory Committee, Professors Ruth Gregory (U.Durham), Anneila Sargent (CalTech) and Malcom Longair (U.Cambridge). All posters presented were of very high quality and the panel were challenged to choose a winner. 

Andrew MacKeller from the Experimental Quantum Optics and Photonics Group of the University of Strathclyde was declared the winner of the 2016 SUPA Student Poster Competition by Professor Sargent with his poster on “Phase-contrast interferometry: Single-shot, phase insensitive readout of an atom interferometer”. In presenting the Prize to Andrew, Professor Sargent commended the poster for its balance between fundamental physics and state-of-the-art technology with a clarity of presentation that leads the reader through the research and its outcomes. 

A research group (Applied Optics and Photonics) led by Professor Duncan Hand at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh has developed a laser-based process for the generation of phase holographic structures directly onto the surface of metal and glass substrates.  The holograms are generated by either only melting or a combination of melting and evaporation, with sub-micron depth control of the hologram individual features (called pixels).  The target application of these ‘tamper-proof’ holograms is security marking of high value products and components in order to reduce the trade in counterfeit goods.

Dr Robert R. Thomson
Institute of Photonics and Quantum Science, Heriot Watt University   Photonics is one SUPA’s strengths, with many world-leading groups across SUPA institutes, investigating the full breadth of photonics research – from fundamentals to applications. The latest SU2P annual symposium, held at Edinburgh University on the 4th & 5th of April, further confirmed that that SUPA is at the forefront of photonic research, and here I give a brief personal perspective of some of the highlights.  

Members of the Institute for Gravitational Research (IGR) and the School on Engineering have published an article in Nature titled: “Measurement of the Earth Tides with a MEMS Gravimeter”. The Earth tides are the elastic deformation of the Earth caused by the changing phase of the Sun and the Moon, and the Glasgow microelectromechanical system – or MEMS - is the first such device to measure this phenomenon (see figure 1). This measurement was possible because the device has an incredible stability compared to existing MEMS accelerometers or seismometers. Consequently it is the first MEMS accelerometer that can be classed as a gravimeter. The MEMS device is etched from a single piece of silicon and consists of a central proof mass suspended from three arched anti-springs (see figure 1). The proof mass moves in response to changing gravitational acceleration and the motion is monitored using a simple optical shadow sensor (see figure 2). The combination of the soft springs, the heavy proof mass, and the accuracy of the motion sensor allows the device to measure changes in little g of 40 parts per billion in an integration time of 1 second (40 μGal/√Hz).