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Durham University

Department of Physics

Saturday Morning Science 2018

3rd November

Two of a kind: are identical digital twins possible?

Dr. Camila Caiado, Bridget Rosewell OBE, and Edward Twiddy, Department for Mathematical Sciences

Digital twins are representations of processes and systems used to understand the real world. They are commonly used to optimize machines such as wind turbines, F1 cars and even robots like the NASA Mars rover. They can also be used to understand how people use buildings, how the heart works, and how a bank operates. The two basic components to creating your own digital twin are good data, and mathematical and statistical models to represent the object or process in question – all bundled in a system that can be easily used by the person making decisions. Let’s explore how a digital twin is designed and created, and how mathematics and statistics can help us make better decisions.

10th November

Geometry, Tessellations and Surfaces

Prof. John Parker, Professor of Geometry, Department of Mathematical Sciences

We can understand the geometry of surfaces by cutting them into flat pieces which fit together nicely. Taking lots of copies of these pieces we can reassemble them as a tessellation, or tiling. This makes geometry problems easier. On the other hand, we can sometimes reconstruct our surface by gluing some of the tiles of the tessellation together. But sometimes we can't do this... How do we decide?

17th November

Using cave deposits to reconstruct past and to predict future climate change

Dr James Baldini, Department of Earth Sciences

Caves have fascinated mankind since prehistoric times,
serving as shelters as well as being assigned numerous supernatural attributes. Over the last hundred years or so,
they have also attracted scientific enquiry, but never more
so than over the last two decades. Cave deposits are now
one of the leading sources of information regarding past
climate change, and in turn are hugely important for understanding what the climate might be like in the future.
In this talk we will explore how cave deposits, and caves in general, are used to answer fundamental scientific
questions, ranging from working out the cause of civilisation collapse to locating vast quantities of hidden carbon dioxide gas.

After the talk, there will be an opportunity to examine cave
deposits (stalagmite samples) from all over the world, and to
measure the carbon dioxide concentrations inside the Calman
Learning Centre. There will be the opportunity to discuss how cave deposits form, and how climate information is extracted from them.

24th November

The rough guide to seaweed, or, should we eat it, burn it, or wear it?

Dr. John Bothwell, Co-Director, Durham Energy Institute

"Vilior alga est" - "more worthless than seaweed" - wrote the Roman poet, Horace. But times have changed and we now know that our seaweeds form the foundations of life on our coastlines. But can they do any more than that?

This talk will describe how humans have used seaweeds in the past, and how we're planning to get even more from them in the future.

1st December

The mysterious neutrinos

Prof. Silvia Pascoli, Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology and Professor in the Department of Physics & Centre for Particle Theory

Neutrinos are the most elusive of known particles. Despite being the most abundant fermions in the Universe, we still do not know many of their properties, even their mass. The discovery of neutrino oscillations, rewarded by the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2015, implies that, contrary to expectations, neutrinos have an, albeit tiny, mass which is much smaller than those of all other fermions. Why this happens remains a mystery. I will discuss the knowns and unknowns regarding neutrinos and what they can tell us on how nature works and how the Universe evolved. I will also show how to visualise neutrinos with the Neutrinoscope App and play with them in the NuOdyssey videogame.

2nd February

Oliver Heaviside: Electromagnetician

Dr. Christopher Donaghy-Spargo, Deputy Director of the Future Energy Systems Research Challenge and Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering

Electromagnetism is a fascinating and somewhat mysterious subject – electricity and magnetism have long captivated the minds of many.

This talk will explore what electromagnetism is, how it is applied in an engineering context in order to improve our lives and also highlight the very many important contributions to the subject by eminent Victorian scientist, Oliver Heaviside.

It will also describe the subjects links to the North East of England and more specifically to Newcastle upon Tyne and its Engineering heritage.
The talk will conclude by highlighting how the theory as laid out by James Clerk Maxwell and others in the 19th Century, is equally applicable now with respect to modern engineering applications.

9th February

Clocks, quantum control, and cold atoms.

Dr. Kali Wilson, Dr. Sarah Bromley, Dr. Ana Rakonjac - Research Associates, Atomic and Molecular Physics
The best atomic clocks today are accurate to within 0.000000000000000001 seconds. This means if two atomic clocks were made at the beginning of time, they would still be in sync to within a second of each other. To make the best clocks we need to work with atoms a tiny fraction of a degree above absolute zero; much colder than outer space. How does laser cooling atoms lead to better clocks? How do we cool and control atoms in the lab? What else can we do with cold and slow atoms?
Image of the brain

16th February

10,000,000,000,000,000 reasons to love the brain

Dr. Paul Chazot, Learning and Memory Processes Centre
Biology, chemistry and physics combine to give us nerve cell communication. How do we move and do stuff? How do we sense stuff? How do we remember stuff? What makes you who you are? Why, if you do not use it, do you lose it? Many questions, some of the answers; it’s a no-brainer.

23rd February

A (geophysical) journey to the centre of the Earth

Dr Phil Heron, Department of Earth Sciences

We stand on a surface that is moving about as quickly as your fingernails grow. The theory of plate tectonics describes this motion and explains activities like earthquakes and mountain ranges.

Over the years, we have been able to illuminate deep below the surface to discover mega structures and complex layering where the impact of plate tectonics is far reaching! We will take a geophysical jounrey to the centre of our dynamic Earth to explore how the planet's slowly moving surface dramatically influences (and can be influenced by) the evolving landscape deep beneath our feet. After the talk, we'll have a super poster session on super-volcanoes and the supercontinent cycle!

2nd March

Social and Academic Experiences of Higher-Education: Students with and without an ASD in the UK

Emine Gurbuz, Research Postgraduate in the Department of Psychology and Member of the Centre for Developmental Disorders

The number of university students with autism is increasing, and it is crucial that these students can access adequate support. An online questionnaire was completed by 26 autistic students and 158 non-autistic students enrolled at UK universities to investigate social and academic experiences. Autistic students self-reported significant challenges and more mental health difficulties than non- autistic students. Significant challenges focused on the social components of university life, including social skills, social support opportunities, and levels of ASD awareness from others. Many strengths were also reported regarding academic skills of autistic university students. Importantly, there were more thoughts of withdrawal by the students with autism highlighting the need for support. This data can inform university student support services.

9th March

You'd better shape up: magnetism, vortices and skyrmions

Prof. Tom Lancaster, Department of Physics, Centre for Materials Physics and Durham X-Ray Centre

Despite its effects being known for millennia, we are only just beginning to understand the magnetism of materials. For many scientists, magnets are a testing ground for a range of theories of nature, including ideas of how a one- or two-dimensional Universe might behave. Very recently, a new sort of particle was discovered in magnets: the skyrmion, a sort of magnetic vortex that owes its existence to simple ideas about how shapes behave. I will explain what skyrmions are and why being able to manipulate them might just solve the energy crisis. There will be an opportunity to meet with scientists researching skyrmions after the talk.

16th March

Geometry, Tessellations and Surfaces

Dr. Sunil Chhita, Assistant Professor, Probability, in the Department of Mathematical Sciences

Most people are familiar with the idea of randomness in their daily lives. Examples include coin flipping, dice, fluctuations of the stock market, the weather, etc. This talk aims to present some of the mathematical thinking behind probability theory, a theory which has been developed to study randomness.

23rd March

Soft can be the toughest!

Dr. Kislon Voitchovsky, Dr. Halim Kusumaatmaja & Dr. Margarita Staykova Department of Physics and Centre for Materials Physics

A large part of the materials surrounding us are soft in the sense that they can be easily deformed or re-shaped: the air we breathe, the liquid we drink, our bodies, food, clothing and some of our modern technology. So what makes a material soft and what are the implications? Understanding the structure and properties of soft matter is key to many applications, ranging from medicine and biology to paints, car lubricants, electronic displays and the development of novel materials.

L - R: Kislon Voitchovsky, Halim Kusumaatmaja and Margarita Staykova

30th March

How do plants feel?

Prof. Marc Knight, Behaviour, Ecology & Evolution Research Centre

Plants in your garden, as well as those in the wild, simply can't move and have to take everything that the weather throws at them. As well as this, they also have to deal with being attacked by insects and microbes pretty much constantly. Not being able to run away or take medicines means that plants have to defend themselves in a particular way. This involves changes in the plants which will make them resistant to each type of attack. To do this plants need to be able to properly sense their environment, in the same way as you or I. Plants do indeed have "senses" which in some ways are similar to ours, and in other ways very different. This presentation will discuss what we know about how plants are able to see, sense touch, and taste, sense temperature, as well as to discuss the thorny topic of whether or not they can hear!

27th April

Rogue sunspots

Dr. Anthony Yeates, Associate Professor, Magnetohydrodynamics in the Department of Mathematical Sciences

It has long been known that the Sun's 11-year activity cycle fluctuates both in strength and duration, caused by random variations in the thousands of individual sunspots which emerge over each 11-year period. However, recent research has suggested that just a handful of "rogue" sunspots could have a profound effect on this activity cycle, even shutting it down altogether. I will show you the mathematical modelling that has led scientists to this conclusion, and discuss whether we should be worried. After the talk, there will be the opportunity to find out more about our work on modelling the Sun in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

4th May

Bubble, burp, bang! The physics of volcanic eruptions

Dr Ed Llewellin, Department of Earth Sciences

Volcanic eruptions are spectacular, fascinating and diverse. Some produce explosions that blast many cubic kilometres of rock into the stratosphere and cause
regional devastation.

Others produce fountains and rivers of lava that create a dramatic natural tourist attraction. Many do no more than quietly release gas into the atmosphere. Despite this diversity of behaviour, all volcanic eruptions are driven by the same fundamental mechanism – the formation and growth of bubbles of gas. So why do some volcanoes explode violently, whilst others bubble quietly?

We will explore this question through observation and experiment. We will examine volcanic eruptions and their products to see what clues they can give us about the physical processes that govern volcanic eruptions, then conduct a series of experiments to test our hypotheses.

After the lecture, you will have the chance to conduct your own hands-on experiments, and visit Durham’s Volcanological Fluid Dynamics laboratory.

Warning: includes live volcanic eruption!

11th May

When Worlds (Literally) Collide

Jacob A. Kegerreis, Research Associate, Institute for Computational Cosmology

Planets smashing into each other is an important part of our solar system's violent history. We study these giant impacts with supercomputer simulations to help us understand mysteries ranging from the formation of Saturn's surprisingly young rings, to how Uranus fell over.

A series of 22 exciting public talks from world-leading scientists across Durham University's Science departments, available on a range of dates*, every Saturday between 29th September - 1st December 2018, 2nd February - 30th March 2019 and 27th April - 11th May 2019. These will take place in the Calman Learning Centre.


• Saturdays at 10:30am, selected dates (see programme for details)
• No pre-booking needed
• 60 minute talks (45 mins plus questions)
• Coffee break at 11:30am
• Other activities after (e.g. lab tours)

Image of the poster for Saturday Morning Science at Durham University