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School of Physics and Astronomy

School students showcase physics research at virtual ‘Cosmic Con’

On Saturday 4 July, pupils from schools across London presented their work on Queen Mary University of London research projects at the annual ‘Cosmic Con’ conference.

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School students, their family and teachers, along with Queen Mary researchers and collaborators celebrated the work presented.

The event forms part of the School of Physics and Astronomy's Physics Research in School Environments (PRiSE) programme, which offers students the opportunity to experience the cutting-edge physics research at Queen Mary.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s conference was held online and attended by representatives from the Royal Society, South East Physics network, and Ogden Trust as well as Queen Mary researchers, and students’ family, friends, and teachers.

Dr Martin Archer, Public Engagement and Outreach Officer at Queen Mary’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: "It's great that we've been able to celebrate the physics research that these school students across London have been working on in collaboration with Queen Mary since the start of the academic year, even if we could only do this virtually. The sheer quality of work, far beyond the curriculum, from such a range of different students and schools is a testament to the potential of young people everywhere when given opportunities such as these. I hope that their work on PRiSE projects proves beneficial in their future educational journey."

Some of the best projects were presented with prizes at the end of the conference. The winners included:

  • Avanti House Secondary School - ‘Muon Lifetime and Special Relativity/Time Dilation’
  • Newham Sixth Form College - ‘Muons’
  • Saint Mary Magdalene Academy - ‘STEVE: Particle precipitation or Ionospheric Skyglow?’
  • Sevenoaks School - ‘Wasp 18b: An investigation of a dying planet’
  • Vyners School – ‘Investigation on a variation of a repeating radial wave event’

The PRiSE programme and projects

The ‘Cosmic Con’ conference is the culmination of six months’ work on research projects across four areas of active research at Queen Mary, cosmic rays, space sounds, exoplanets and particle physics.

  • Cosmic rays- For the SCREAM (Scintillator Cosmic Ray Experiments into Atmospheric Muons) project students use miniaturised versions of the types of particle detectors in deep underground neutrino experiments to study various properties of cosmic rays. This year student projects investigated changes to cosmic rays as they pass through dense materials and whether these particles could be used for generating power through cold fusion.
  • Space sounds- MUSICS (Magnetospheric Undulations Sonified Incorporating Citizen Scientists) provides students with the opportunity to listen to the sounds of Earth’s magnetosphere and identify and analyse events using audio software. Two projects this year aimed to follow on from previous research, by searching for “whistling” sounds associated with solar storms.
  • Particle physics- Working on the ATLAS Open Data project students access real data from the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and go through the processes that led to the discovery of the Higgs boson.
  • Exoplanets- In this project students learn Python computer programming and write their own code to discover planets using data from the NASA Kepler mission.

The students are supported throughout this time not only by their teachers but also by active researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy, who are experts in the relevant research areas. 

The innovative PRiSE programme has previously been recognised by several public engagement related awards, including the Times Higher Education Awards.