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Combining Cultures Through Music


My name is José Guillermo Puello. I grew up in the Dominican Republic where I went to a French school. When I finished school I came to the UK to study music at university. I recently graduated with a PhD in Composition from the University of Manchester. My research focused on the integration of Dominican music and culture with European contemporary concert music. My thesis consisted of seven original pieces of music, including works for orchestra, for small chamber ensemble, duets and trios. I decided to pursue this area because I wanted my music to reflect my background. As the research progressed, I became interested in how the audience perceived the music and how I could integrate extra-musical elements into my music.

When I started my undergraduate degree, I never thought I was going to do a Master’s degree, let alone a PhD. It was towards the end of my second year that I started to integrate Dominican dance music (i.e. merengue) into my compositions. I continued to develop this throughout my third year and my Master’s. As a result, my style became clearer and my Masters supervisor suggested that I do the doctorate. These past four years doing the PhD provided the opportunity to better define what I want my music to be.

In depth

My doctoral research focused on integrating Dominican cultural elements into my music, building strong musical structures and developing my rhythmic language. To this effect, I researched the music of other Latin American composers, such as Astor Piazzolla, Amadeo Roldán, Tania León, Julio Alberto Hernandez, Alberto Ginastera and Leo Brouwer, to evaluate how they incorporated Latin American elements into their music. I also researched the music of other composers, such as Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Debussy, Bartók, Berio and Ligeti, to understand how other composers dealt with rhythm, folk music and the articulation of musical structures.

The act of composing is not just writing notes on the page but also of listening, studying and problem-solving. I don’t think I know of any composer that just sits down to write the music in their head. I always compare composing to an architect designing a building. It very often starts with a concept/idea that the composer/architect tries to realise using the techniques they have developed and borrowing/adapting the ideas and techniques of others.

During my PhD, my research into Dominican culture mainly influenced the concept of the piece that I was composing. For example, I wrote an orchestral piece based on a religious ritual and another based on a Dominican poem. As I read about the Dominican Republic and its history I realised that the fusion I was creating in my music could be compared to the melting pot of cultures that shaped Dominican history. The music, whilst taking inspiration in Dominican music, is closer in style to the music of European composers (i.e. contemporary classical music) than to merengue or salsa songs.

One of the most gratifying aspects of being a composer is writing for and collaborating with other talented musicians. I have been fortunate enough to have my music performed by a number of professional and amateur ensembles, including Manchester Camerata, Psappha, The Fourth Wall Ensemble and Quatuor Danel, in the UK, Europe, Canada, USA and the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, each new piece brings its own challenges, which provides the opportunity to keep learning and to keep imagining new musical possibilities.

Going further

If you would like to know more about the University of Manchester Music Department and the very active Manchester University Music Society, you can visit the following websites:



You can visit my website: or listen to my music on soundcloud:  

Below are some links to pieces that I have listened to and studied as part of my PhD.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

The video has a five-minute introduction.

Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino

Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, French Horn and Piano

Juan Luis Guerra Todo tiene su hora (merengue song)

Berio’s Sequenza III (for voice)

Birtwistle’s Ritual Fragment

Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

Debussy’s La mer

Varèse’s Ionisation

Brouwer’s El decameron negro


An Insight Into Nature's Strongest Force


My name is Lloyd and I am in the third year of my PhD studying Theoretical Nuclear Physics. I am attempting to provide a better theory to describe the phenomenon of neutral pion (a relatively light, short-lived particle that is found in nuclear and particle reactions) production from a photon (light) incident on a proton (a nuclear particle that is found in the nucleus of every atom).  Before starting my research I studied theoretical physics at the University of Manchester.

Strong Nuclear forces remain to be one of the least understood processes in nature. Yet it is the source of immense energy that can power our cities, from harnessing the emitted radiation in power-plants; or level countries by concentrating radioactive materials in a bomb. The manner in which the fundamental matter particles (or quarks) exchange the strong force carrying particle (or the gluon boson) is far more complex than any of the other forces (weak nuclear, electromagnetic or gravity). Unlike the other forces, gluons themselves can carry a strong nuclear charge, known as colour charge; this allows them to interact with themselves in-between quark interactions, allowing for infinite scenarios to describe the simplest of processes. 

In Depth:

The study of the strong nuclear force is known as quantum chromodynamics (QCD), this theory helped scientists understand important properties of particle physics, mainly why we only see composite quark states in nature. In other words why you will never find a sole quark by itself, instead you will see it in bound states (hadrons) which form protons and neutrons (baryons) and lighter states such as pions (mesons). But trying to make any practical calculations with QCD is very difficult, so difficult in fact that if anyone were to solve the QCD equation into a usable form then they would win 1 million dollars from the Clay Mathematics Institute!

I do away with these complexities of QCD by only working in energy regimes where the protons and other hadrons won't break down into their constituent quarks. So we can describe proton or neutron scattering through pion exchange instead of using gluons. Furthermore, I take advantage of some symmetries present in QCD, related to the quark masses, to simplify aspects of the calculations. This is a very vague picture of the theory I work in called Chiral Perturbation Theory (ChPT).

My work has been motivated by a recent experiment in Germany at the Mainz Microtron by the A2 and CB-TAPS collaborations where they have obtained the most accurate data to date on this interaction. I am in the process of taking theories that have already been made to describe parts of this process and sticking them together to get a more complete picture of the reaction. The most important part I have included is an intermediate resonance state prior to pion emission.

This research isn't going to be part of the new fastest computer in 20 years time, nor is it going to cure diseases. But it will give us an insight in to what happens in nature at the sub-atomic level. Then maybe who knows what this might lead to in the future, 100 years from now it is impossible to predict how important this process will be in understanding nuclear fusion both in power plants or in stars. When Paul Dirac, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, predicted the existence of massless Dirac fermions in the 1920s he had no idea that a century later people would be trying to use these states within graphene to dramatically improve technology.

Going Further:

To follow exactly what it is I do I am afraid you will need a degree in theoretical physics, which you can start looking into at the University of Manchester. (

The European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) have lots of information available on particle and nuclear physics (

The Jefferson Lab in the USA also has useful information for students and teachers (

MAMI, the experimental group that analyse this interaction (


Recreating the conditions inside the sun


Hello! My name is Asad and I’m a PhD student at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. Within my PhD, I work in the relatively recent field of nuclear fusion. More specifically, I look at the effects of plasma damage and neutron irradiation (both known phenomenon that occur within nuclear fusion) on materials that could be used to build a potential fusion reactor.

A little bit about my background first. Before I embarked on my PhD, I completed a Master of Engineering (MEng) in Mechanical Engineering with a minor focus on Nuclear Engineering. I also did some part time study in mathematics and research projects within fluid mechanics. Of the latter, a noteworthy one is that I constructed a mathematical model of the acoustics of a banjo!

In Depth

Science has always intrigued mankind. Some of the foremost questions we have been obsessed with are the simple ones:

·  “Where did we come from?”

·  “Why are we here?”

·  “What do we do?”

No matter who you ask, you will realise that we still don’t really know the answers to these; whether we look for philosophical reasoning or scientific. We search high and low for answers. Our universe is at the centre of such research. And at the centre of our universe: the sun.

The sun can be considered a giant ball of energy. The manner in which this energy is generated is referred to as nuclear fusion. As the human species observed this, we felt the urge to exploit the process to aid our need for energy, in order to survive on a world where resources are rapidly depleting.

What exactly is nuclear fusion? The answer is a result of work done by pioneering scientists such as Ernest Rutherford, Pierre Curie and Marie Curie. We find that certain atoms of elements undergo interesting transitions. We have been able to exploit these, such as nuclear fission which is currently a dominant process to generate electricity. Within fission, we find that under the right conditions, some of the atoms will split and become smaller releasing energy in the process. Fusion is the opposite; some atoms combine and through the process release energy. It has been found that the energy released through fusion could potentially be more sustainable, cleaner, and less fraught with the risks associated with the energy generated through fission. 

Thus we are now engaged in a global technological race to be able to achieve the right conditions for fusion on earth. Thus far we have managed to recreate the conditions. However, we still haven’t managed to be able to maintain these for long enough, nor have we been able to extract power from it. We have some ideas on how to achieve both. One of the questions however is, do we have the materials to be able to do so?

This is where people like me come in. Thus far I have spoken about how this is a relatively new process mingled with a plethora of difficulties. Therefore, it will not be surprising when I say that we don’t exactly have the appropriate facilities to be able to entirely comprehend the extreme effects taking place. So how do we go about solving the problem? Some people try and use proxies, alternative approaches that in some way mimic certain effects we expect. Others try to use computational techniques and our understanding of physics to paint a picture. I’m involved in the latter. I use modelling and simulation to try and deduce what we expect. It isn’t as simple as pushing a button however. One needs to be aware of a lot of inter-related pieces of physics. Sometimes, we also find that we don’t have the computational power to actually be able to process all of these (surprising isn’t it given the progress in the field of IT).  Sometimes my job is therefore to see which processes are negligible. At other times, it is to check and draw conclusions from the results of my simulations. To name a few of the techniques I use; I use solvers for the neutron transport equation, binary collision approximation and molecular dynamics. The last considers how atoms are likely to behave. This generates some interesting perceptions of important chemical and atomic processes.

I’ll stop here. I’ll end on a note that the human race is currently engaged in very exciting things. But to see this realised; we need young, ambitious and creative minds that are keen to learn as well as try new things. 

Going Further

If you want any more information, please feel free to contact me at: . 

To find out more about the chemical and atomic processes generated in molecular dynamics:

A more comprehensive yet elementary guide on nuclear physics can be found at (

Here are also some web links pertinent to what I have written: 

Culham Center for Fusion Energy:

Nuclear Energy Agency:

Fusion Center for Doctoral Training: