School of Physics & Astronomy


The School is committed to promoting physics and astronomy in the local and wider community. We work with local schools, education advisers, science festivals, the Institute of Physics, etc to stage events tailored to particular organisation's or individual's needs. The School and/or individual staff members have received funding from the a number of bodies to assist in this work, including the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scottish Enterprise, COPUS (Committee for the public understanding of Science), the Millennium Commission, and the Institute of Physics.

Teaching Materials

Directly and via SUPA we are involved involved in providing some resources that may be useful in school-level education.


Mobile PlanetariumAstronomy Road-show

Astronomy staff and students take out our inflatable planetarium and other exhibits to local schools and other public groups.  We estimate that in its first three years of operation some 10,000 people had crawled into the dome to see the virtual universe sparkle around them.  The roadshow maintains its own web site, which contains contact information for the organisers..

The University Observatory

We are fortunate to have some splendid observational and computational facilities in St Andrews, which are used by our research teams and in our teaching.  The University Observatory is not normally open to the public, but there are particular occasions when we can invite people to take a look at some of the telescopes in their domes, and peer out into the Universe.  Such events are obviously dependent on the sky being clear.  The observatory is often opened as part of the St Andrews Week celebrations, and occasionally as part of Science Week.  We may also be able to organise daytime visits for groups from secondary schools. 


Seeing Life Exhibits and Young ScientistsSeeing Life through a New Light

“Seeing Life through a New Light” is a science engagement programme based on the applications of light in medicine and biology. Themes include imaging techniques for new studies of cells and tissue, new optical techniques for healthcare treatment and optical trapping and micromanipulation. Interactive shows and workshops were delivered across Fife, Scotland and the UK in schools, at science festivals and public presentations to show how light is changing our life. This EPSRC-funded grant, held by Prof Kishan Dholakia, built on the success of a previous Public Understanding award “Tripping the Light Fantastic”, developed in conjunction with Fifex. For more information please visit the website

Seeing Life Through a New Light Website


An infra-red camera images shows the temperature of visitors in their imagesMillimetre Waves - Vision for the Future

Research Council funding has allowed us to build up a touring exhibition with a variety of hands-on activities looking at how the infra-red and mm-wave part of the electromagetic spectrum can be useful to us. The picture shows visitors at a science fair viewing their pictures taken by an infra-red camera, which shows temperature variations as part of the imaging process.

Project website

Measuring the ratio of electronic charge to mass in our teaching labs

Tayside Universities and Schools Liaison in Physics, Institute of Physics- Day of Physics

At the initial request of local school teachers, and under the auspices of the Tayside Universities and Schools Liaison in Physics group and the Institute of Physics in Scotland, we run every autumn a day of activities for pupils in Fife and the former Tayside who are studying physics in sixth year.  This event is sponsored by the Institute of Physics in Scotlan, is run in collaboration with the Univeristy of Dundee, and is organised through school teachers in the area.  Pupils are able to sample aspects of physics teaching at university, engage with material of relevance to careers in physics, and exchange ideas and experiences with each other and with current students.  This event is specifically designed to promote physics, and not our departments in particular.  In recent years we have been pleased to have a hundred or more pupils join us for this event.  Further details. Please contact Dr Bruce Sinclair for more information.

Science Festivals and Shows

Various staff have been pleased to accept invitations to present material at events such as the British Association Festival of Science, the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, the Edinburgh Science Festival, and the Tomorrow's World RoadShow.  Our work has also appeared on national TV and radio.  We have worked with other bodies to provide speakers and materials for school, professional, and public groups. 

We also run events for some Science Weeks. Our Outreach coordinator is Dr Paul Cruickshank.

Artist's impression of extra-solr planet - Courtesy PPARCMerchiston Prestige Lectures for Edinburgh Schools

We are pleased to be working with Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh to put on interesting and accessible presentations for state and private schools in the Edinburgh area.   Recent presentations given by our staff but organised and hosted by Merchiston Castle School have included  "The physics of the Internet", "Our universe through the eye of the Hubble space telescope", and  "Light and lasers". 

Condense Matter - Centre for Doctoral Training

The CM-CDT, which inovlves research teams from St Andrews and elsewhere, is involved in a range of outreach activities.

CM-DTC Outreach page


Visits to Schools

We are pleased to work with schools to provide activities of interest to them.  By mutual arrangement staff from our School can visit schools with a particular set of activities.  In session 2002-3 we were able to provide a number of presentations on Light, Lasers, and Communications, sponsored by Scottish Enterprise.  We have worked with primary schools to provide hands-on activities and/or demonstrations in the areas of forces, colour, electricity, and magnetism, in addition to the astronomy road-show mentioned above.  Please contact individual members of staff or Dr Paul Cruikshank for more information.


Visits by Schools

While we host some visits by school groups wishing to see what St Andrews is like to enable them to weigh up their choices of future university study, we also host visits for activities requested by local teachers.  These include both primary and secondary school groups.  One such arrangement is in place with a Kirkcaldy state School, which brings forty S2 pupils pupils to specially designed sessions in both physics and chemistry.  One such group's activities includes them exploring aspects of physics in our teaching labs as well as viewing some of our research.  Please contact Dr Bruce Sinclair for more information.


Constructing Electronic "Bagpipes"RSE Science Masterclasses

We host sessions for the "Masterclasses" sponsored by the Royal Society of Edinburgh for S1 and S2 pupils. Pupils from across Fife come to the University for a set of four classes. In recent years this School has provided two of the four, one in astronomy "Ships, stars, and planets", and one in physics "Bagpipes and electrons". Further details on these are available from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Speakers at the St Andrews Celebration of PhysicsSpecial Events

We occasionally run special events to promote physics and astronomy.  One such event was our "Celebration of Physics", which we run in 2002 in conjunction with the Institute of Physics in Scotland.  World renowned speakers in physics and astronomy from around the UK and from our own School gave short presentations on topics such as "The seven wonders of physics" (Prof Sir Michael Berry FRS), "Physics through stories" (Prof Russell Stannard OBE), and "Planets beyond the solar system", (Prof Keith Horne).

Recruitment-focussed Events

As well as the above activities, which are designed to promote and/or explain physics and astronomy to a sometimes wide audience, we are involved in various activities designed to allow potential students to learn more about studying in our School.  These include hosting visits to the School at various times during the year. 

We also participate in the University's arrangements of the "Sutton Trust Summer School".  This allows a particular subset of senior state-school pupils to experience a week at our University funded by the Sutton Trust.  While this event is designed to show the accessibility of higher education in general to these pupils, we are delighted to be seeing some of these pupils applying for and getting a place to study in St Andrews.

Last updated 8.11, BDS