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Physics student wins Rank Prize Funds award (Jan 2018)

Katie Murphy, a 4th year undergraduate Physics student at Heriot Watt University, has won the Rank Prize Funds Optoelectronics award for best Student Vacation Project in the UK. Katie had already been awarded a Rank Prize Funds vacation studentship to allow her to work with Dr Lynn Paterson during the summer vacation between her third and fourth years of study. In her research she developed laser fabrication techniques for making specialised surfaces for molecular sensing. Her results demonstrated enhanced molecular detection on the bespoke silver surfaces she created and these will be presented at a major international optics and lasers conference, Photonics West, at the end of January 2018.

Katie is photographed here receiving her certificate and prize from Dr Lynn Paterson.

Katie is photographed here receiving her certificate and prize from Dr Lynn Paterson.

Pioneering astrophysicist delivers Christmas lecture (Dec 2017)

A celebrated astrophysicist who made one of the most important findings in astronomy has delivered a special Christmas Lecture at Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh Campus. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is best known for her discovery of pulsars in 1967, which are rotating neutron stars that appear to ‘pulse’ since the beam of light they emit can only be seen when it faces the Earth. Her observation, made together with her supervisor, Antony Hewish, is considered to be one of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the twentieth century.

It was this landmark achievement that Dame Bell Burnell recently spoke of at the annual School of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS) PGR Christmas Lecture. A large audience of scientists were told of the difficulties, anxieties and thrills she experienced at this iconic time for space exploration.

Dame Bell Burnell is currently the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and in 2013 was assessed by the BBC as one of the most powerful women in the United Kingdom.


Another Physics win at the Learning and Teaching Oscars (3 May 2017)

Physics at Heriot-Watt has been recognized yet again in the Learning and Teaching Oscars 2017, organized at Heriot-Watt level and exclusively driven by the students. Dr. Paul Dalgarno has been awarded the Switched-On Award – huge congratulations!

Dr. Dalgarno joins the ranks of other awardees in Physics, who have been recognized in these categories in recent years:

Switched-On Award - Most Engaging Lecturer: Dr. Dalgarno (2017) and Dr. Leach (2015)

Exciting, enthusiastic & dynamic, Makes the difficult easy, Relates material, Provides practical examples, Feel for students - tailors material, Adaptability.

The Thinkers Award - Most Challenging Lecturer: Dr. Townsend (2014)

Challenging, Encourages self-learning and critical thinking, Stimulates debate and interest, Students are challenged to give their best and beyond.

Graduates' Award: Dr. Leach (2014)

As nominated by final year students and presented at graduation ceremonies, this award is for the staff member who has had the biggest influence over all your time at Heriot-Watt, and without whom your time here would not have been as memorable.

Guiding Hand Award - Personal Tutor/Most Supportive Lecturer: Dr. Crowden (2013)

Approachability, Support, Advice, Assistance, Understanding.

Dr. Dalgarno at the Award ceremony – third from the right.

Open Lab pilot proves a huge success (11 April 2017)

We are constantly innovating in our teaching. We have recently created an Open Lab where our students can drop in and drive their experimental work at their own pace (in the P28PO Photonics and Optics module, led by Prof. Ajoy Kar and Dr. Marcello Ferrera).

The distinctive feature of the Open Lab is that students are free to carry on their experiments with autonomy, according to their own working schedule, and without direct supervision. This approach promotes independence, critical thinking, and also team work since students are asked to arrange themselves in groups. This also helps them prepare for the more challenging experimental projects that they will be involved in subsequent years.

With Dr. Thomas Roger’s help, our students were first briefed about lab safety and then granted access to a fully equipped lab to undertake two optical experiments, on the dual nature of light and the measurement of materials refractive index.

From the extremely positive feedback and the high quality of the lab reports it is evident that this has been a great success. For these reasons, we plan to extend Open Labs to other modules over the next years. Some of the comments from our students were:

“I appreciated having greater flexibility and independence in being able to choose when to do the lab. The experiments were explained in advance and straightforward enough that they did not require supervision, and I always feel more motivated and interested in my work when I’m scheduling and organising it myself”  (Maureen Cohen)

“I mostly liked the open availability timescale were I had to do the experiment at my own pace. The fact that there were no helpers around also meant that I had to figure out what to do on my own, which was very good for going forward in the course.” (John Ruwona)

“The addition of the Open Lab was incredibly useful because it allowed us to create and see the physical phenomenon for ourselves, instead of just relying on some images and the ‘power of imagination. It was also good experience being in an unsupervised lab and forced us to work together to figure out what needed to be done.” (Jake Sanwell)

Dr. M. Ferrera (on the left) and Dr. T. Roger (on the right) setting up the space for the Open Lab experiments.

Prof. Daniele Faccio awarded RSE Senior Public Engagement Prize (7 April 2017)

Professor Daniele Faccio, Professor in Physics at Heriot-Watt has been awarded the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Senior Public Engagement Prize for his science engagement and outreach talks, videos, television and YouTube presentations on black hole physics and novel imaging technologies. 

Professor Daniele Faccio said, “I am truly honoured to have been awarded the public engagement prize and to be ranked with previous winners and highly esteemed science communicators.

“Communicating with the public has played such a vital part in our research over the past years and we will continue to share our science and discoveries.”

Check out recent coverage by the BBC and more information in the Extreme Light group webpage.

You can also watch Prof. Faccio’s TEDx talk here: