Schools talks

This is our 2017-18 selection of Physics based talks, which is aimed at broadening S1-S6, Y8-Y13 pupils’ and students’ appreciation of the wide-ranging applications of physics. These talks are free (to you) and held in your School or College.  Please note that due to staff availability we cannot guarantee to be able to supply a requested talk.  In some cases geographical limitation may apply. For ALL Physics talks initially contact us via

Dr Robert Thomson. "Using lasers to find ET" for for S3-S6, Y10-Y13

In the 50 years since the invention of the laser, it has gone from being a research curiosity to one of the most important technological developments of the last century. They have found applications in every area of technology including medicine, telecommunications, space science and manufacturing. Despite the ubiquitous nature of the laser, laser science it is still an extremely active area of academic research, both in terms of developing new laser sources and their applications.  At Heriot-Watt we use advanced lasers that emit incredibly short pulses of light, only one trillionth of a second long, to write optical circuits. These are the optical equivalent of electronics, and enable light to be manipulated in much the same way as integrated electronic circuits manipulate electrons. During my talk I will review the laser and its development since its invention and how we exploring laser written optical devices that will impact areas as wide ranging as cancer diagnosis to the detection of extraterrestrial life.

Dr Lynn Paterson. "Shedding new light on Biology" for S3-S6, Y10-Y13

There has been a long tradition of interplay between the physical and life sciences over the centuries. Recent advances in the physics of light are driving forward the fields of biology and medicine. Light can be used to watch the goings on inside living cells and can also be used to grab, move, cut and fuse microscopic, biological particles. In this talk we explore how light can be used to understand more about living organisms.

Prof Ian Galbraith "Astrophysics" for S3-S6, Y10-Y13

Astronomers have a real problem - they want to measure things they often can't reach or touch . With these measurements they try to understand what’s out there and how the Cosmos evolved. Stars, galaxies and Black holes all tell different parts of the story and in this talk we look at some of the questions thinking about the Universe raises and some of the answers Astrophysics has provided.

Dr Maria Ana Cataluna. "Light in the fast lane: what can ultrafast lasers do?" for S3-S4

Ultrafast lasers emit extremely short pulses of light, with durations ranging from a few femtoseconds to a few picoseconds. To put this in perspective, one femtosecond is to one second the same as one second is to around 32 million years! This talk will show how we can use these lasers to take snapshots of the microscopic world at very fast time-scales (such as the dynamics of electrons, proteins folding and chemical reactions taking place), enabling us to understand more about the inner machinery of processes widely present in physics, biology and engineering.

Dr Alessandro Fedrizzi.  "Are you for real? Spooky action and other quantum mysteries”  for S3-S6, Y10-Y13

Cats that are both dead and alive, a moon that might not exist when you aren’t looking, and “entangled" dice that will show the same random result no matter how far apart. Using simple examples we will take a tour through these quantum mysteries which reveal fundamental questions about nature but also power futuristic technology such as quantum computers.

Prof Erika Andersson.  "Quantum Wonderland" for S4-S6, Y10-Y13

One might think that quantum mechanics is irrelevant to our daily lives, that it will only matter at the fuzzy scale of individual atoms, in elaborate experiments dreamt up by crazed scientists and performed in highly specialised laboratories. Nothing could be further from the truth! We are all using quantum mechanics in our daily lives. Without quantum mechanics, we would not have computers, mobile phones, lasers, MRI scanners, or GPS. But quantum mechanics also continues to be a source of fascinating, mind-bending paradoxes and philosophical puzzles. This talk will attempt to offer you a glimpse of the Quantum Wonderland, and what we might be using new “quantum technology” for in the future.

Dr Erik Gauger. "Quantum biology" for S3-S6, Y9-Y13

One of the stranger aspects of quantum mechanics is the superposition principle: it allows particles to exist in more than one place (or state) simultaneously - in stark contrast to the world of our everyday experience. Quantum superpositions are not only puzzling, they could also be key to super-charging new technologies, such as quantum computers, quantum-enhanced sensing, and secure communication. However, in man-made systems, superposition states prove fragile and typically decay rapidly unless carefully protected in a very special environment. Could life have evolved to exploit such delicate phenomena?  Recent experimental evidence suggest the answer is yes: for instance, certain migratory birds have the ability to sense very subtle variations in Earth’s magnetic field and it is now widely believed that birds possess a compass that is powered by long-lived (electron spin) superpositions states inside a molecular compass structure. In this talk, I will discuss intriguing examples of where Nature appears to have found ways of creating biological instances of "quantum technology".

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