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News and features from the School of Physics at Bristol

Two awards for Teaching and Learning made to the School of Physics
28 March 2012

Dr Mark Dennis
The quality of teaching and learning in the School of Physics has been recognised in the University of Bristol's 2011/12 University Teaching Awards.

Dr Mark Dennis of the Theoretical Physics group was awarded a Rising Star Award. Mark joined other recipients who were presented with their awards at the University's Learning and Teaching Exhibition on 27 March 2012.

Mark's award is for the development of new advanced theoretical physics courses - and his enthusiastic lectures.

In addition, Student Administration Manager Barb Perks was delighted to receive an award in recognition of her support for teaching and learning in the School.

The University presents awards annually to celebrate and recognise excellent teachers as well as individuals who support teaching and learning. Awards are made in a number of categories and are judged by a panel of Education Directors, chaired by Professor Nick Lieven, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education.

Image of Mark Dennis with kind permission of Dr Murad Taqqu.

Bristol teenagers and the ethics of nanotechnology
23 March 2012

Gold nanoparticles
Teenagers in a Bristol school joined Dr Annela Seddon and a group of Bristol PhD students in a Europe-wide debate about the ethical, social and legal questions associated with nanoscience on Tuesday 20 March.

The debate featured a group of Bristol University PhD students from the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials (BCFN), in a bid to help form an ethical code for nanotechnology looking at privacy issues, acceptance, human health, access, liability, regulation and control.

Pupils in Years 10 and 11 at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School shared their thoughts after learning about nanotechnology as part of an on-going partnership with the University.

The Nanochannels project is funded by the European Commission and involves 20 teachers from eight countries across the continent, each engaging students through the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and live debates. The Guardian newspaper is a partner in the project and is publishing articles on its Nanotechnology World microsite.

Nanochannels in the news

Find out more at
Pupils inform debate on ethics of nanotechnology - this is Bristol/Bristol Evening Post
The Guardian - Nanotechnology World in association with Nanochannels, and
Nanochannels - site and resources centre.

Image: Gold nanoparticles can be used in medical diagnostic devices, such as pregnancy tests. (Mike Thomas)

The Kurt Hoselitz memorial fund
15 March 2012

Welcome visitors
The School of Physics was delighted to welcome members of Professor Kurt Hoselitz's family in a recent visit to the university.

Professor Hoselitz was a physicist who made very important contributions in the area of applied magnetism and became Director of Research at Mullard Research Laboratories in Surrey. He came to Bristol as a refugee following the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938 and was offered a PhD studentship by Professor Tyndall. His son and daughter, Mr Steve Hoselitz and Mrs Maggie Gravelle, have kindly made a donation to establish a fund in his memory that will be used to support PhD studentships in physics. Eligible students will be either refugees, or those who qualify for special support for reasons of hardship.

The photo shows Mr Hoselitz and Mrs Gravelle on a recent visit to Bristol with two current PhD students, Daniel Souza Covacich and Haridas Kumarakuru.

IOP poster prize awarded to Bristol student
6 March 2012

Tom Fenech, a second year PhD student with the Nanophysics and Soft Matter group, University of Bristol has been awarded a commendation and prize for his poster at the recent Institute of Physics (IOP) Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP 11) conference.

CMMP 11 is the annual meeting of the IOP's Condensed Matter Division. It is a large, national meeting that attracts hundreds of delegates from across the UK. This year it was held at the grounds of the Lancashire County Cricket Club, at Old Trafford in Manchester.

Tom presented his poster entitled Forces Between Nanoparticles in a Nematic Host. Colloidal dispersions in nematic liquid crystals lend themselves to a variety of potential optical and electronic applications, such as high precision displays and self-assembled structures for light manipulation. Tom's poster outlined a method for calculating the forces between such gold nanorods embedded in a liquid crystal matrix. Tom Fenech is supervised by Dr Simon Hanna and Professor Robert Richardson, in the Nanophysics and Soft Matter research group.

An analysis of the changes in A-level physics and mathematics
21 February 2012

New undergraduate students arriving to study physics at the University of Bristol from 1975 onwards have all taken the same test of their knowledge and understanding of physics and mathematics. Prof Peter Barham's analysis of these test results since 1975 has been published in Physics Education.

The data clearly show that the ability of our incoming students to answer questions that are in the A-level syllabus they studied declined significantly in the 1990s, with average scores falling from around 75 per cent up to 1990, to below 50 per cent after 2000. This occurred at the same time as our incoming students achieved higher A-level grades in Physics and Maths. Prof Barham suggests that changes in teaching and examination methods in schools may have caused students to be less able to carry out multi-stage calculations. Could the introduction of modular examinations encourage a culture where students tend to forget material learnt in previous modules?

Food science on the radio
8 February 2012

Prof Barham
Peter Barham appears as the resident food scientist on The Kitchen Cabinet, a new BBC radio 4 series based loosely on the long running Gardeners' Question Time, in which the audience bring their food and cooking questions to an expert panel. The pilot series of four programmes is being broadcast at 3pm on Tuesdays. Find out more at BBC's The Kitchen Cabinet or listen on iPlayer to Episode 1.

Right: a photograph of Professor Barham taken at one of the recordings.

Outstanding nanophysics
19 December 2011

thesis image
Two students who graduated from the Nanophysics Group this year had their PhD theses nominated for a prize from the Research Degrees Examination Board.

Both Andrea Gazze and James Grieve produced work that their examiners considered to show outstanding excellence in a doctoral thesis. We congratulate both of them and wish them every success for the future.

Image, right, from James Grieve's thesis. Thermal ellipsoids representing the two-sigma tip position for an optically trapped composite microtool (experimental data). For certain trapping configurations it is possible to rotate the ellipsoid with respect to the optical axis - something which is impossible with traditional microsphere probes.

First hints of the Higgs boson?
16 December 2011

Physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider have received an early Christmas present. Using apparatus partly designed in Bristol, the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) collaboration has presented the first tentative evidence of the Higgs boson. The discovery of this new particle has been described as the holy grail of particle physics, and would confirm our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature.

The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest scientific instrument, and is sited at CERN, Geneva. It collides bunches of protons 40 million times per second, and with the highest energies yet achieved. CMS is one of two giant experiments which identify new particles produced in the collisions, and seeks to answer basic questions about matter, space and time.

The University of Bristol's Particle physics group has been working since 1993 to construct and operate the CMS experiment. Dr Dave Newbold said "The LHC physics programme will continue for at least fifteen years, and the Bristol team are already involved in the design upgraded detectors to be used from 2017. The field of elementary particle physics is entering one of the most exciting phases in its history, with many long-standing questions due to be answered."

Read more at University of Bristol news page.

Nick Wakeham wins Graduate School paper prize
21 November 2011

Nick Wakeham
Congratulations to Nick Wakeham of the Correlated Electron Systems research group for winning the inaugural Physics Graduate School research paper prize with his article Gross violation of the Wiedemann–Franz law in a quasi-one-dimensional conductor. Nick's paper was published recently in Nature Communications.

The Graduate School paper prize is an annual award for the best paper to which a student was the major contributor. The winner is selected by the School of Physics Research Strategy Group.

Labs to Riches - Dr Henkjan Gersen wins Brian Mercer Feasibility Award
18 November 2011

Rags to Riches
At the recent Royal Society event, Labs to Riches, Dr Henkjan Gersen, a member of the Nanophysics and Soft Matter Group within the School of Physics, was announced as winner of a Brian Mercer Feasibility Award. This award enables holders to investigate the technical and economical feasibility of commercialising an aspect of their scientific research, possibly in conjunction with a third party.

Dr Gersen aims to evaluate, in collaboration with an industry partner, a new approach to achieve background-free imaging that often forms the key ingredient in single molecule studies of biological processes. Currently this is mostly achieved through fluorescence imaging and it is widely appreciated that bleaching of single fluorescent molecules imposes limits on the total observation time available in such studies. However the important problem of background fluorescence, even in total internal reflection (TIRF) based methods that minimize the excitation volume, is perhaps less well appreciated.

In general the detection of single molecules by TIRF can only be accomplished in free fluorophore concentrations of less than 1 nanomolar, far below the native biologically relevant concentrations. Dr Gersen and partners propose an approach which aims to overcome this barrier and detect single molecule interations in micromolar concentrations of identical molecules which would enable a range of new applications.

To find out more, please see also
Brian Mercer Feasibility award
Fluorescence - wikipedia entry
Labs to Riches image by kind permission of the Royal Society.

Professor Popescu awarded ERC Advanced Research Grant
15 November 2011

Professor Popescu
In May Professor Sandu Popescu from the School of Physics was awarded the 2011 John Stewart Bell Prize. The University of Toronto selected Professor Popescu to receive the prize in recognition of "his enormous contributions to the field of quantum mechanics."

Now his high profile is confirmed with his recent award of the prestigious - and competitive - European Research Council Advanced Research Grant. The €1.7 million grant will fund his research on the foundations of quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics is the theory physicists believe describes everything in nature. Yet with predictions such as the fact that any small particle, an atom for example, can be in two places at the same time, the story it tells us is so remote from our everyday experience that it looks – and is – deeply mysterious. Over the years scientists have learned to live with these bizarre ideas and even harness them for practical purposes. However more than 80 years since its discovery, quantum mechanics remains as mysterious as ever.

"The fact that so often one discovers seemingly paradoxical new quantum effects is a sign that a deep and intuitive understanding is still missing," says Popescu.

Professor Popescu's research is on quantum non-locality, arguably the most paradoxical, and with potentially most powerful applications, of all these effects.

Postgraduate open day on Wednesday 30 November
15 November 2011

David Smith
Are you thinking of starting a Physics PhD or MSc by research in 2012? If so, you are warmly invited to book a place on our Research Open Day on Wednesday 30 November 2011.

The Open Day will run between 1pm and 5pm and will give you the chance to learn about exciting opportunities in:
The programme will include lunch, an opportunity to meet current PhD students, short talks covering the different research groups in the School of Physics, lab tours and interviews or discussions with potential supervisors. To find out more and to register for this event please go to Postgraduate Open Day.

Physics postgraduate among top six for research excellence
3 November 2011

The best research dissertations produced by postgraduate students in each of Bristol University’s six faculties have been announced. The recipients, selected for the exceptional quality of their research work, have each been awarded a cash prize and a certificate of commendation in recognition of the honour.

Among the prize-winners is Dr James Price, of the School of Physics. Dr Price looked at rare compact elliptical galaxies, which are very small galaxies featuring stars which are packed unusually close together with low luminosity. He was able to show that they shared many characteristics with larger galaxies. Dr Price also looked at 356 bright galaxies in the Coma Cluster, which is the nearest massive cluster of galaxies.

Read more at University news.

Professor John Nye receives special recognition
2 November 2011

Mars conference poster
A special session, Recognition of John Nye, was included at the recent Conference on Mars Polar Science and Exploration.

The Fifth International Conference on Mars Polar Science and Exploration was held in Fairbanks, Alaska on 12-16 September 2011. Professor Garry Clarke gave a presentation about Emeritus Professor John Nye's scientific work and he received a splendid, specially prepared poster about the session, signed by all the people attending.

In addition, this year Professor Nye was interviewed and recorded for the British Library project Oral History of British Science.

Professor Nye says: "Rather frighteningly, anybody can listen to the interview on the British Library website. The interview lasted for a full three days, and obviously nobody wants to listen for three days; the tape is densely indexed for listeners to be able to find any particular topic that interests them. It is mainly, but by no means exclusively, about my scientific work."

Image shows the poster given to Professor Nye. Many of the pictures (although not all) are of Martian glaciological features, and the Mars North Polar cap is shown top right.

Bristol physics student shortlisted for SET award
19 October 2011

Nanocomposite image
The Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year Awards, a prestigious event supported by industry and institutions, recognises the achievements of some of the brightest undergraduates in Europe.

This year over 600 applicants for the 15 award categories were shortlisted to just three students per category. Within these 45, the University of Bristol was well represented with three students making their respective shortlists, including Sarah Tesh from the School of Physics. Sarah was shortlisted for the Morgan Crucible Award for Best Materials Student for her undergraduate Masters project on the Degradation of aqueous pollutants using support nanoscale iron particles. The project, with Dr Tom Scott, took place in the Interface Analysis Centre (IAC) and involved the development of a method to create a nanocomposite porous water filter.

Sarah, when talking about the awards, said "To be nominated for the award was an honour but to actually make the shortlist was a fantastic surprise. After putting so much work and effort into the project it was a great feeling to realise that professionals within the industry see potential, not only in the research, but also in me. I found the project itself very interesting as it is a fascinating area of up and coming research and I enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm with the judging panel."

Once shortlisted, students attended an interview where they presented their project and took questions and the results were announced at a grand awards ceremony on 23 September.

Unfortunately, Sarah did not win overall. "I was naturally a bit disappointed but the competition was exceptional and I am still immensely proud of getting so far. The awards event was very enjoyable and a fantastic opportunity to make contacts within Morgan Crucible, all of whom were friendly and keen to stay in touch to follow my progress as I continue the project as a PhD student within the Interface Analysis Centre.

"It was a great honour to reach the final three for my category and I am so thankful to the great support system I had from the IAC, Physics and my lab partner, Julia Greenwood, as well as my family."

Congratulations also to Stephen Thompson, from the Department of Civil Engineering, who won the Laing O’Rourke Award for Best Civil Engineering Student of the Year with his project entitled Redevelopment of Colston Hall, and to Michael Salter from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering who was shortlisted for the ARM Award for Best Electronic Engineering Student for his project on Radio transmission through the Greenland ice sheet.

Image: A bulk porous structure made from carbon glass and coated with nanoscale iron particles to form a nano-composite filter material.

Plaque commemorates Cecil Powell's home in Bristol
15 October 2011

Cecil Powell Plaque
For many years, a plaque marked the house in Downside Road, Clifton, where Cecil Powell lived from 1946 – the year he discovered the pion – until 1954. That house became the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and during building work, the original plaque was lost.

A new plaque, commissioned by the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS), was dedicated on Saturday 15 October, at a reception kindly provided by the Theatre School and attended by Powell's daughters Jane and Annie (right) and members of CHIS.

Professor Michael Berry gave the address at the dedication.

Bristol physics recognized at opening of new Institute of Physics Publishing offices
5 October 2011

IOP mug
At the new Institute of Physics Publishing offices at Temple Circus, rooms are named after the following scientists with Bristol connections: Arthur Tyndall, Marshall Stoneham, William Ramsey, Cecil Powell, Nevill Mott, Alec Merrison, Bernard Lovell, John Kingman, Dorothy Hodgkin, Peter Higgs, Charles Frank, Paul Dirac, and Michael Berry. This was announced at the opening reception on 4 October 2011.

A figure from a recent paper by Michael Berry and Mark Dennis, published in the Institute of Physics Journal of Physics A, was chosen as an image for the office, adapted by Fréderique Swist to decorate mouse mats, coffee mugs, and a large hand-woven rug.

CHAOS high altitude balloon mission is complete - take a look!
30 September 2011

Nexus report
A team of University of Bristol students successfully completed a high altitude balloon mission, sending a payload of scientific instruments and a camera to above 20 km.

The mission, run as part of the Bristol student physics society CHAOS, took almost a year to complete, with team members participating alongside their undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

The group aimed to make preliminary investigations into the presence and composition of upper-tropospheric aerosols (small particles suspended in the atmosphere that greatly influence cloud formation), of particular topical interest due to their impact on ice nucleation in this region, where cloud formation is poorly understood and has a strong impact on climate. As part of the same mission the standard atmosphere model would be tested and photographs taken throughout the balloon flight. Careful planning and research was required as none of the students had any experience of helium balloon launches.

As the summer exams came to a close, construction of the payload began. A GPS module, radio, digital camera and microprocessor were programmed and contained within a polystyrene chilled foods box. To find out what happened next please read their Nexus Report.

Professor Hussey to give annual Mott lecture
16 September 2011

image Sir Nevill Mott
Professor Nigel Hussey of the Correlated Electron Systems Group has been invited to give this year's prestigious Mott Lecture at the UK Condensed Matter and Materials Physics conference to be held in Manchester in December 2011.

According to the Institute of Physics (IOP) website, "The Mott lectureship is awarded annually by the IOP Condensed Matter and Materials Physics Division to an outstanding researcher whose work has predominantly been done at a UK or Irish institution and who, in the view of the division steering committee, will present an informative and lucid talk on their research."

The lectureship is named after Sir Nevill Mott, the Nobel Laureate and a former Head of Department at Bristol, who is widely regarded as one of the most profound condensed matter theorists of the 20th century. In this year's lecture, Professor Hussey will be discussing his group's attempts to understand the origin of high temperature superconductivity, a subject to which Sir Nevill Mott devoted himself in the latter years of his life.

Read more at the National Archives.

Scientists develop new technologies for understanding bacterial infections
31 August 2011

Understanding how bacteria infect cells is crucial to preventing countless human diseases. In a recent breakthrough, scientists from the University of Bristol have discovered a new approach for studying molecules within their natural environment, opening the door to understanding the complexity of how bacteria infect people.

The research, led by a team of biochemists, microbiologists and physicists and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), provides an unprecedented level of detail of the consequences of a bacterium approaching another cell, directly in situ.

Until now, traditional approaches to understanding infection have focused on either studies of the cells involved or dissection of individual molecules present within the cells. Leo Brady, Professor of Biochemistry and Mumtaz Virji, Professor of Molecular Microbiology, who led the research, have developed a novel method for bridging these, until now, separate approaches.

The team studied the common bacterium Moraxella catarrhalis, which causes middle ear infections in young children, and is a major cause of morbidity in those with heart disease. For many years, scientists approached this problem from the molecular medicine approach — through isolating and studying proteins from the Moraxella cell surface that initiate infection.

From these detailed studies the team have been able to develop an overview of one of the key proteins, called UspA1. However, as with the vast majority of molecular medicine approaches, this model has been based on studies of the UspA1 protein in isolation, rather than in its natural setting on the bacterium surface. A common worry for many biomedical scientists is how such understanding translates into the reality of these tiny molecules when they are part of a much larger cell. Understanding the increased complexity of individual molecules within the cellular mêlée is crucial to understanding why many promising drugs fail to live up to expectations.

To begin bridging this gap in our understanding, Professors Brady and Virji teamed up with Dr Massimo Antognozzi from the School of Physics, whose group have been developing a novel form of atomic force microscope, the lateral molecular force microscope (LMFM). To find out more please see University News.

Dramatic simplification paves the way for building a quantum computer
8 August 2011

An international research group led by scientists from the University of Bristol has demonstrated a new technique that dramatically simplifies quantum circuits, bringing quantum computers closer to reality.

Dr Xiao-Qi Zhou and colleagues at the University of Bristol's Centre for Quantum Photonics and the University of Queensland, Australia, have shown that controlled operations — ones that are implemented on the condition that a 'control bit' is in the state 1 — can be dramatically simplified compared to the standard approach. The researchers believe their technique will find applications across quantum information technologies, including precision measurement, simulation of complex systems, and ultimately a quantum computer — a powerful type of computer that uses quantum bits (qubits) rather than the conventional bits used in today's computers.

Unlike conventional bits or transistors, which can be in one of only two states at any one time (1 or 0), a qubit can be in several states at the same time and can therefore be used to hold and process a much larger amount of information at a greater rate.

A major obstacle for realizing a quantum computer is the complexity of the quantum circuits required. To find out how researchers found a new approach to this problem, and for a link to the paper in Nature Communications, please see University News.

Physicists at Bristol break a 150-year-old law
26 July 2011

Electron splits
A team of physicists in the Correlated Electron Systems Group has made an historical discovery in a metal with unique one-dimensional electronic properties that has just been published in Nature Communications.

In 1853 two German physicists, Gustav Wiedemann and Rudolf Franz, studied the thermal conductivity (a measure of a system's ability to transfer heat) of a number of elemental metals and found that the ratio of the thermal to electrical conductivities was approximately the same for different metals at the same temperature.

The origin of this empirical observation did not become clear however until the discovery of the electron and the advent of quantum physics in the early 20th century. Electrons have a spin and a charge. When electrons move through a metal they cause an electrical current because of the moving charge. In addition, the moving electrons also carry heat through the metal but now it is via both the charge and the spin. So a moving electron must carry both heat and charge and that is why the ratio does not vary from metal to metal.

In the proceeding 150-plus years, the Wiedemann-Franz law has proved to be remarkably robust, the ratio varying at most by around 50 per cent amongst the thousands of metallic systems studied. In 1996, two American physicists Charles Kane and Matthew Fisher made a theoretical prediction that if you confine electrons to individual atomic chains, the Wiedemann-Franz law could be strongly violated.

In this strange one-dimensional world, the electron splits into two distinct components or excitations, one carrying spin but not charge (the spinon), the other carrying charge but not spin (the holon). When the holon encounters an impurity in the chain of atoms it has no choice but for its motion to be reflected. The spinon, on the other hand, has the ability to tunnel through the impurity and then continue along the chain. This means that heat is conducted easily along the chain but charge is not. This gives rise to a violation of the Wiedemann-Franz law that grows with decreasing temperature.

The experimental group led by Professor Nigel Hussey tested this prediction on a purple bronze material comprising atomic chains along which the electrons preferentially travel. Remarkably, it was found that this material conducted heat 100,000 better than what you would expect if it obeyed the Wiedemann-Franz law like other metals. Such gross violation of the Wiedemann-Franz law has never previously been reported and provides striking evidence for this unusual separation of the spin and charge of an electron in the one-dimensional world. The goal now is to find a way (such as using pressure or chemical substitution) to increase the ability of the electrons to hop between adjacent chains and to study the evolution of the spin and charge states as the three-dimensional world is restored within the material.

Figure above - When confined to move in one direction only, the electron splits into two distinct components or excitations, one carrying spin but not charge (the spinon), the other carrying charge but not spin (the holon). When the holon encounters an impurity in the chain of atoms it has no choice but for its motion to be reflected. The spinon, on the other hand, has the ability to tunnel through the impurity and then continue along the chain. This means that heat is conducted easily along the chain but charge is not. This gives rise to a violation of the Wiedemann-Franz law that grows with decreasing temperature.

Springs, CERN, ice cream - and chess. Work experience at Bristol Physics.
15 July 2011

Work experience students
Twelve students from ten schools spent a week's work experience in the School of Physics from 11 to 15 July 2011.

The students completed a number of tasks - some of which involved static electricity - and found out about the wide-ranging work of physicists. They visited research laboratories and found out about the Large Hadron Collider, black holes and galaxies, liquid crystals - and ice cream.

Pictured left is the work experience group in Royal Fort Gardens. Read their report via the image below.

Work experience report link

NSQI researchers impress at University's Enterprise Competition
6 July 2011

Each year the University of Bristol's New Enterprise competition aims to help recognise and promote potential marketable ideas and spin-out companies from within the organisation. A £35,000 prize fund is available to the winners, along with access to the universities business incubation unit at SetSquared.

This year Dr Loren Picco, Oliver Payton and Professor Mervyn Miles (pictured below), took elements from their research into the novel scanning probe microscopy and probe dynamics to develop an idea for an affordable Atomic Force Microscope. Their business plan for the production, marketing and distribution of the new microscope won them £10,000 towards the establishment of their spin-out company, Spyglass Technology. Not only was Spyglass one of the University's winners, but they also made it into the finals of the nationwide enterprise competition run by Santander. Ollie presented his case to the judging panel at the Spanish Embassy as one of the last five contenders, but, in the end, was pipped to the post.
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a technique that has now been around for 25 years. Rather like a record player, AFM uses an ultrasharp tip to feel the surface of a sample, in air or liquid, without needing to fix the sample - which is important as it means that living material or active molecules can be imaged. AFM routinely resolves features down to a few nanometres (1 billionth of a metre) and with specialist equipment can even 'see' single atoms. However, this level of resolution does not come cheap (£60,000 +), nor does it come easily (the control systems have to be finely balanced to get good images).

Spyglass Technology aims to make AFMs at a tenth of the price, whilst retaining all the functionality of the expensive systems. In addition, work within the research group on user interfaces (specifically multitouch control of microscopes and utilisation of technology such as the iPad) will be used to make the control of the microscope intuitive and quick to master.
Bristol phase singularities celebrated in Venice
30 June 2011

Twisting radio waves across the Grand Canal
A new type of radio transmitter, based on a general feature of waves identified by Michael Berry and John Nye in 1974, has been invented by Fabrizio Tamburini of Padova and Bo Thide of Uppsala. On Friday 24 June it was launched at a splendid though somewhat surreal ceremony in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, culminating in a string-and-sealing-wax demonstration in which signals were sent to the Palace from a lighthouse on the other side of the Canale di San Marco.

The transmission channel uses a parabolic dish with a helicoidal deformation, that creates a wave with a phase singularity – a radio-wave vortex. At the receiver, two phased antennas can distinguish this signal from one transmitted simultaneously using a conventional dish. The demonstration, which had worked perfectly all day during tests, almost failed on the night because winds misaligned the transmitter. But at the last moment, and to applause from an expectant crowd, a high note was transmitted on one channel and a low note on the other, with the discrimination between them being authenticated by hard-nosed ham local radio enthusiasts.

To physicists this is a clever trick using interference, but industrialists from the satellite broadcasting industry who were present at the ceremony saw it differently: a potentially lucrative way to double the number of channels that can be transmitted at each frequency while conserving precious bandwidth.

Image thanks to Professor Sir Michael Berry: twisting radio waves across the Canale di San Marco.
Professor Kuball and group receive He Bong Kim Award
30 June 2011

Presentation of CS Mantech award
Professor Martin Kuball and his group recently received the He Bong Kim Award 2011 from the Compound Semiconductor (CS) Mantech Society, for their work on interface and interface engineering in GaN-SiC power electronics. CS Mantech is a major US semiconductor organisation.

Image: Marty Brophy of Avago Technologies presents Professor Kuball with the award.
Hannayfest - a conference to celebrate the 60th birthday of Professor John Hannay
30 June 2011

On Friday 22 July, the Theoretical Physics Group will be hosting a conference to celebrate the 60th birthday of Professor John Hannay.

To see the programme for the afternoon and contact details please see Hannayday!.

EPSRC awards grant to explore Spin Triplet Supercurrents
9 June 2011

Spin Triplet Supercurrents
Professors James Annett and Balazs Gyorffy of Bristol's Theoretical Physics research group have been awarded an EPSRC grant to explore Spin Triplet Supercurrents.

This research is based on a surprising effect which occurs when a superconductor is brought into close contact with a ferromagnetic material. In the superconductor the electrons are paired with opposite spins, leading to a spin singlet state. But under certain conditions it is possible that the interface flips the spin of one of these electrons, turning the spin singlet pair into a spin triplet pair, in which the two electron spins are parallel.

Recent experiments in Cambridge, in the group of Professor Mark Blamire, have demonstrated that not only can these pairs be reliably produced, but that they can also be shown to travel together coherently for very long distances in the ferromagnet. In the new EPSRC funded project Professors Annett and Gyorffy will examine the consequences of this discovery, and work in collaboration with Professor Blamire to explore the properties and potential applications of this unique novel type of paired two-particle electron state.

Image thanks to Professor Blamire.
Nanophysics and Soft Matter group wins green impact award
6 June 2011

Green Impact Award
The Nanophysics and Soft Matter research group achieved a Bronze Plus Award in the University of Bristol's Green Impact scheme this year. During this, their first year as participants in the scheme, the group successfully completed all 25 Bronze criteria (and some extra ones) in topics such as travel, waste, procurement, energy saving and so on.

The group was awarded a Green Impact certificate and engraved flattened green bottle at a ceremony in the university's Victoria Rooms - both of these are now on display in the School of Physics.

There are many simple ways, encouraged by the Green Impact scheme, in which we can work together to reduce the environmental impact of the University, such as recycling, reducing water and energy consumption, or by cycling to work.

We hope that more groups from the School of Physics will join the scheme next year!
Professor Perryman awarded Tycho Brahe Prize
1 June 2011

Professor Perryman
Professor Michael Perryman, Visiting Fellow in the School of Physics, is to receive the European Astronomical Society's Tycho Brahe Prize, which recognises ‘the development or exploitation of European instruments, or major discoveries based largely on such instruments’. Professor Perryman was the Mission Scientist and the Mission Manager (during the operational phase) of Hipparcos, a major space astrometry mission run by the European Space Agency (ESA) from 1989 to 1993.

Astrometry is concerned with measuring the positions and velocities of stars, and the Hipparcos mission succeeded in measuring more than 100,000 stars with high precision. The results are of fundamental importance to our understanding of, for example, how the Milky Way evolved over time.

The ESA announced: "In these roles [Professor Perryman] untiringly led the mission through many difficulties to its ultimate success. His understanding of the astrophysics, of the physics and technology involved in the satellite and its instruments as well as his intelligence of human relations contributed to a major extent to the success of the mission."
Three awards for Professor Evans
27 May 2011

Professor Evans
A special issue of the journal Molecular Physics, in honour of Professor Bob Evans and celebrating Bob's 65th birthday, was published in May 2011. The issue contains 33 invited articles from collaborators, friends and admirers.

Bob was recently awarded a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship. This funding will enable him to conduct research on statistical physics of liquids, simple and complex, after his retirement.

From September 2011, Bob will occupy the Kramers Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Utrecht, a visiting research position. The Kramers Professor also teaches a course on a specialist topic. Incidentally, Professor Sir Michael Berry, also based in Bristol, is a former Kramers Professor who served in 1980-1.
2011 Bell Prize awarded to Professor Sandu Popescu
24 May 2011

Professor Popescu
The University of Toronto has selected quantum physicist Professor Sandu Popescu to receive the prestigious John Stewart Bell Prize for his enormous contributions to the field of quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics is the theory physicists believe describes everything in nature. Yet with predictions such as the fact that any small particle, an atom for example, can be in two places at the same time, the story it tells us is so remote from our everyday experience that it it looks – and is – deeply mysterious. Over the years scientists have learned to live with these bizarre ideas and even harness them for practical purposes. Only recently, for example, has it come to be realized that these properties can be used to build ultra-secure communication systems and perhaps even to design computers exponentially more powerful than anything possible in the classical world. Yet more than 80 years since its discovery, quantum mechanics remains as mysterious as ever.

Professor Popescu is world-renowned for his many-faceted and influential work on nonlocality, entanglement, and the quantum foundations of statistical mechanics. His research interest lies in investigating fundamental aspects of quantum physics to gain a better understanding of the nature of quantum behaviour.

"The fact that so often one discovers seemingly paradoxical new quantum effects is a signature that a deep and intuitive understanding is still missing," says Popescu. "A major focus of my research has been quantum non-locality, an area that for much of its history has been primarily of interest to philosophers of physics. My research aims to go beyond philosophy and to develop an understanding of the physics of non-locality." This has led him to establish some of the central concepts of the new area of quantum information and computation. He has also worked on many other aspects of quantum theory, ranging from the very fundamental, to designing practical experiments, such as the first teleportation experiment, to patentable commercial applications.

The Bell Prize is awarded by the University of Toronto's Centre for Quantum Computing and Control, and recognizes major advances relating to the foundations of quantum mechanics and to the applications of these principles. This includes quantum information theory, quantum computation, quantum foundations, quantum cryptography and quantum control. Named for the late John Bell, whose insights have changed our view of reality, the prize highlights the continuing rapid pace of theoretical and experimental research in these areas, both fundamental and applied.

The Bell Prize will be presented on 8 August. To find out more about the prize and citations for which this award was made, please see the University of Toronto's web site The 2011 Bell Prize is awarded to Sandu Popescu of the University of Bristol.
Professor Mervyn Miles - new Fellow of The Royal Society
20 May 2011

Professor Miles FRS
Two University of Bristol academics have achieved the rare distinction of being elected Fellows of the world's most eminent and oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.

Professor Mervyn Miles (right) has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellowship of 1,400 outstanding individuals who represent science, engineering and medicine, and who form a global scientific network of the highest calibre. Professor Miles is Head of the Nanophysics and Soft Matter Group. He has pioneered the field of atomic force microscopy (AFM) of biomolecular structures including the development of video AFM and AFM with holographic tweezers for studies at the nanoscale.

Professor Ian Manners, Professor of Inorganic and Materials Chemistry in the University's School of Chemistry, has also been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. An internationally renowned inorganic chemist, his research focuses on the molecular, polymer, supramolecular, and materials chemistry of inorganic elements.

Professor Jon Keating, Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University, said "It is a great accolade to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. I am truly delighted for them as they are both worthy recipients who have joined a growing list of 35 FRSs at the University, whose work in the fields of science, engineering, technology and medicine has been honoured in this way. These awards not only reflect the scientific excellence for both Schools but also for the Faculty and the University."

The Royal Society is the world's oldest scientific academy and has been at the forefront of enquiry and discovery since its foundation in 1660. Past and present members include Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Hodgkin, Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren and Stephen Hawking.

Fellows of the Royal Society are elected for life and designate themselves through the use of the letters FRS after their names. Only 44 new members are elected each year.

European Physical Society prize for Dr Politi's PhD thesis
28 April 2011

Alberto Politi
Dr Alberto Politi, Research Fellow in Physics at the University of Bristol, has been awarded the PhD Thesis Prize from the European Physical Society. The award is for Alberto's doctoral thesis on Integrated Quantum Photonics, which he completed last year when working in the Centre for Quantum Photonics, led by Professor Jeremy O'Brien.

The PhD Thesis Prizes are awarded by the European Physical Society to early career researchers working in Quantum Electronics and Optics. These prizes are awarded only once every two years, and recognize the highest level of excellence amongst emerging researchers. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 during the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) Europe, held during the World of Photonics Congress in Munich, Germany.

Bristol astronomers find ‘smoking gun’ of compact galaxy formation
21 April 2011

A team at the University of Bristol have found irrevocable evidence that explains how an unusual type of galaxy, so-called compact ellipticals (cEs), are formed and have discovered two examples in which they see the process of formation in action. Dr Avon Huxor presented their work on Wednesday 20 April at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.

Compact elliptical galaxies are small in size and with high brightness. There are two main theories as to how these are formed. The most popular scenario involves the stripping of a more massive galaxy, leaving a smaller remnant galaxy behind. The other scenario argues that cE galaxies are the smallest members of the standard class of elliptical galaxies.

Until now, the evidence supporting the stripping scenario has been circumstantial. The astronomers used the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), one of the largest and deepest surveys of galaxies ever undertaken, to discover two cEs where they observed the process of stripping taking place. These images showed streams of stars being ripped from the cE galaxies, and leaving small bright remnants behind. In a serendipitous find, the scientists also discovered one of the cEs in high-quality archival data from the 4-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT).

"The stripping process is expected to be short-lived, in astronomical terms," explained Professor Steve Phillipps, a co-author of the study, "but by studying the many galaxies in the SDSS we have had the opportunity to find a couple in which this stripping has been caught in the act - we have found the ‘smoking gun’."

Both of the cEs were found in small groups of galaxies. These are very different from the big galaxy cluster environments in which previous researchers had looked for them. It may be that the cEs found in galaxy clusters were actually formed in small groups that later came together to become a galaxy cluster.

Lead author Dr Huxor expressed a note of caution. "Although these cEs show that stripping is certainly one way in which these galaxies form, it does not exclude other mechanisms." An analysis of the many cE candidates found in the Bristol study will show what alternatives might also exist.

Above left: A Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope/Megacam image of the newly forming cE and its host galaxy (III Zw 069). The image is about 160,000 light years on each side. The streams of stars can be seen being stripped from the cE as it interacts with its more massive neighbour. Credit Avon Huxor. See also RAS press release.

Bristol student gets best poster award at IoP conference
21 April 2011

Matt and poster
Matthew Coombes, a first year PhD student with the particle physics group, University of Bristol has picked up the award for best poster at this year's Institute of Physics (IoP) conference in Glasgow.

The Nuclear Physics, High Energy Particle Physics, Gravitational Physics, Astroparticle Physics and Particle Accelerators and Beams Groups met in April at the University of Glasgow for the the annual IoP physics divisional conference - claimed to be one of the largest, most exciting and broadest ranged Nuclear and Particle Physics divisional conferences ever held.

Matthew presented his poster entitled "The search for long-lived charged particles using LHCb's RICH detector". The poster outlined a method for searching for new particles by using the Cherenkov angle and track momentum information, which enables one to calculate and plot the mass for each track; this method of plotting the calculated mass allows us to scan a wide mass range for exotic particles.

The poster (right) is now on display in the School of Physics.

Science goes to the Circus
14 April 2011

During National Science and Engineering Week, science and art merged at the Experience Changing Perspectives event as physics buskers filled the Circomedia Building and the garden outside in Portland Square, Bristol on the sunny weekend of 18 and 19 March 2011.

Between aerial displays of human anatomy, 11 undergraduate and postgraduate volunteers from the University of Bristol School of Physics, Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials and the Bristol Centre for Complexity Science busked science style for school groups and members of the public.

Lots more pictures of the event are on the Institute of Physics (IoP) blog. To find out more about this and other Changing Perspectives activities, see also Changing Perspectives, a University of Bristol site. Images by kind permission, Institute of Physics South West.

Science goes to the circus   Science goes to the circus   Science goes to the circus

Australia in 36 hours - students make unprecedented RAG Jailbreak Challenge trip
31 March 2011

Students in Australia
Two students from the University of Bristol made it all the way to Australia in 36 hours for free in a charity fundraising competition. The RAG Jailbreak Challenge, co-ordinated by the University of Bristol Students' Union, is a competition where participants are set the task to travel as far away from Bristol as possible in a 36-hour period, whilst spending no money in the process.

Physics student Emma Blott and music student Mary Spender won the competition by travelling 9,113 miles in 36 hours reaching Perth in Australia, beating the previous record of Arizona.

Teams are tracked via the RAG jailbreak web site. Once the 36 hours are up, participants are asked to take a photo at a famous landmark in the town or city, buy a copy of the local newspaper and send a postcard back before they leave. Each team is sponsored and the money raised will go to the University of Bristol Students' Union's fundraising project, Raising and Giving (RAG), which raises money for local, national and international charities. Last year RAG raised over £250,000 for good causes, including the Student Community Action project Jolidays which enables young carers to take a well deserved break, One25 House who support women trapped in sex work and the Jessie May Trust amongst many others. RAG's fundraising total since its inception 86 years ago is now well over a million pounds.

The pair have raised over £700 for RAG. To see their trip, visit their video on YouTube. See also University of Bristol News.

Image shows Emma Blott and Mary Spender with a copy of The West Australian paper.

Work of Physics Artist in Residence features in Changing Perspectives exhibition
29 March 2011

Field at dusk
Richard Box, who spent some time at the School of Physics as Artist in Residence, has contributed art work to a new exhibition.

Artists and sculptors explore the complex worlds of mathematics, physics and physical geography through a stunning range of sculpture, drawings, film and animation, and photography. Work featured is by Emma Stibbon, Benjamin Storch, Chrystal Cherniwchan and Richard Box.

The exhibition opens this Friday 1 April, and runs until Saturday 30 April at the Bristol Gallery, Millennium Promenade (near At-Bristol), Harbourside, Bristol BS1 5TY. Entry is free.

To find out more about this and other exhibitions and activities, including talks and science fiction workshops, please see Changing Perspectives.

High temperature superconductors show onset of superconductivity at even higher temperatures
17 March 2011

A team of physicists led by Professor Nigel Hussey of the Correlated Electron Systems (CES) Group has made a breakthrough discovery in the understanding of the complex, but technologically important materials known as high temperature copper-oxide superconductors.

In conventional superconductors, electrons pair up to form a macroscopic phase-coherent superconducting ground state at the critical temperature Tc.

Crucially, the onset of pairing and phase coherence occurs simultaneously. In certain superconductors however, the onset of pairing can occur at a significantly higher temperature than that at which the superconducting phase becomes coherent, and only at the lower temperature does the electrical resistance vanish. In these latter superconductors, there exists a broad region in temperature above Tc in which resistance is still finite and the superconducting phase fluctuates.

Previously, superconducting phase fluctuations had only been observed in copper-oxide superconductors with low carrier concentrations, which also displayed an anomalous ‘pseudogap’ phase of unknown origin. As such, the fluctuations were believed to disappear, along with the pseudogap, once the carrier concentration exceeded a critical value. However, in their article - just published online at Nature Physics - the CES Group found that the same fluctuations also exist in a region of the phase diagram where the pseudogap is absent. This discovery is significant in that it demonstrates unambiguously that the pseudogap itself is both independent of and distinct from superconductivity, a result that conflicts with a number of pre-existing theories.

Their work also demonstrates a clear anti-correlation - shown in the Figure, right - between the extent of the phase-fluctuating regime (shown in red) and the number of paired electrons (shown in black). This anti-correlation, never shown before, is a striking realisation of an existing theoretical prediction dating back to 1994.

Dr Annela Seddon to receive University Rising Star Award
14 March 2011

Dr Seddon speaks to Channel Islanders
Dr Annela Seddon of the School of Physics is to be awarded the University of Bristol's Rising Star Award, one of the 2010-11 University Teaching Awards which have just been announced. Annela will join other recipients to be presented with their awards at the University's Learning and Teaching Exhibition on 6 April.

The University presents awards annually to celebrate and recognise excellent teachers as well as individuals who support teaching and learning. Awards are made in a number of categories and are judged by a panel of Education Directors, chaired by Professor Avril Waterman-Pearson, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education. For more, please see Winners of University Teaching Awards announced.

Left: In November Dr Seddon spoke to Channel Islanders on a visit to Jersey schools, funded by the Institute of Physics and the Jersey Department of Education.

New generation of optical integrated devices for future quantum computers
11 March 2011

QI image
A research group led by scientists from the University of Bristol has demonstrated the quantum operation of new components that will enable compact circuits for future photonic quantum computers. Quantum computers, holding the great promise of tremendous computational power for particular tasks, have been the goal of worldwide efforts by scientists for several years. Tremendous advances have been made but there is still a long way to go.

Building a quantum computer will require a large number of interconnected components – gates – which work in a similar way to the microprocessors in current personal computers. Currently, most quantum gates are large structures and the bulky nature of these devices prevents scalability to the large and complex circuits required for practical applications.

Recently the researchers from the Centre for Quantum Photonics showed in several important breakthroughs that quantum information can be manipulated with integrated photonic circuits. Such circuits are compact (enabling scalability) and stable (with low noise) and could lead in the near future to mass production of chips for quantum computers. Now the team, in collaboration with Dr Terry Rudolph at Imperial College London, shows a new class of integrated divides that promise further reduction in the number of components that will be used for building future quantum circuits.

These devices, based on optical multimode interference (and therefore often called MMIs) have been widely employed in classical optics as they are compact and very robust to fabrication tolerances. "While building a complex quantum network requires a large number of basic components, MMIs can often enable the implementation with much fewer resources," said Alberto Peruzzo, PhD student working on the experiment.

Until now it was not clear how these devices would work in the quantum regime. Bristol researchers have demonstrated that MMIs can perform quantum interference at the high fidelity required. Scientists will now be able to implement more compact photonics circuits for quantum computing. MMIs can generate large entangled states, at the heart of the exponential speedup promised by quantum computing.

"Applications will range from new circuits for quantum computation to ultra precise measurement and secure quantum communication," said Professor Jeremy O'Brien, director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics.

The team now plans to build new sophisticated circuits for quantum computation and quantum metrology using MMI devices.

The research is published online in Nature Communications.

Image by Alberto Peruzzo shows representation of a circuit for quantum information processing that makes use of multiport MMI devices. These circuits will be more compact and robust to fabrication tolerances compared to the current 2x2 ports devices.

Time to kick the habit?
10 March 2011

Robert Duerr, Undergraduate Administrator in the School of Physics, was in the local news last week. He and Caroline Asquith-Roberts both quit smoking in the last six weeks using the NHS Bristol stop smoking service.

On Wednesday, they abseiled down the side of the Tobacco Factory to encourage others to kick the habit.

Robert said "Thanks to the NHS, and particularly Henry Mace, for their fantastic support. They have made a very daunting task so much easier."

The story also featured in the Bristol Evening Post.

New images of Starburst Galaxy M 82 reveal multiple sources of its superwind
8 March 2011

combined image of M 82
The Subaru Telescope, fitted with its instrument COMICS (Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrometer), has produced a new image of the interior of the famous starburst galaxy Messier 82 (M 82) that reveals young star clusters as well as the sources of its superwind in spectacular detail. The ultra-sharp image contributes to our understanding of this complex, young galaxy by showing that M 82's galactic windstorms emanate from many sites rather than from any single cluster of stars.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, "What is essential is invisible to the eye", and this has certainly been true for examining the details of early galaxies undergoing bursts of star formation. The study of starburst galaxies enables astronomers to effectively peer back into our own galaxy's past. Like human beings, galaxies and the stars within them have a life cycle: They are born, grow and mature, and eventually die. Starburst galaxies are real "baby boomers", creating new, young stars at a rate faster than the combined speed of many Milky Way-like galaxies that are in a later phase of development. The dusty "ash" left over from successive generations of star formation in more mature galaxies blocks out much of the starlight, rendering it invisible to the human eye. The bulk of the energy from starbursts emerges at longer wavelengths. Therefore astronomers must turn to infrared rather than optical observations in order to understand the nature of these cosmic stellar factories.

An international team of scientists, led by Dr Poshak Gandhi of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exporation Agency) and including Bristol Professors Diana Worrall and Mark Birkinshaw, has used the Subaru Telescope to produce a new view of M 82 at infrared wavelengths that are twenty times longer than those visible to the human eye. M 82 is located close to the ‘ladle’ of the Big Dipper (the Plough) in the constellation Ursa Major and is the nearest starburst galaxy, at a distance of about 11 million light years from Earth.

Further insights from the Subaru mid-infrared image emerge by combining it with the Hubble Space Telescope's near-infrared image and the Chandra X-ray Observatory's X-ray data of M 82. Their integration produces a beautiful mosaic (above) that provides the first opportunity to isolate M 82's infrared properties. Supported by these data, scientists can study the broad spectrum of radiation of different kinds of objects spread over the galaxy's plane, including supernovae, star clusters, and black holes.

This discovery is reported in the article Diffraction-limited Subaru imaging of M82: sharp mid-infrared view of the starburst core by P Gandhi, N Isobe, M Birkinshaw, DM Worrall, I Sakon, K Iwasawa and A Bamba, in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan, volume 63 (2011), in press. For further information on this project and more great pictures, please see press release in full, at Subaru Telescope web page.

How to cook the perfect pancake - Professor Barham in the news
8 March 2011

JProf Barham in his kitchen
Professor Pete Barham gets a mention in the Guardian's How to cook perfect pancakes tutorial.

On a recent trip to lecture at the University of Copenhagen, Prof Barham's talk was featured on TV - you can watch at

Bristol physicists in European collaboration
28 February 2011

J Goldstein and D Cussans at AIDA kickoff
This month saw the start of AIDA - a €28 million EU-funded project which aims to develop the infrastructure for the development of future detectors for particle physics. Over one hundred physicists from across Europe gathered at CERN on 16 to 18 February for the kick-off meeting, including two from Bristol, Dr David Cussans and Dr Joel Goldstein.

The Bristol particle physics group plays a key role in the collaboration, and will develop an electronic unit to synchronise and control different prototype detectors under test in high energy particle beams.

For further information on the AIDA project please see

Research student wins award to work in Japan
23 February 2011

Dave in the wet lab
David Smith, a second year PhD student at the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials - who works in the research groups of Professor Heinrich Hörber, Dr Annela Seddon (in the School of Physics) and Professor Siyuan Yu (in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) - has been selected for a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) award for 2011. These awards, made to around 10 students annually, are to facilitate collaborative projects between UK and Japanese researchers.

Dave will spend three months at Kyoto University in the group of Professor Sugiyama, who is a world leader in the design of DNA nanostructures. During this time Dave will work on designing a "Purcell Swimmer". This simple model, proposed in the 1970s, describes how objects move in low Reynold's number environments and has never been fully realised experimentally. By combining his current PhD work on chiral sorting of carbon nanotubes using Photonic Force Microscopy with Professor Sugiyama's expertise in DNA design, it is hoped that Dave might be able to shed light on an area of fundamental interest that has remained elusive for 40 years.

As well as providing the chance to experience life in Japan, we hope that this exchange will be the start of more collaborations between Professor Sugiyama and Bristol's School of Physics, as well as with the Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information (NSQI), who were instrumental in bringing about this exciting opportunity.

Festival of Physics on Saturday
10 February 2011

Festival of Physics poster
A one-day Festival of Physics, to include fascinating talks and an opportunity to look around the At-Bristol Science Centre, is this coming Saturday, 26 February 2011. Click on the picture, left, to see the full programme.

Bristol's Professor Jeremy O'Brien will talk about recent developments in Quantum technologies, and Professor Francis Ring, from the University of Glamorgan, will speak about Revealing the Invisible.

Find out about invisible cloaks and metamaterials with Professor Sir John Pendry FRS of Imperial College London, and discover how the science of spin can inform our understanding of football's swerving free kick, with Dr Ken Bray of the University of Bath.

The Festival is free, suitable for school-age children, and is organised by the Institute of Physics South West branch. All enquiries to

Do you get Rourke’s drift?
9 February 2011

P M C Rourke et al
Physics gets more personal with the launch of video abstracts in New Journal of Physics.

A paper from the Correlated Electron Systems (CES) Group has been selected as one of the highlights of 2010 in the New Journal of Physics and its authors invited to contribute to the launch of a new venture in online publishing – video abstracts. The idea is to give authors the opportunity to go beyond the constraints of the written article to personally present the importance of their work to the journal's global audience.

Dr Patrick Rourke, a research associate within the CES Group and first author of the selected article, wrote, directed and starred in the video. To see Patrick's video abstract and accompanying paper on the most detailed quantum oscillation study of the electronic structure of a high temperature superconductor, please click on Patrick's picture, right. To see others in the launch, visit the Video abstracts site.

TOPCAT software helps astronomers
9 February 2011

Dr Mark Taylor, working with Professor Mark Birkinshaw of the Astrophysics Group, has been awarded two years' funding from the STFC to continue work on software which is used by astronomers worldwide to acquire, analyse and prepare catalogues of stars and galaxies.

TOPCAT is an analysis tool which can be used for plotting, calculation and other manipulations of large tables. The SAMP protocol allows astronomy applications such as TOPCAT, image and spectrum viewers, and telescope observation tools to communicate on the desktop.

Both are integrated with the Virtual Observatory, a data grid which provides astronomers with seamless access to large and small data sets stored in archives around the world. Tools like these are increasingly necessary to allow scientists to make the best use of the many large surveys being carried out by the current generation of ground- and space-based telescopes by integrating the results from many different types of observation.

This is a continuation of work that has been supported in recent years by Microsoft Research, the University of Heidelberg, and previous UK astronomical software projects.

Professor Nick Brook takes over from Professor Bob Evans as Head of School
1 February 2011

Professor Nick Brook
Nick Brook, Professor of Particle Physics, today succeeds Professor Bob Evans FRS as new Head of the School of Physics.

Professor Brook first came to Bristol in 1999 from the University of Glasgow and held a PPARC Advanced Fellowship from 1998 to 2003. He became a CERN paid associate in 2004 and Professor in 2005. During his time at the University of Bristol, Professor Brook has gained an international reputation in multi-particle production in jets, advanced computing techniques for the Large Hadron.

Speaking of his appointment Professor Brook said: "I'm honoured and delighted to be appointed as Head of the School. Bob will be a very difficult act to follow but I hope to build on his substantial achievements, ensuring that not only does the H H Wills Physics Laboratory have a great history - but an even brighter future."

Nanophysics research group joins green impact scheme
1 February 2011

NSM green logo
Bristol's Nanophysics and Soft Matter Group signed up to the University of Bristol Green Impact Awards scheme in November. The scheme "offers a practical way of helping departments become greener, whilst celebrating the small steps that individuals are taking to reduce our collective environmental impacts. Green Impact challenges departments and groups to implement a number of easy practical actions that will help the environment."

Dr Dana Kapitulcinova reports, "The research group's first event on 19 November was an Introduction to Nanophysics and Soft Matter Green Impact - with cake, drinks and nibbles. Martin Wiles, Head of the University of Bristol Sustainability Unit, gave an informal talk about the Green Impact scheme and answered questions from the group members."

The group started to complete Green Impact criteria during the following months. Some of the achievements so far include
Dr Kapitulcinova
The School held a logo competition and the winning logo (above) will be displayed on all posters and flyers produced by the group.

Group representatives Dr Kapitulcinova, Dr James Vicary and Elizabeth Robinson, welcome any suggestions and comments on reducing environmental impact. Dana warns "The group plans more activities in 2011 to make both the group and the School of Physics even greener - so watch out!"

Further links at University of Bristol Sustainability, Bristol Green Capital, and the student-led Bristol University Sustainability Team.

Can children teach themselves? A physics student volunteers
14 January 2011

Bryn with children
When Bryn Larkman, an undergraduate physics student at Bristol, heard about research being undertaken by Professor Sugata Mitra of the School of Education, Communication and Language Studies, Newcastle University, he was fascinated. The research provides Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) "hole in the wall" computer technology in various places around India, and enables children from remote areas (places where teachers can't get to) to interact in any way they wish with the computers. The research soon showed that groups of children would crowd around the terminals, playing with the keyboard to find out what happened. As the children started to develop more awareness of what the computer could do, in their peer group, they started researching for information.

The next step in the research was to develop a group of volunteer mediators - people from Western countries who could interact directly through Skype with the groups of children. Those identified as having the skills and time to make themselves available were older people, hence the creation of the "Granny Cloud" - the name given by Professor Mitra's students. The mediators read books, show pictures, answer questions, listen and are available for an hour or two each day to interact with any children who want to be there. See - more volunteers are welcome.

Bristol student Bryn Larkman travelled in South America, and particularly in Colombia, in his gap year, and established a volunteering programme, recruiting volunteers to go and teach English to children and adults in a variety of foundations in Colombia. He tested the programme by spending three months volunteering there during the summer holidays in 2010. He saw the potential to deliver education to many more children through the Granny Cloud, and so emailed Professor Mitra for advice. Several weeks on he is now working with them, using their teaching network, to give sessions every day to one foundation in Colombia. Plans are to extend this to several other foundations and many more children within the next few months.

Bryn says, "The incredible thing about this enterprise is how fast it can and is growing, its ability to reach so many children so quickly and its effectiveness using the internet and basic free software on computers - something that once would have been impossible. This is what appealed to me and it hasn't disappointed!"

Children in India

For more information about Professor Mitra's research, see his TED talk
Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education

Wall Street Journal Article Turning kids from India's slums into autodidacts.
Image left courtesy of Dr Suneeta Kulkarni.

Clinical scientists work on new radiotherapy device
10 January 2011

Clinical scientists have been given funding to develop a novel device that could reduce the risks of mistreatments for cancer patients during radiotherapy. The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) has made the award to academics from the University of Bristol and Swansea University together with medical physicists at Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre.

While advances in radiation therapy have meant more accurate targeting of tumours, errors in treatment can still occur because of the complex technology that is used.

Radiation therapy is often carried out using a machine with finely engineered components which shape the radiation field directed at the tumour. The components are in motion throughout the treatment in order to vary the radiation intensity and sculpt the radiation dose precisely to the tumour shape. This means that tumours can be more accurately targeted, greatly reducing the damage from radiation to surrounding tissue and sensitive organs.

However, one consequence of this is that changes to the radiation beam cannot be easily detected, so that if a fault occurs, it may not be immediately spotted. This has resulted in a significant number of mistreatments in recent years, particularly in the United States, where adoption of this new technology has been more widespread.

Dr Jaap Velthuis from the University of Bristol's School of Physics, and one of the scientists involved in the project, said "We are working on a detector based on very thin silicon camera systems which will not interfere with the radiation beam, and will provide the radiographer with an instantaneous real time image of the beam as it is delivered.

"This system will immediately detect inaccurate treatments, allowing any errors to be corrected before the patient suffers any adverse consequences. Costs of treatment will also be reduced as fewer mistreatments means more efficient patient care."

The funding is awarded to produce a fully functional prototype and will run for 17 months. The final device could be operational in hospitals around the globe within three years after completion of the prototype.

See also University of Bristol news.

Nanophysicists celebrate a good start to 2011
6 January 2011

Figure 1
Dr Xin Hong and Dr Henkjan Gersen from the Nanophysics and Soft Matter Group started 2011 well by publishing their work in Nano letters, a journal with one of the highest impact scores in the fields of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Together with scientists from the University of Bristol, the University of Twente (Netherlands) and ICFO (Spain) they demonstrated a novel approach that allows ultrasensitive detection of the optical properties of individual nanostructures. This allowed them to directly visualize the optical response of individual nanoparticles down to 5 nm in diameter as shown in the figure above.

The microscope that has been constructed has the potential to become a versatile tool for the study of the optical properties of individual nanostructures in particular, because it allows the full characterisation of both the amplitude and phase response of individual nanostructures (as shown in the middle and right panels of the figure).

All of this is achieved using the ultralow excitation powers ( 1 μW) that are required for single molecule detection and imaging of biological cells. As a result the method opens up new avenues for exploring the interaction between metal nanoparticles and single fluorescent molecules. With the intrinsic advantages of gold nanoparticles - such as high optical brightness, biocompatibility, no blinking or bleaching and thus unlimited lifetime and shape dependent optical response, this technique has great potential for biophysical applications.

To find out more, please go to Nano letters to read the article in full, or contact Dr Henkjan Gersen.

Bristol delegates report from UK student space summit
5 January 2011

UKSEDS (UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) summit was held near Exeter in wintry late November. Our intrepid CHAOS delegate, Damian Rumble, reports.

On 27 November CHAOS sent a delegation to the UKSEDS summit. Hosted by the Norman Lockyer Observatory near Exeter this was an ideal opportunity to meet the rest of UKSEDS from other universities around the country and learn vital skills for up and coming projects.

I was first asked to set up a branch in Bristol at the UK space conference in April 2010 but things had only really started gathering pace since the start of this most recent term and by going to this summit I was hoping to inspire my fellow students to plan their own space missions. The day of the event was incredibly cold – I doubt it got above freezing all day and leaving the warmth of the observatory was a daunting prospect once there. The first half of the day was taken up by talks from various speakers, including one about, a cubesat mission due for launch in April and in need of some enthusiastic students to help build/program bits of it. A lot of it seemed very technical but one project was a superconductivity mission being run by a lecturer in Bath. We were keen to help and now we have a group of students hoping to get involved on this mission and looking to run their own cubesat mission in the coming years! We also heard talks from various sponsors who were trying their hardest to sell us some software – looked pretty cool but was way above our skill level and my computer couldn't handle the advanced graphics – nothing new there then!

In the afternoon was a series of workshops on Arduinos – a programmable microchip ideal for a small satellites. We were very successful with this technology, creating a prototype instrument, as Alex called it, or a series of annoying buzzing and beeping, to everyone else, by the end of the day.

I used this time to meet up with some UKSEDS people, to let them know about the progress made in setting up the branch – in particular I was looking for funding for our high altitude balloon mission. It was interesting to see from the turnout that most branches had very few people and had only sent a couple of interested post-grads. Despite being barely started, we already looked more dynamic than many of the existing branches, which filled us with confidence.

Lockyer Observatory
Since the summit we have set up two projects with people working on Cubesat and ballooning, with more rocket tests to come in the new year. I have also emailed engineering and computer science and their addition will hopefully bring complementary skills. We currently have 45 members – I think we are going to need more projects!

To find out more about UKSEDS activities please see UKSEDS web site.

Image top right, Alex Allen and Cheng Li working on Arduino. Left, Bristol at the Arduino workshop – Alex Dawn practises with the ‘instrument’. Bottom right, The Norman Lockyer Observatory – it was VERY cold!

European funding success
14 December 2010

FP7 logo
Professor Martin Kuball and Dr Andrei Sarua have been awarded €60 thousand in an EU collaborative project to integrate Moldavian research insititutions into the European Research area, including European Community research and development programmes. Partners include Moldavian research centres, and Hannover Medical High School, Germany.

Funding for the EU FP7 project will help to support and develop research collaboration, as well as enabling new undergraduate and postgraduate training activities. For detail see "Preparation for Moldova's integration into the European Research Area and into the Community R&D Framework Programs on the basis of scientific excellence" - search for MOLD-ERA at the Cordis web site.

Small science on small islands
2 December 2010

Dr Seddon speaks to Channel Islanders
Last week, Dr Annela Seddon from the Nanophysics and Soft Matter Group and the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials visited the Channel Islands to talk to year 10-13 students about Nanoscience in Bristol.

The trip, which was organised and funded by the Institute of Physics and the Jersey Department of Education, reached 1,000 school children in two days and was aimed to complement the GCSE syllabus as well as stimulating discussion about science on a small scale. The four talks were hosted by Guernsey Grammar School and Hautlier School in Jersey and included video and discussion of Bristol research based in Physics and the Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information (NSQI), as well as hands on demonstrations which attracted plenty of willing volunteers! The event attracted media attention and was covered by the Jersey Evening Post, the online news site Isle News, on the local Jersey radio station Channel 103 FM and Dr Seddon was also interviewed on BBC Radio Jersey’s breakfast show, Jersey Today.

The IOP have blogged the event, which is hopefully the first in a series of outreach talks across the South West.

Left: Dr Annela Seddon describes her research.

Ambassador's Medal for Professor Popescu
11 November 2010

In October more than 180 Romanian students, professors and researchers from universities across the UK met at a Romanian students' conference supported by the Embassy of Romania in London, the British-Romanian Chamber of Commerce and the Ratiu Foundation. The theme of this year's conference was Professional Development, including the importance of education.

The conference celebrated 130 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and the United Kingdom and concluded with a ceremony, at which Professor of Quantum Physics, Sandu Popescu, was awarded the Ambassador's Diploma - see image, left.

Congratulations Casamia!
10 November 2010

The brothers
Yesterday the Michelin-starred Bristol restaurant, Casamia, was announced as the winner of TV contest Ramsay's Best Restaurant. The School of Physics would like to offer many congratulations. This year the chefs at Casamia, Jonray and Peter Sanchez (right), will be joining Professor Peter Barham in supervising a final year MSci project investigating the physics of ice cream.

From time to time Professor Barham has worked with several chefs offering advice and help, so was delighted to discover that earlier this year, three featured in the San Pellegrino list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants: Noma in Copenhagen came out best in the world; the Fat Duck, Bray, which came third overall and top in the UK; and Le Quartier Français, Franschoek, which came thirty-first overall and second in Africa.

Image by kind permission of Casamia.

Powerful holographic nanoprobe planned by Bristol nanoscientists
9 November 2010

Professor Mervyn Miles, together with colleagues Drs David Carberry and Loren Picco, has been awarded £361,929 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop a new type of atomic force microscope (AFM).

The new AFM probe, a nanorod controlled in three dimensions by holographic optical traps, can scan a specimen from any direction. The holographic assembler is capable of generating tens of independent optical traps simultaneously, and the sample object itself could also be immobilized in a set of optical traps, so the optical AFM will be able to scan multiple aspects of a sample all at the same time. This means an image can be built up from all directions.

Living cells are one example of a sample type that will be studied by this technique. For example, by biochemically functionalizing one or more of the nanorod probes, it will be possible to stimulate the cell to undergo a change - which can be monitored simultaneously by other scanning nanorod probes.

This project builds on the highly successful collaboration through two Research Councils UK (RCUK) Basic Technology projects with Professor Miles Padgett and his group at the University of Glasgow.

Bristol scientists collaborate on blood analysis research
2 November 2010

The project team
Professors Mervyn Miles and Heinrich Hoerber, together with Drs Loren Picco and James Vicary, have been awarded £447,000 in funding from the Medical Research Council. The grant is administered by the Severnside Alliance for Translational Research (SARTRE), a partnership created between the Universities of Bristol and Cardiff to accelerate efforts in translational research in the field of bio-pharmaceuticals.

The project employs expertise in atomic force microscopy (AFM) technology to design an instrument capable of detecting small concentrations of proteins in a blood sample for rapid and robust point-of-care blood analysis. Bristol collaborators include Professor Stephen Wiggins from the School of Mathematics and Dr Andrew Mumford of Clinical Sciences.

Physics professor wins prestigious award for scientific excellence
28 October 2010

Prof O'Brien
Jeremy O'Brien, Professorial Research Fellow in Physics and Electrical Engineering, has been named joint winner for the Daiwa Adrian Prize.

Daiwa Adrian Prizes are awarded by The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation on a triennial basis in recognition of significant scientific collaboration between British and Japanese research teams.

Prof O'Brien shared a prize of £10,000 with joint winner Professor Shigeki Takeuchi of Hokkaido University and Osaka University, for their work in the field of photonic quantum information science and technology. The category in which they were recognised was for the development of new technologies based on harnessing quantum mechanics – the fundamental physics theory governing behaviour at the microscopic scale.

Most distant galaxy ever discovered measured by scientists
20 October 2010

Early Universe simulation
An international team of astronomers involving the University of Bristol have confirmed that a recently discovered distant galaxy is the most remote object ever observed. It is so far away that light from it has taken 13.1 billion years to reach the Earth. The detected photons were emitted only 600 million years after the Big Bang, when the Universe was only four per cent of its present age.

The research, published in the journal Nature, was carried out by a team of European astronomers including Professor Malcolm Bremer from the University of Bristol's School of Physics, alongside colleagues from the Universities of Durham and Edinburgh. Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope the team measured the distance to the remote galaxy by analysing its faint glow of light.

To find out more, please go to the full story at university news pages.