My name is Yulia Yancheva and I am currently a third-year
MPhys Physics student at the University of Manchester. The Physics course at
UoM is a combination of theoretical and mathematics subjects, programming, and
How is Physics Different at Uni?
One of the main differences between university and high
school is that at university, the degree is focused mainly on one topic, in my
case Physics. This allows students to gain a lot of subject-specific knowledge
in significant depth. For example, in Physics, we do not only learn different
subjects, but we also learn how to think like physicists. This allows us to
often know the answer to questions that we have not seen before just because we
have enough knowledge of the basic physics laws in the world that surrounds us.
Another major difference between high school and university
is that in university, students are mainly independent. This means that it is a
personal choice for each student how to organise their time and make sure they
are up to date with all new material. There are lectures, tutorials and
workshops that help us to organise our time but we do not have a teacher who
makes sure we have attended and learned the new material – it is our
responsibility to do that! Everybody tries to keep up with all the new lessons
because at the end of each semester we have exams where we can show what we
have learned during the semester.
Physics at Manchester
I have studied a very diverse range of subjects during my
university degree in Physics. For example, in my first year, I had a module on
astrophysics and cosmology during which I learned about stars, planets,
telescopes and the Universe in general. I also had a module on quantum physics
and relativity, which was taught by Prof Brian Cox. During this module, I
learned about time and space as scientific concepts as well as about black
holes and even various scientific paradoxes.
Apart from the theoretical subjects, I also spend a lot of
time in the experimental laboratory. For example, in my third year, I was
working with graphene – this is a material that was discovered by Professor Sir
Andre Geim and Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov at The University of Manchester
for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. I spent four
weeks in which I was investigating the electrical properties of graphene and I
found the work very interesting and engaging – it felt like real research. Here
is a photo of myself doing a task that was required for this experiment – I was
handling ammonia and hence the safety goggles and the face mask.
At the University of Manchester, Physics students work in
pairs in the laboratory. We also have lab demonstrators who introduce us to the
experiments and help us if we get stuck. However, in third and fourth year,
most of the time students work with their lab partners without the
demonstrators being there all the time. This makes the lab experience unique –
there is a lot of brainstorming going on between lab partners and it almost
feels like solving a puzzle.
I am studying for a PhD in Statistical
Physics and Complex Systems at The University of Manchester. My research
studies a system of many interacting species where the population of one
species can facilitate or hinder the growth of another species. This
relationship is determined by a specific interaction coefficient between the
species. The interaction coefficients for the relationship between every pair
of species are drawn randomly from a two-dimensional Gaussian distribution, and
we use the parameters of this distribution to predict how the ecosystem
behaves. We can then simulate these interacting species using a computer
programme to check our predictions.
I studied Mathematics and Physics for
my undergraduate degree at The University of Manchester. I chose this degree
because I enjoy understanding how the world works, and appreciate how bizarre
and counter-intuitive our reality is. I had a fascination for quantum mechanics
and relativity, higher dimensions, and sub-atomic particles. I really enjoyed
learning about these concepts as well as being introduced to many other
fascinating ideas. I enjoyed the lecture style of teaching but I also developed
my ability for independent learning, I became really good at managing my own time,
and absorbing information at my own pace from reading textbooks and lecture
notes. The most useful skill I learned during my degree was how to computer
programme, I learned how use Matlab, C++, and Python, and I learned how to
write codes for simulations, data analysis, solving complicated equations, and
optimization algorithms. I decided to do a PhD after my undergraduate degree
because I really enjoy self-study and programming, and I am further developing
these skills with new challenges every day.
I became interested in population
dynamics after reading "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, where
he described behavioural evolution using ideas from Game Theory. He described
how an animal’s behaviour, and the behaviours of the other animals it interacts
with, would determine how successful the animal would be at surviving and
passing on it genes. These successful behavioural strategies would dictate how
the behaviour of the population as a whole would change over time, and evolve
to an Evolutionary Stable Strategy which could be understood as stable Nash
equilibria. During my degree I took the opportunity to study Game Theory
further by writing my second year vacation essay on the topic. I researched
many areas of Game Theory and went through a short online course. I discovered
how it can be applied to statistical physics, in the Ising model for
ferromagnets, and really enjoyed learning about how ideas from quantum
mechanics could produce Quantum Game Theory, where a player could play multiple
strategies at the same time. In my fourth year I undertook a project with my
current PhD supervisor on a population of individuals who had the choice of two
behavioural strategies to interact with. The population evolved by the number
of individuals playing the more successful strategy increasing, but this model
also considered the effect of time delay, such as a gestation period in nature.
I really enjoyed my project with my supervisor and through this I continued
onto a PhD with him.
Here is a link to my supervisor’s
webpage, if you are interested in my research you could look at his
Here are links to the undergraduate
Mathematics and Physics courses webpages:
If you are interested in game theory,
here is a brief course:
If you are interested in “The Selfish
Gene” here is a brief summary of the book, chapter 12 discusses game theory:
and the full text can be downloaded
My name’s Jake and I went to school in a small sleepy town
in North Wales, followed by sixth form where I studied Maths, Physics and
Chemistry A-levels. After this I was
accepted onto the Physics course at the University of Manchester, is one of the
most exciting, friendly and liberal cities in the U.K. - a really exciting
change compared to the slow pace of life in Wales! After a jam-packed few years of study, work,
fun and travel, I’ve fallen in love with Manchester and now work as a Student
Recruitment and Widening Participation (SRWP) Intern at the University.
I began university with absolutely no idea about what I
wanted to do in terms of a career. I
knew that I liked science, helping people and travel, but there was no
particular job that took my interest, so I decided to do an MPhys Physics
degree as my science grades were good, I liked Brian Cox documentaries and the
idea of academic research, as well as this Physics is a very well respected degree
with broad career prospects.
I assumed that over the course of the following four years
that I would have an epiphany moment – that everything would fall into place
and I would exclaim ‘Eureka! I’ve found
my life’s passion!’, and start doggedly pursuing an exciting career to
eventually become a world-leading researcher in an exciting and dynamic field.
To my dismay, this career revelation never occurred, and
actually as my degree went on I became more and more unsure about a career in
scientific research. For my MPhys
research, I investigated the effect of graphene upon bacteria, in the hope that
one day graphene could be used in a new generation of antibiotics. However, despite the amazing applications of
this research I learnt that a career in research is not for me (at least not
yet), as I’m not cut out for long hours in the lab and fiddling with computer
But by all means doesn’t mean that my degree was a waste of
time. On the contrary, my time as a
student was the best in my life – I’ve made fabulous life-long friends, gained
extremely employable skills, travelled to amazing places, and my
self-confidence has sky-rocketed.
One of the most important things that I’ve gained is that I’ve
learnt much more about myself, and what I like and what I dislike. I’ve discovered that I’m hugely passionate
about science communication, helping people, and spreading public awareness
about science, education, and social issues.
I also love working with people, using my creativity to blog and solve
problems, and enjoy variety in my work.
I’ve recently began work as a Student Recruitment & Widening
Participation Intern at the university and love it! In this role, I coordinate the University’s Aspiring
Student Society (UMASS), which helps people considering higher education to think
about their options and gives application and career guidance. I represent the University of Manchester at
UCAS fairs, help organise Open Days, and give talks to young people to help
them make more well-informed decisions about their futures. I work with the public on a regular basis,
every working hour is different and I feel proud working for such a prestigious
institution for which social responsibility is one of their core values. As term starts again soon I’m hoping to get
back involved with science and LBGTQ+ outreach too!
I’ve got no idea what’ll I’ll do after my internship, but
I’m sure as I carry on learning more, getting involved with more things and get
to grips with the job, I’ll have a clearer idea of what my next step will be.
: The University of Manchester Aspiring Students’ Society – a good resource for
anyone who’s considering applying to any academic institution.
: The Widening Participation programmes at Manchester, which encourage students
of all educational backgrounds to apply to Manchester.
: Manchester’s hugely popular annual science festival – a great opportunity to
learn about different areas of science, its importance and impact. You can also speak to world-leading
: The University of Manchester’s Student Blogs.
These give a valuable insight into university life and offer tips
covering all parts of student life.
My name is Monique Henson and I’m currently in the second
year of my PhD in Astrophysics. I finished my A-levels in Maths, Physics and
Further Maths in 2010 and went on to study Physics at the University of
Manchester. After my first year, I realised that wanted to focus more on the
theoretical aspects of Physics, so I switched to the Physics with Theoretical
Physics course. For most of my degree, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do
afterwards. To help me decide, I did a few different internships during my
summer holidays. I tried teaching, working for an international technology
firm, and finally I tried academic research.
Before that summer project, I hadn’t thought too much about
doing research. If I’m honest, I didn’t realise what a researcher does on a
day-to-day basis. I now know that the day-to-day work of a researcher depends a
lot on what they are researching! But all researchers are united by one thing -
curiosity. Doing that summer project reminded me why I wanted to study Physics
in the first place, and made me realise that I wanted to pursue it further.
I started my PhD in 2014. My research involves studying the
biggest objects in the Universe that are held together by gravity - galaxy
clusters. These giants are made up of thousands of galaxies. Each of those
galaxies is made up of hundreds of billions of stars. Some of those stars will
be just like our Sun.
Why should we study galaxy clusters?
Despite their name, galaxy clusters aren’t just made of
galaxies. They also have two other key parts - hot gas and dark matter. Most of
the visible mass in galaxy clusters actually exists in between the galaxies. It
takes the form of gas that is so hot it emits X-rays. The galaxies around the
cluster faster than bullets, and their interaction with this hot gas causes
them to rapidly evolve. By studying the galaxies in galaxy clusters, we can
learn more about how galaxies change over time.
Most of the mass in clusters is actually dark matter, which
is the name we give the substance that makes up most of the mass in the
Universe, even though we can’t see it. It doesn’t reflect, emit or absorb
light, which means that we can only detect it by looking for its effect on
other things. Since galaxy clusters are so massive and around 85% of their mass
is in dark matter, then that means they’re great for studying dark matter.
On top of all of that, the number of galaxy clusters in the
observable Universe at a given point in time tells us both about how the
Universe has expanded over time and how structure forms in the Universe. This
technique is called cluster counting as it involves counting the number of
clusters with a particular mass within a given volume of the sky.
[The galaxy cluster MACSJ0717. The bright points in the image
are galaxies, some of which are in the cluster, whilst others are behind it.
The blue-purple material is hot, X-ray emitting gas. If you looked at the
cluster with just your eyes then you wouldn’t see it. Instead you need an X-ray
telescope, like the Chandra telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, C. Ma, H.
Ebeling and E. Barrett (University of Hawaii/IfA), et al. and STScI]
What am I trying to find out?
To use cluster counting you have to be able to measure the
masses of galaxy clusters really well. It’s quite hard to figure out the mass
of something just by looking at it, but there are a couple of different methods
that we use. One of these is called gravitational lensing. When light passes by
a massive object, such as a galaxy cluster, it can get bent around the object
through gravity. When we look at clusters we see that galaxies behind the
cluster can look smeared or distorted. This distortion effect is dependent on
the mass of the cluster, and by measuring it we can figure out the cluster’s
It’s widely thought that this technique is very accurate for
measuring cluster masses. I’m testing this by using this technique on a set of
model clusters ran by Dr David Barnes at the University of Manchester.
To learn more about galaxy clusters, have a look at the
website for the Chandra X-ray telescope. They have some great
images of clusters and a blog with regular updates.
One Minute Astronomer has a great article on gravitational
lensing here. Gravitational lensing isn’t just used to
find out cluster masses; other researchers use it to find planets and to study distant supernovae.
If you’d like to stay updated with my research and outreach
activities, follow me on Twitter: @monique_henson
My name is Nick and I am a first year PhD student at the
Manchester Institute of Biotechnology. At school I studied physics, maths and
computing at A-level and then went on to study physics at the University of
Manchester (BSc and MSc). My PhD research involves trying to find out how the
structure of redox enzymes affects their redox potential. The redox potential
is an important factor that needs to be considered in the design of biofuel
cells. Biofuel cells use enzymes to help produce electricity from hydrogen and
oxygen, with water as a waste product.
The redox potential (E0) tells you how likely a
chemical species will accept an electron. When a chemical species accepts and
electron, we say it has been reduced. The more positive the redox potential, the
more likely it is that a chemical species will accept an electron and be
reduced. The below reaction has a positive redox potential, so a copper ion
will tend to accept an electron to become a copper atom.
Cu+ + e- ↔
A chemical species may have a negative redox potential. This
means it is more likely to lose an electron. When a chemical species loses an
electron we say is has been oxidised. The more negative the redox potential,
the more likely it is that a chemical species will lose an electron and be
oxidised. The below reaction has a negative redox potential, so a sodium atom will
tend to lose an electron to become a sodium ion.
Na+ + e- ↔
Na (E0 = -2.71V)
Enzymes are a type of biological molecule which catalyse
(increase the rate of) the chemical reactions that sustain life. Redox enzymes contain
a metal ion which can either be reduced or oxidised. They help control the rate
of many different reactions which involve the transfer of electrons. The
structure of the enzyme around the metal ion influences the redox potential of
the metal ion. Below is an image of an enzyme called Azurin, which has a Cu2+
ion in its active site. The way in
which the Azurin is bound to the copper ion affects how easily it can accept an
You might be familiar with the idea that electricity is the
flow of charge particles. For example, electrons flow in the wires that make up
the electrical devices we use. Electricity can be made in many different ways,
some more environmentally friendly than others. Biofuel cells utilise enzymes
to help make electricity using hydrogen and oxygen and producing water as the
only waste product. The redox enzymes help transfer the electrons through the
cell which generates electricity. One enzyme takes electrons from hydrogen and
passes them through the cell. The other enzyme collects the electrons and then uses
them to make water.
My research involves working out how the structure of the
enzymes changes their redox potential. The idea is to produce a computer
program that will be able to adapt the structure of an enzyme so its redox
potential is perfectly tuned for use in biofuel cells. I also plan to make the
enzymes and experimentally measure their redox potentials, to prove the
computer program works.
of Biotechnology: http://www.mib.ac.uk/
What are enzymes? http://www.chem4kids.com/files/bio_enzymes.html
What are redox
Fuel cells: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell
Biofuel cells: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enzymatic_biofuel_cell
Could biofuel cells
be developed for use in our bodies? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15305579