The First Year Physics Projects!

Thursday 18th- Friday 19th June is a MAGICAL day that makes me so proud of Imperial College and the Blackett Laboratory. Obviously, our physics department owes its great success to the incredible professors and research, and the academics owe their success in research to their students. The year 1 students have now finished their exams, and unlike their buddies studying media and events they are back in the lab working on exciting physics problems. The physics department opens its doors for two days of first year lead open days- where the first years show off the summer projects to their assessors, fellow students and the public. My gosh do they do it well!

The physics outreach team have two days of open days dedicated to GCSE and A-level students, with tours of the department, a mini lecture and tours of of the projects. Check those out here.

I’m always really happy when I take the lift from my lab on level 10 to level 4- the teaching labs get more colourful, there are ample haribos and chocolates and the students are super excitable. Because I teach first year tutorials, I know so many of the students that it is actually quite moving to have watched them come last October full of nerves and teenage angst and become fully functioning members of one of the best physics department in the world. The ideas, creativity and technical skill they showed at this open day was exceptional.

Here are a few photographs of the projects:

Jamie had made an amazing wireless optical communication project, that converted a text file into a binary code and sent it as series of light pulses across a room to a photodiode, then converted it back into text. I cynically tried it with “Does this work?” and it DID! The photodiode is super efficient at collecting the light that shines at it from the other side of the lab, and turns it from a light pulse into an electronic signal. Just amazing!

Ho Wai had made a totally lossless code to compress text files- he is brilliant. He’s done all of the work by himself and says it only took him one and a half weeks. Text compression (or compression of any kind) is really important (how do we store high res images with space for anything else?) and requires insane logic. Expect him in three years Silicon Valley, but IC would be silly to lose him.

Will has made a table football table (how do you say that) which could check whether you’d scored a goal and how fast the ball was moving. It was all with a system of lasers and a photodiode- it worked amazingly! I only got my ball to 1.3 m/s. I’ve got a little video of it in action, but am going to ask Will before sharing it online as he’s the main star- explaining the physics and his exceptional DIY skills.

My favourite project was the pendulum painting. Sadie and Dominika  in my tutorial class made a (and simulated) a spiral pendulum. They had coded the pendulums movements on Matlab and experimentally tracked the pendulums movements using paint! We work a lot in physics with ‘simple’ pendulums- pendulums with a point mass that swing back and forth on a string, turning kinetic energy into gravitational potential energy and back to kinetic. There is loads of great physics going on- simple harmonic motion, acceleration, conservation of energy- and some nice equations. Conical or circular pendulums work because the mass on the string (or the paint) has an angular velocity which slightly over complicates the analysis of a ‘simple’ pendulum. You can read more here or here or ask Sadie and Dominika today!

There are some great mathematicians simulating predators and prey in different environments, some scientists getting power from fruit, a sugar/water sky simulation, a ruben’s tube.. you name it, these guys have done it. This is all alongside an exhausting exam schedule and post exam social life. I was really impressed.

I cannot shout loud enough to convey how much I think you should all come along and see the projects for yourself (because I’m in the quiet carriage on the way to the SciComm Conference in Manchester- but it is really brilliant and very worth attending !

When I got home I made an awesome bean stew, and my dad reminded me of this amazing painting by Annibale Carracci of a peasant eating beans (painted in 1590 and SUPER RELEVANT to my dinner). Carracci is a great artist often overlooked by the art world for more scandalous figures like Caravaggio, but brilliant none the less.

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