Get Physical in the Science Lab
Byline: SARAH SNYDER
THE inquiring mind is always asking itself questions.
It wonders how animals communicate, why the sky is blue and what makes cling wrap cling.
It wants to know how to produce a weather forecast, design an economical car or improve eyesight.
Physics is about finding the answers. It deals with how and why things behave as they do, from the tiniest particles to the complexities of the universe.
Sue Jackson read physics at Birmingham University and loved it so much that she stayed on after her BSc degree to study for a PhD.
She says: 'One of the most exciting aspects of the course involved a challenging experiment and a day in which to come up with our own solutions.
It was all so different from schooldays when the teacher had most of the exciting tasks.
'One of our first-year projects was to develop an accurate way of measuring room temperature, unaffected by draughts and other variations across the room.
'We came up with a resistance thermometer that measures changing electrical resistance in the room and carried out studies to assess its accuracy.' Projects such as these involve working closely with others, developing strategies and procedures, testing and finally evaluating the outcome. It is a satisfying process and it lies at the heart of the way a physicist thinks. Sue says: 'The university has excellent links with industry, which helps to draw out the relevance of academic physics to the real world.
'One of our projects involved working on ''Mr Squid'', an American device that measures tiny magnetic signals such as a foetal heartbeat or brain waves. We looked at properties such as their electrical behaviour, tested the impact of applying a magnetic field and worked out how to calibrate them accurately.
Rigorous 'We were at the cutting edge of new and important technology, which gave us a rigorous introduction to life as a research physicist.' Sue's tutor told her about a research programme to study the latest form of ice to be discovered.
There are 12 forms of ice crystal, of which the hexagonal snowflake shape is only one. …