News Item

Final Year Project Prizes

The final part of degree studies in this School is a major project, where students are usually working within the research teams in the School. For BSc honours students this takes up half their time in their final semester, for MPhys students the project is most or all of their time in the final semester. After conducting their research, students submit a project report, give a presentation on their work, and answer a range of questions from the panel in an oral examination.

Physics and Astronomy prize winners with Douglas McRobbie, Courtesy Dave Stothard

The School is delighted that SELEX Galileo sponsored prizes for the best projects, and that their representative Dr A Douglas McRobbie came to St Andrews from his Edinburgh base to present some of the prizes. Douglas is pictured above witth the prize winners in physics and astronomy. There were many excellent projects, and the best of these were awarded the SELEX Galileo Project Prizes.

Physics and astronomy project prize winners with supervisors and Selex representative

Pictured at the awards ceremony for the physics and astronomy project prizes left to right, are:-

  • Dr Christiane Helling (project supervisor) and Camille Bilger as the winner of the prize for the best astronomy project.
  • Dr A Douglas McRobbie, SELEX Galileo
  • Lea Heering, winner of the best BSc physics project, and her project supervisor Dr Dave Stothard (Prof Malcolm Dunn was her other supervisor)
  • Tiffany Harte, winner of the best MPhys physics project and her project supervisors Drs Jonathan Keeling and Donatella Cassettari.

Pictured above at the presentation for the best theoretical physics project prize are prize winner Gordon McFadzean with organiser of the theoretical physics project module Dr Chris Hooley. Gordon's project supervisor was Dr Jonathan Keeling.

Camille's project was an investigation of hydrocarbon equilibrium and disequilibrium chemistry in the dusty atmospheres of oxygen-rich objects, such as Brown Dwarfs and giant gas planets. Hydrocarbon molecules are vital for the formation of organic compounds, and are believed to contain a possible structural answer to the origin of life. This project was part of the LEAP research effort to understand the electrification and chemistry in extraterrestrial atmospheres.

Lea explored ways in which new sources of tunable laser-like light could be improved. These sources, which are known as "Intracavity Optical Parametric Oscillators" suffer from fluctuations in their output powers. Lea's work looked at how these instabilities inherent in Nd-based Intracavity Optical Oscillators could be suppressed, hence realising the potential of this widely tunable, continuous-wave mid-infrared laser source. With a judicious choice of etalons and the insertion of a second-harmonic generation crystal within the cavity of the laser, the device operated on a single longitudinal mode and with excellent amplitude stability. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that such high quality spectral and amplitude output has been observed in this class of device.

Tiffany created and tested a new computational algorithm to drive a spatial-light-modulator that allowed the efficient design of arbitrary shaped optical traps for ultracold atoms. This algorithm is characterised by its particular flexibility and precise control over the calculation process. One of the main problems associated with calculating holograms for the spatial light modulator input is optical vortex formation, as these vortices are difficult to remove once established. Terms actively selecting against vortex formation were included in the algorithm, allowing accurate, smooth trapping patterns to be generated.

Gordon's project concerned the process by which a virus becomes extinct in a simple model of infected and uninfected populations.  By making use of analogies between this problem and quantum mechanical tunnelling, it was possible to produce simple expressions for the characteristic timescale required for extinction, as a function of the population size and rate of transmission of the virus.

SELEX Galileo is an international firm in aerospace engineering. It has one of its research and production centres in Edinburgh. Douglas is a graduate from our School, and is currently employed at the SELEX Laser Centre of Excellence in Edinburgh.

Final year projects are supervised by one or two staff members, and see students tackling interesting questions in physics and astronomy. This can result in investigations involving experimental, computational, and theoretical work. Some projects give rise to results that are sufficiently new and exciting that they are accepted for publication in peer-reviewed international research journals.

The overall project module organiser is Prof Andrew Cameron, and he also organises the astronomy part of the project. Dr Donatella Cassettari organises the experimental physics project module, and Dr Chris Hooley the theoretical physics project module.

First published BDS 28.5.12