Posts

Theory of Change paper published

You might have noticed common threads appearing through our work over the last few years. Behind the scenes, we’ve been working towards the development of an overall theory of change to guide our projects and delivery. Increasingly – as you’ll know if you work with us directly – we’ve been talking about it too. You might even have seen diagrams, which we’ve waved around or shown on too-small-to-read slides.

Finally – at last! — our Theory of Change has been published, as a proper peer-reviewed paper. Hurray!

You can access the paper from this page – it’s free to download, via the link in the upper-right corner of that page.

Nuffield Research Placements

Kate in Antarctica!

Kate’s made it to the Princess Elisabeth Research Station, which (if you ask us) looks more like the villain’s lair in the next Bond film than anything so straightforward as a research base. Wait… are we sure Kate isn’t plotting world domination?

Here’s Kate’s update:

Merry Christmas from the Princess Elisabeth Research Station in East Antarctica!           

Did you have a white Christmas in the UK? At 71 degrees south, you always get a bright, white Christmas. The sun circles the sky during the Antarctic summer so it is always bright and sunny – which is strange when you wake up on Christmas morning! Today, we have really good weather, it is -8°C and the wind is blowing at 10 knots so it is not too cold. You can see the kind of weather that I am experiencing at this weather report site. 

As the weather is so good, and our time here is short, everyone on the base went to work today. The research station is expanding, so there are lots of people building new walls, putting in new electrics, maintaining the plumbing system and checking that the wind turbines (which produce most of the station’s electricity) are working. There are four scientists on the base at the moment – me, my field assistant James Linighan and two geologists from Turkey. One geologist wants to date the rocks on the mountains (using a technique called cosmogenic nuclide dating – you can google it if you want to know more!) to see if the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was thicker in the past, and the other geologist is searching for meterorites. Antarctica is a great place to find meteorites because their dark, shiny form stands out on the blue ice and white snow. There are more scientists working close to the coast, where they will camp on the ice for over a month. They are drilling through the ice, to collect ice cores to learn about the past climate.

James and I have been scanning the mountains that stick up above the ice (called nunataks) with a drone. When we come back next year, we will do the same tests, to see if the rocks on the mountain have moved over the space of a year. We expect the rocks to move downhill a little. Over many years, these rocks will roll and fall onto the ice, where glaciers (like big, frozen rivers) will transport them to the sea. We have already collected some rock samples from nearby mountains and from the ice sheet, so that we can see what’s inside the rocks (like minerals) when we get back to the laboratory at Northumbria University. That will tell us if these rocks can help to feed plankton in the Southern Ocean.

 

Kate in Cape Town

Our intrepid geologist Kate has made it about as far South as is remotely reasonable to go, to Cape Town in South Africa. Of course, that’s not nearly remote enough for her, and is merely a staging point on her epic journey to Antarctica. Here’s her update:

My field assistant James Linighan (a Master of Science student at Newcastle University) and I checked in 6 bags at Newcastle Airport on Friday the 14th of December for our flight to Cape Town in South Africa. We arrived (thankfully with all our bags intact) and stepped out into the 25°C heat of the South African summer. It’s quite a shock after the cold we’ve been experiencing in Newcastle, but it will be even more of a shock when we arrive in Antarctica on the 18th of December.

While we wait for our flight we have time to sort out our equipment, listen to safety briefings and even lie by the pool at our hotel. Today, we took a cable car up Table Mountain. It’s very famous and the views were spectacular! Cape Town is a very large city with a population of 433,000. You can see most of the city in this photograph. We also collected some of our more extreme polar clothing at The International Polar Foundation’s clothing store. It’s a fabulous warehouse, where you can borrow anything and everything you need to keep you comfortable and warm in Antarctica. I picked up some winter boots, a down jacket, salopettes, goggles, mittens and some mid-layers to keep me all wrapped up and cosy.

Our Antarctic flight leaves tomorrow so as we are all packed and ready to go. I think I will just sit and relax by the hotel pool for a few more hours…

By now Kate should have made it from Cape Town all the way to her destination, but we know she’s going to struggle for an internet connection. With luck she’ll be able to sneak out further updates and maybe even the odd picture or two. We’ll post updates whenever we can, and you can catch up on all things Kate at her page here.

Meanwhile: a very Merry Christmas from us all at NUSTEM. We’ll be back in the new year, rested and ready for another term of shenanigans.

Kate’s heading to Antarctica!

Long-term NUSTEM partners will recognise Dr. Kate Winter’s name as our sometime admin assistant, and might even have wondered where she’s disappeared to in recent months. Well, we have news: we found her.

In Antarctica.

It’s a bit more planned than that. Kate’s returned to geology research, won herself a big support grant, and is heading out to Antarctica for two successive summers – which means, upside-down world and all, that she flies out any day now.

We’ve started a page of information about Kate’s trip and her research. Fingers crossed she’ll manage to get some updates to us while she’s living out on the ice, and maybe even a picture or two: we’ll post updates!

Can parents help ‘nudge’ students into choosing STEM A-levels?

When young people are asked who has provided them with careers advice and guidance, the most common answer is ‘parents and family’, followed by ‘teachers’.

The Behavioural Insights Team (sometimes known as the Nudge Unit) apply behavioural economics and psychology to understand the choices that people make, and help people make sensible choices.  They often run research trials which test out different interventions to see which is the most effective. They have worked with the Department for Education, National Health Service, with HMRC, with local councils, police forces, and many other organisations.

Now the team are looking to see if parents and teachers can help encourage their girls to choose STEM A-levels, and need secondary schools to sign up to be part of the trial.

The two interventions include:

  • Sharing a website with parents that provides information about the usefulness of STEM and guidance on how to talk to their child about A-level subject choices
  • Short classroom based activities targeted at students to overcome the perception that STEM is not ‘for them’

Both of these interventions link closely to what NUSTEM is doing in the North East, so we’re really interested to see the results of the trial.

If your school would like to get involved, there are more details in this pdf, and you can contact Kathryn or Jessica at the Behavioural Insights Team.

Kathryn.Atherton@bi.team  or Jessica.Hunt@bi.team

Study with us! PhD Studentship available

Think Physics’ host institution Northumbria University has a PhD studentship available. Here’s the title:

Impact of Academic Research through Northumbria’s STEM outreach activities on the uptake of STEM disciplines by young people

I know, right? Snappy.

Importantly: there’s a full stipend available for this PhD, for three years at RCUK rates and fees.

There’s a full description of the project on offer at Find a PhD.com, and you can apply through that site too. At the time of writing this post the application deadline appears to be rather soon; that will be extended to later in July, so you’ve time to think it through.

Gravitational waves – The Think Physics Guide

As a project with ‘Physics’ in our title, it hardly seems possible not to be talking about gravitational waves in the office this morning. We read the reports avidly, we got all excited, and we also realised that we’re hardly the experts on this. So here’s our brief run-down of the really useful stuff we’ve found from better journalists than ourselves and more informed cosmologists:

First up, an excellent film from the New York Times, which sets out what the LIGO experiment in Louisiana and Washington has done:

The rest of the Times’ report is a good solid overview of what’s happened. Through the arms-length reporting you can glimpse the level of excitement and the significance of the work.

If animation is more your style, this primer from PhD Comics will spin you through the bumpy landscape of gravitational waves:

Hooked? Fascinated? Excited? The New Yorker has an outstanding long article about the inside story of the discovery:

“Space and time became distorted, like water at a rolling boil. In the fraction of a second that it took for the black holes to finally merge, they radiated a hundred times more energy than all the stars in the universe combined. They formed a new black hole…

The waves rippled outward in every direction, weakening as they went. On Earth, dinosaurs arose, evolved, and went extinct. The waves kept going. About fifty thousand years ago, they entered our own Milky Way galaxy, just as Homo sapiens were beginning to replace our Neanderthal cousins as the planet’s dominant species of ape. A hundred years ago, Albert Einstein, one of the more advanced members of the species, predicted the waves’ existence, inspiring decades of speculation and fruitless searching.”

It’s a beautifully-written piece, and it really captures the human aspect of this – of hundreds of physicists around the world experiencing that moment of discovery. It’s an image that’s ingrained in popular conceptions of how science works, of Archimedes leaping out of his bathtub and exclaiming ‘Eureka!’ The reality, of course, is usually very different. Science tends to proceed in small steps, miniature breakthroughs in labs and desks and computers around the world, inching forwards piece by piece. But the LIGO work appears to be a genuine breakthrough, and the excitement is both real and hard-earned.

That’s also the theme of yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Inside Science Special:

“It is the cleanest signal you can imagine… you have to feel fantastic for those 800 scientists, who have been spending – some of them – decades of their careers working towards this first detection.”
— Dr. Andrew Pontzen, UCL

The programme also hears from the leading UK scientist on the project, Prof. Sheila Rowan of the University of Glasgow. You can get a good sense of how giddy everyone is about this by listening to her impression of the signal ‘chirp.’

Do take a look at the LIGO experiment website, but for now, the final words:

Science Communication MSc

Think Physics is based at Northumbria University, where it just so happens we run a Science Communication MSc course as a joint endeavour with the Centre for Life (who are also a Think Physics partner – are you spotting a pattern here?).

There are several such courses in the country, notably the ones run by Imperial College and the University of the West of England. The Northumbria course differs primarily in the close association with a leading visitor centre: if you look closely at the range of courses available, you’ll see that each skews towards a different niche and specialism.

The course is currently recruiting for its second entry cohort, either for full-time study over one year or part-time over two. Useful links:

Events

Nothing Found

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria