The Solar Physicist
Ask your child: what is a solar physicist?
Today NUSTEM have been into school to do the botanist workshop with your child. During the workshop, we supported the children to feel more confident that a career in STEM is for ‘people like them’ by trying some of the activities a solar physicist would do in their job.
We introduced three attributes that the children may already have or can develop. By discussing STEM careers in terms of these attributes, we are encouraging children and young people to see themselves as having the skills to work in STEM.
Solar physicists are: curious, imaginative and communicators
What does a solar physicist do?
An solar physicist is a type of astrophysicist. An astrophysicist is a scientist who researches the principles of light, motion, and natural forces in order to gain an understanding of the cosmos.
A solar physicist specialises in studying the sun. They can take detailed measurements of our nearest star that it is not possible to make of more distant stars. They use satellites and ground based telescopes to make their observations.
Do try this at home: make a star spectrum
The white light we see is made up of the different colours of the spectrum. When we see a rainbow, we see the light split up into the different colours.
A spectrometer is a tool used by astronomers to split the light collected by a telescope into its colour spectrum. This allows astronomers see the details in the light and see the spectrum of a star.
Different chemical elements in stars absorb the certain colours of light which results in these black lines on the spectrum. This tells us which elements are present in the star.
You will need:
A large selection of materials in the colours of the rainbow, at least 8 of each colour (eg, small toys, lego, pencils, scraps of paper, crayons, stones, beads, buttons, ribbons, wool, stationary, fabric, clothes, pipe cleaners, lolly sticks, pom poms or other collage materials)
At least 4 black lines (e.g. strips of black paper or card, shoe laces, black socks or fabric, black pencils or pens).
Collect all of the materials that you need from around your house. You can use a mixture of different items to make your spectrum. Sort your materials into piles of the different colours: purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red and pink.
Now sort the materials within your piles. Observe how the colours change from darker to lighter and merge into each other throughout the spectrum. In the picture you can see how the dark purple merges with the dark blue, then the blue becomes lighter and lighter.
Continue sorting all of your colours. Notice how light blue merges into turquoise, turquoise into green, and how the green gets lighter becoming yellow. You can see how the yellow becomes darker and merges into orange, which then becomes more and more red as we move along the spectrum. The red becomes burgundy then lightens into pink.
Finally add your black absorption lines to show which elements are present in your star. You can use the absorption lines from the elements present in the Sun, or you can be creative and design your own.
Here are some examples made at home…
One of the things I love about physics is that you can find it everywhere. And more importantly, the ideas that we teach at school can be easily demonstrated using everyday objects.
As part of an IOP day for teachers, I put together a series of demos and experiments that all used food. They were chosen because they could be used to introduce or explore different physics topics.
We moved magnetic grapes, poured density cocktails and ate chocolate.
More importantly (if there can be anything more important than eating chocolate) we also discussed how we would use the demos and experiments in class. Although many of the demos fit well into one or other keystage, the teachers suggested different ways that they could be used.
I’ve put together the activity guides here: Food Sheets Combined (pdf)
We also looked at the Rethink Your Drink campaign from California Department of Public Health. This links common soft drinks with the amount of sugar in the bottle or can. It can be used in physics to introduce the idea of energy stored in foods and in PSHE to look at healthy diets.
Tag Archive for: A-Level Physics
Case Study: Milly Kelly
Originally from Durham, Milly took a two week work experience placement with Think Physics to support her in finding out more about physics at university. Milly also volunteers at Kielder Observatory, one of our project partners, where she enjoys learning more about astronomy and helping other people learn more too. Her other hobbies include singing, playing the guitar, spending time with friends and –rather randomly – working as a ‘beater’ for the grouse shooting! She offers a key piece of safety advice for anyone interested in that line of work:
“Don’t get shot.”
A former student of Wolsingham 6th Form, Milly studied A levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, originally aiming towards a career in medicine. However as the courses progressed she started to study areas such as quantum physics, and physics became her favoured subject. Her studies have allowed Milly to develop skills including:
- An understanding of physics and astrophysics
- Physics has cemented Milly’s interests in astrophysics and volunteering, thus allowing Milly to indulge her passion further as well as meet new friends with similar interests
- Develop investigation, analytical and questioning skills
- Become a more accomplished researcher
In late 2015, Milly started a foundation degree in physics at Kent University. Having not studied Maths at A level she’s having to do this extra year, but she reports that she’s loving it, and the time is allowing her to explore the options available later in the course. She currently thinks she’ll focus on astrophysics and space science.
Milly reports her inspirations as:
- A talk by Princeton University’s Professor Jenny Greene in 2014 at the Centre for Life, about stars, galaxies and black holes
- Gary Fildes from Kielder; his talks and passion for astronomy are inspiring
- Her mum, who has fully supported her desire to pursue physics (even more so after the talk by Greene)
- Brian Cox and his ‘night with the stars’ series, which she watched with friends
- Physics teacher Mr Coates, whose enthusiasm was infectious, super supportive and encouraging
Milly’s advice to others:
“Don’t pick a career, rather take subjects that open up pathways and keep your options open. Studying science has allowed me to consider a number of different options.”
Physics student and volunteer at Kielder Observatory
Guitarist, physicist and astronomer, Milly is studying a foundation year to cover what she missed by not taking maths A-level, before going on to a full physics degree at the University of Kent.
communication, independent, leader
A-Levels, Degree, Physics
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