IET Lecture – Aerodynamics from Montgolfier to Concorde and Beyond…

This was a lecture from Dr Paul Bruce, Imperial College London, on the history, present and future of aerodynamics.  It covered the origins of flight through the first balloons built by the Montgolfier brothers to the scramjets and rockets used to power some of the fastest vehicles in the world. It gave an insight into the future of engineering and also a taste of the courses of engineering and physics at university.

About 20 students attended from Reigate Grammar School, all of whom enjoyed the talk and certainly learnt something new. It was a well thought out and scintillating lecture that was engaging throughout to both the students from our school and many of the members of the wider community who were also in attendance.  There were even some representatives from the school’s RAF contingent and I am sure the lecture appealed greatly with the majority of the talk dedicated to the design and tricks used by aeronautical engineers to create faster and more efficient planes in the 21st century.  The discussion of the future of flight and space exploration raised many innovative ideas from everyone; Richard Branson to the military.

The technical detail and highly mathematical approach to the ideas were mixed in with the more historical basis of the life of the Concorde to explain some complex concepts in easily understandable terms that held interest throughout the talk.


Superconductors and the latest news from the LHC

On activities day this year 25 sixth and seventh form students headed to the Royal Institution in London to listen to two lectures.

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The lectures took place in the Faraday Lecture Theatre; you may recognise this as this is where the annual Christmas Lectures take place.

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After the lecture we gathered for the obligatory team shot; in a previous photo Jonty decided that Michael Faraday would look better with bunny ears.

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It was great to take a large group to the Ri where their main goal is to encourage public engagement with science. We listened to two great lectures and then a few students even made it to the UCL lecture later that evening.

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A big thank you to Rosie and James who wrote the following pieces about the trip.


The Latest News from the LHC

On the cold autumn morning of the 11th October over 20 physics students and I took a train up to London to visit the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Having a little time to spare before the lectures we decided to make the obligatory trip to the café before we were ushered up a staircase that spiraled around an impressive, ancient looking lift.

Professor Tara Shears, a particle physicist and Professor of Physics at the University of Liverpool, began her talk with a brief overview of our current understanding of the particles that make up our universe. From quarks to bosons we were given a crash course in the Standard Model before we were plunged into all the unknowns and possibilities of modern particle physics. Is the standard model correct? Does the Higgs boson exist? If the Higgs does exist, is it the Standard Model Higgs? Many of these questions remained unanswered, however she went on to explain how experiments at CERN are attempting to gain these answers and understand why there is so little anti-matter in the universe, what dark matter is and many other questions concerning the Standard Model and the nature of the universe.

Another interesting concept introduced was the fact that the mathematical equation that describes the universe can fit onto a t-shirt. (pictured below)

I found this incredibly strange how something so large can be described by an equation that is relatively small (as far as mathematical equations go).

The results found at CERN (or lack of them) were very interesting and Professor Shears explained that even though the scientists studying the possibility of super-symmetric particles (colloquially called SUSY) have not found anything yet, they are still persevering with the theory and continue to experiment to try and fin the ever elusive answers. The researches even published a table of results entitled ‘The “we did not find SUSY” plot’. 

Overall the lecture was incredibly interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This definitely makes me want to research more about CERN and its work in particle physics, and now I would really like to go and see it! Thank you Mr Saunders for arranging the trip and for herding us through London Victoria Station.

Dr Andrew Steele’s Superconductors Lecture

At the Royal Institute in London, after a talk on particle physics, Dr Andrew Steele, an experimental physicist, gave a lecture on superconductivity.

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In the early 1900s, physicists began debating what effect cooling might have on the resistance of a material. From laboratory experiments, they knew that the resistance of a material decreased as the temperature the metal was at decreased as well. Experiments began on the metal mercury- the only metal liquid at room temperature. Experimental data proved that when the metal reached a certain temperature it began to ‘super-conduct’- it had no resistance.

The implications of this were enormous- yet perhaps not so exciting as they could have been. When a material has no resistance, power can be transported without any loss of energy as heat. However, the temperature at which this occurred for mercury was -269°C- not extraordinarily useful.

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However, as more research was done, ceramics (copper oxides) were found with much higher transition (superconducting) temperatures. Nowadays, the highest known transition temperature is -140°C. This is important as it is warmer than the boiling point of liquid nitrogen: -196°C, meaning the ceramic can be cooled to superconducting temperatures by cheaply manufactured liquid nitrogen.

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After a brief introduction, Dr Steele showed us a small piece of ceramic cooled by liquid nitrogen which when placed over a powerful magnet, literally levitates. This happens because when the superconductor is brought near the magnet, a current is induced. Due to the fact that it has no resistance, the current can continue to flow unimpeded. Theoretically this current could flow forever were the conductor never to warm up.


1) MRI Machines.

Due to their low resistance, superconductors can be used to produce very strong magnetic fields. These can prove very useful for seeing inside things using water molecules. This proves very useful as it allows us to see inside a person’s brain without cutting open their head, which can be both messy and potentially dangerous.


(Courtesy of Mr Reid,  a collection of various objects stuck to  MRI machines:

2) The Large Hadron Collider

The LHC needed incredibly strong magnets to manipulate protons round the circular circuit at CERN. The only way to provide this magnetic force is by using superconducting magnets. The tiny mass and very high speeds of the protons mean that a large force is required to alter their paths.

3) Power Supply

Transferring power in superconducting cables is incredibly cost efficient as there is no energy lost as heat. In Long Island, New York, a power station is providing a local area with superconducting, highly efficient cables. The difficulty in large scale usage is cooling the cables and protecting the ceramic from breaking.

4) Nuclear Fusion

Nuclear reactors can use magnetic fields (induced by superconductors) to confine plasma to a circular region and provide perfect conditions for nuclear fusion. This is very exciting for physicists as it means power could potentially be produced very cheaply and transported with minimal loss of energy. The only thing holding back development of nuclear power is funding. Many people see the word NUCLEAR and run for the hills, when in actual fact the word just means ‘relating to the nuclei of atoms’.

5) Maglev Trains

Maglev derives its name from MAGnetic LEVitation and utilises the effect mentioned earlier. If a superconductor is cooled to a superconducting temperature when in a magnetic field, a current is induced and the magnet ‘memorises’ its position in the field meaning it will not move horizontally or vertically out of the field. This is called flux pinning and currently is being used in Japan.


Dr Steele on Magnetic Levitation:

His website:

Lower Sixth Trip to London

Hopefully you have already read the details on the letter. The plan here is to make things as clear as possible.

First, if you haven’t done so already, add this number to your phone:

07961 756171

We’ll be meeting at Victoria. I’d like to meet on the bench outside WHSmiths. This should be fairly obvious but here’s a photo to help.


We’ll then be taking the Victoria Line to Green Park (you’ll need a travel card for this so make sure you get this when you purchase your ticket).

From Green Park it’s a short walk to the Royal Institute. The lecture starts at 10:00 and finishes at 12:30.

Here are the details:

After the talk you have quite a few choices based on what your parents have put on your consent form:

1) You could head straight home; I’ll show you the way back to Green Park tube station where you can then get the Victoria Line back to Victoria and then a train home.

2) You could have a look around the Faraday Museum which is in the RI building and well worth a visit.

3) You could head to the Science Museum; it’s an easy tube ride from Green Park to South Kensington on the Piccadilly Line.

Here’s a helpful map:

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4) You could attend a second lecture at University College London; UCL run science talks aimed at sixth form students every Friday evening at 6:30. I’m planning on attending this week’s lecture which is about Holograms. You’ll need to arrive by 6:00 to ensure you get a seat (there are no tickets so it’s first come, first served. You never know how popular these will be). To get to UCL it’s another easy tube trip from Green Park to Warren Street on the Victoria Line. Or you could walk (it’s only half an hour from the RI). The lecture is in the Chemistry building (Christopher Ingold Building, 20 Gordan Street). After the lecture take the Victoria Line back to Victoria and home.

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ucl map



5) You could enjoy some time in our nations capital with a nice lunch and maybe some shopping.

It’s really up to you (and your parents). If you are unsure about any of this please let me know.

Light Materials – an evening lecture at Charterhouse School

A Talk on Materials Science at Charterhouse

On the 3rd October, 19 chemistry students and I took a trip to Charterhouse. When we arrived, it felt like we had taken a trip to Hogwarts with the looming old fashioned buildings and we soon realised that this was a great place to explore the depths of chemistry and physics.

Professor Howard Colquhoun’s aim was to discuss the ins and outs of nuclear and molecular structure of materials – something which was a little scary to a physicist! He spoke very well and gave a detailed account on the different materials which make up specific aircraft; comparing old with new design and the advantages of each. His case study on the polyethene bag was particularly interesting, especially when he shone a laser through it and explained why it created a haze. I also enjoyed learning about tensile strength of polyethene. One of his demonstrations was to pull a strip of polyethene along a horizontal axis making it stretch and extend, but not snap! It was fascinating to learn that the extension was caused by the molecules lining up in the plastic, hence changing a flat material into a wire like form which could not tear after stretching.

Finally, he went on the discuss composites which have a much larger impact in today’s world compared to that of our grandparents generation. Comparing tensile strength against extension of materials showed that Kevlar (a composite consisting of fibres bound together by epoxy resin) has almost ten times the tensile strength of polyethene per unit of extension!

Overall, Professor Howard Colquhoun gave an enlightening speech on Materials Science and I am so glad I have applied for it at Uni! Thank-you to Mr Roberts for organising the trip, along with Mr Saunders and Mrs Hood who came along too!

Fiona Harrington

Mr Roberts asking the deep, important question. "What's your favourite polymer?"
Mr Roberts asking the deep, important question. “What’s your favourite polymer?”


Note to self: bring better camera to evening talks.
Note to self: bring better camera to evening talks.

Living in Space – an Institute of Physics Lecture given by Lieutenant Colonel Duane Carey

James chats to Digger.
James chats to Digger.

After descending from the Physicsmobile where the Raspberry Pi, quantum tunnelling and other scientific stuff had been discussed we headed to the lecture theatre. At the start of the talk we were told about the early part of Duane “Digger” Carey’s life which included being desperate to get out of school and then going around America on a motorbike.

However, it then went on to how he decided to become a fighter pilot, after talking to a pilot in a bar. To do this he had to go and get a degree to be allowed into fighter pilot training. Having just scraped in by getting the minimum requirement in the maths test, and being well behind his classmates in the first few years, he got a his degree and then in the year between that and being able to start pilot training he went for a masters, even though it normally takes two years, because ‘it felt like the right thing to do’.

He then went through the planes he flew from the A-10 to the F-16. From there he applied for test pilot training, because those were the people selected by NASA for the space program, which is what he had set his sights on. After three and a half years testing the F16 he joined NASA, the mission that he flew into space was to the Hubble telescope (STS-109) on the Space Shuttle Columbia. The very next mission was STS-107, the Columbia Disaster which resulted in the loss of all seven astronauts on board.

During their flight they set a record for the most consecutive days of space walks, at five days and a total of thirty-five hours of EVA. Their mission was to make improvements to the Hubble space telescopes with new instruments and solar arrays. On the mission where both the world’s tallest and the world’s shortest astronauts (on the official picture they stand next to each other). After the work on Hubble was complete, the crew had a day of rest in which Carey and Mission Specialist Mike Massimino made a short film showing the answers to all the important questions their kids might have, such as how and what they eat, how they sleep and of course how they go to the bathroom. However, up until recently it had been classified, since the design of the loo was top secret, even now parts had to be edited out. The film ended with a tribute to the families of the crew of flight STS-107.

The floor was then open for questions, which included a question on whether he thought that the moon landings were faked, and his argument basically said that if it had been faked the KGB would have known and let it out. We then left ascending back into the Physicsmobile for the return journey to school.

By Mat Pardoe