Physics and Astronomy

Student and staff achievements

Our staff and students consistently push the boundaries of their fields through new discoveries, and have their achievements recognised with awards and project prizes.

2019 Achievements

Dr Lily Asquith joins SPEAC

Dr Lily Asquith, Research Fellow for the Experimental Particle Physics Research Group, has been selected to join the Image of Dr Lily AsquithRoyal Society Science Policy Expert Advisory Committee (SPEAC). SPEAC is responsible for the overall direction of the  Royal Society’s policy work and contributes to horizon scanning, scoping new projects, and sharpening its impact on science policy.

The appointment was made by the Royal Society’s Council. Lily was selected for her role as a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow and her experience as a Policy Associate on their Policy Secondment Programme. For the latter, she was seconded to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) over six months, working with the team focused on combatting the Illegal Wildlife Trade.

Read more about Lily's work on the Royal Society Policy Secondment Scheme: www.theguardian.com/science/life-and-physics/2018/jul/09/a-particle-physicist-in-whitehall

Sussex mathematician's breakthrough on non-toxic pest control which doesn't harm bees

New technique helps wheat crops grow without harming beesNew technique helps wheat crops grow without harming bees

  • Breakthrough ‘gene silencing’ technique uses naturally occurring soil bacteria to kill specific crop-destroying pests without harming other insects or the environment 
  • Non-toxic pest control could help feed growing global population, boost organic food production and drive bio-fuel production
  • Experiments show up to 92% more crops survive with this approach compared to no pest control

A University of Sussex mathematician, Dr Konstantin Blyuss, working with biologists at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, has developed a chemical-free way to precisely target a parasitic worm that destroys wheat crops.

This breakthrough method of pest control works with the plant’s own genes to kill specific microscopic worms, called nematodes, without harming any other insects, birds or mammals.

Dr Blyuss, from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, said: “With a rising global population needing to be fed, and an urgent need to switch from fossil fuels to biofuels, our research is an important step forward in the search for environmentally safe crop protection which doesn’t harm bees or other insects.” 

An estimated $130 billion worth of crops are lost every year to diseases caused by nematodes. 

Targeting the harmful nematodes with chemical pesticides is problematic because they can indiscriminately harm other insects.

There are naturally occurring bacteria contained in soil which can help protect plants against harmful nematodes, but until now there has not been an effective way to harness the power of these bacteria to protect crops on a large scale.

Dr Blyuss and his colleagues have used ‘RNA interference’ (RNAi) to precisely target a species of nematode that harms wheat. 

Dr Blyuss explained: “A nematode, as all other living organisms, requires some proteins to be produced to survive and make offspring, and RNA interference is a process which stops, or silences, production of these.”

The team has developed a method to ‘silence’ the harmful nematode’s genes by using biostimulants derived from naturally occurring soil bacteria. The biostimulants also ‘switch off’ the plant’s own genes that are affected by the nematodes, making it much harder for the parasite to harm the crop.

The gene silencing process is triggered when biostimulants, which are metabolites of bacteria occurring naturally in the soil, are applied to wheat. The biostimulants can be applied either by soaking the seeds or roots in a solution containing the biostimulants, or by adding the solution to the soil in which the plants are growing.

Dr Blyuss said: “By soaking the seeds of the plant in the solution of biostimulants, the plant becomes a ‘Trojan horse’ for delivering special compounds produced inside the plants to the nematodes, which then kills them.  We’ve targeted the specific genes of the nematode, so we know this won’t affect other creatures.” 

The biostimulants only affect specific nematode and plant genes, and do not harm other species of insects.  And because they are naturally occurring, rather than made of chemicals, they could potentially be used by organic farmers to make organic food more affordable in future.

Dr Blyuss’ mathematical modelling explains how RNA interference works in plants and shows the most effective way to apply the biostimulants to keep the crop safe from the harmful nematodes.  

The team’s experiments show that soaking the seeds of the plants in the biostimulant solution increases the chances of the plants surviving by between 57 to 92%. The technique also reduces the level of nematode infestation by 73 to 83% compared to plants grown without biostimulants.

Explaining the research, Dr Blyuss said: “By using mathematical models, we learned how biostimulants are absorbed by wheat plants, so we now know the best way to deliver them.  We’ve also looked at how the RNAi develops inside the plants and nematodes, how the plant is able to switch off specific genes involved in the process of nematode parasitism, thus stopping infestation, and how parts of RNAi from plants, when ingested by nematodes, cause their death by silencing some of their essential genes. 

"These insights were combined with advanced experimental work on developing new strains of soil bacteria and extracting their metabolites, as well as with state-of-the-art molecular genetics analyses, to develop a new generation of environmentally safe tools for control of wheat nematodes.

“Some people are wary of genetically modified plants, so it’s important to be clear that that is not what this is. Biostimulants effectively act as an ‘inoculation’ against nematode infestation. They achieve their effect by mobilising plants’ internal machinery to produce compounds that protect plants against nematodes, while simultaneously causing nematode death. 

"The plants produced using biostimulants have much better crop yields and higher resistance to pests, but they are no different from other plants that have been artificially bred to have some useful characteristic. Moreover, the biostimulants themselves are truly natural, as they are nothing else but products of bacteria already living in the soil. ” 

The breakthrough is published in a paper in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science. Dr Blyuss’s collaborators in Ukraine, who come from three different research institutes, were Professors Victoria Tsygankova (Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry and Petrochemistry), Liudmyla Biliavska and Galyna Iutynska (Institute of Microbiology and Virology), Alla Yemets and Yaroslav Blume (Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics). 

Prof Galyna Iutynska, who led the experimental work on development of biostimulants, said: “This work is very exciting because our biostimulants are obtained from products of naturally occurring soil bacteria, which are not genetically modified. The importance of this is that unlike chemical pesticides, these biostimulants can also be used to protect a variety of agricultural crops against parasites in the context of organic farming, which is a particularly challenging problem. Furthermore, these biostimulants can replace chemical pesticides or significantly reduce their use, thus limiting potential negative impact on the environment."

The next steps are to develop more advanced mathematical models of how biostimulants with multiple components can be taken up from the soil by both seeds and roots; and to identify which of the most recently identified genetic targets in the nematode are most effective.  

Professor Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex’s School of Life Sciences, and a global expert on declining bee populations, said: “There is growing awareness that the heavy use of conventional pesticides in farming is causing great harm to biodiversity, resulting in pollution of soils and waterways with harmful toxins. We urgently need to find alternative, sustainable means to control crop pests.” 

Dr Blyuss’s work was supported by the interdisciplinary Data Intensive Science Centre at the University of Sussex (DISCUS).

 

 

 2018 Achievements

Potentially life-saving 'health monitor' technology designed by University of Sussex physicists

The graphene emulsion in the tube senses slight changes in pulse and respiration rates. The graphene emulsion in the tube senses slight changes in pulse and respiration rates

Sick babies in remote parts of the world could be monitored from afar, thanks to new wearable technology designed by physicists at the University of Sussex. And parents at home, concerned about the risk of cot death, could keep track of their new babies’ heart and breathing rates with automatic updates to their smartphones, using ‘fitness tracker’-style technology built into baby sleep suits.

The unobtrusive sensors – the most sensitive liquid-based devices to have ever been developed – could also be transformative for anyone with life-threatening conditions such as sleep apnea. In addition, because graphene is cheap to produce, the new breakthrough should be affordable.  

Professor Alan Dalton, from the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, and his team of physicists at the University of Sussex have created a liquid made from an emulsion of graphene, water and oil, which conducts electricity.  The breakthrough is described in a paper published today, Tuesday 9 January 2018, in Nanoscale. A prototype has been created and the team are talking to commercial sponsors to fund further research so that the product can be brought to market.  

The team were inspired to create this new health monitor after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called for new affordable wearable health technologies for babies in situations where resources are scarce.  

Graphene is a two-dimensional material made from carbon atoms that is strong, flexible and conductive. When a channel or tube holding the liquid is stretched, even by a small amount, the conductivity of the liquid changes. This means that the respiration rates and pulses of people wearing the device can be tracked.

Because the new liquid technology is so sensitive, it picks up very small signals when attached to the body. In order to monitor the pulses of babies at the moment, clunky sensors need to be attached to babies’ tiny feet or hands, which often fall off. The information is then relayed to a monitor by wires which can restrict the child’s movement. 

Professor Dalton’s technological development would see the monitoring done wirelessly and non-invasively with a ‘fitness tracker’-like band – or even embedded within the fabric of a sensor vest for the baby to wear.

Professor Dalton says:

“Using the conducting liquid emulsions we have developed, we will produce cheap, wearable sensors based on graphene. The devices will be comfortable, non-invasive and can provide intuitive diagnostics of breathing and heart rate. We will eventually have a suit that the baby can wear which will read-out all vital information wirelessly. We hope to see this made available within two to four years.

"In the laboratory we have created a sensor that has the potential to drastically improve early detection of life-threatening symptoms such as sleep apnea or cardiac arrhythmia, where constant monitoring with conventional equipment is challenging outside of the hospital environment.

“Of course the ultimate potential is wider than that. Anyone interested in tracking their heart or respiration rates – joggers, for example – may be interested to wear this technology within their exercise gear.

Dr Matthew Large, lead researcher on the project in the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, describes the new development:

“What we’ve done is similar to how you might make a salad dressing; by shaking together water and oil, you make tiny droplets of one liquid floating in the other because the two don’t mix. Normally, the droplets would all collect together and the liquids separate over time, like the droplets in a lava lamp. We’ve resolved this by putting graphene in. The graphene, which is an atom thick, sits at the surface of the droplets and stops them from coalescing.”

Dr Large continues:

 “What’s quite exciting about this new type of conductive liquid is how sensitive it is to being stretched. When the graphene particles are assembled around the liquid droplets electrons can hop from one particle to the next; this is why the whole liquid is conductive. When we stretch our sensors we squeeze and deform the droplets; this moves the graphene particles further apart and makes it much harder for the electrons to hop across the system. The sensitivity of this new kind of strain sensor is actually much higher than a lot of existing technologies, and it is the most sensitive liquid-based device ever reported, by quite a significant margin.”

Professor Dalton says:

“Graphene is very affordable as it can be produced using naturally occurring graphite, so this could be rolled out on a big scale. This is good news for health services because the new technology will not be expensive to make and buy. It also means it should be affordable to individuals.”

The paper, 'Functional liquid structures by emulsification of graphene and other two-dimensional nanomaterials', is published in Nanoscale on Tuesday 9 January 2018. It is authored by Matthew Large, Sean Ogilvie, Manuela Meloni, Aline Amorim Graf, and Giuseppe Fratta at the University of Sussex; Jonathan Salvage at the University of Brighton; Alice King and Alan B. Dalton, also at Sussex. The paper is here from 10am Tuesday 9 January: http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/c7nr05568d. The team is collaborating with commercial partner Advanced Materials Development.

University of Sussex physicists help discover new stellar streams

Scientists from the University of Sussex, headed up by Professor of Astrophysics, Kathy Romer, are part of a team of 100 physicists from around the world who journeyed to Chile to study ‘dark energy’.Professor Kathy Romer at the telescope in Chile

This week, Professor Romer and her colleagues have released the first three years’ of data from the Dark Energy Survey, announced at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC on Wednesday 10 January. This first major release of data from the survey includes information on around 400 million astronomical objects, including distant galaxies billions of light years away as well as stars in our own galaxy.

Scientists from the Dark Energy Survey are using this data to learn more about dark energy, the mysterious force believed to be accelerating the expansion of the universe. One of the key cosmological findings is the discovery of 11 new stellar streams, which are ribbons of stars orbiting a galaxy.

Professor Romer came up with the idea of asking Chilean schoolchildren to name some of the stellar streams. She says:

"I am really proud of the part that the University of Sussex has played in making the first Dark Energy Survey data release possible.

“As a team, the Sussex scientists clocked up over 100 nights at the mountain in Chile. We played an essential role in checking the quality of the data. Other than myself and a former postdoctoral fellow, Dr Marisa March, these contributions have all been thanks to our wonderful PhD and undergraduate students.

“One thing that I am especially delighted about is that my idea of asking Chilean school children to name the stellar streams was taken on. Two high school students from Vicuna, the town nearest to the telescope, researched words from the native Quechua and Aymara cultures that were related to water. They then presented several options to about 90 kindergarten and first-grade students, who made the final choices. Their selections were the Aymara name Aliqa Una, meaning Quiet Water, and two Quechua names, Palca, meaning Crossing Rivers, and Willka Yaku, or Sacred Water.”

Jessica May Hislop, a final-year undergraduate student who works with Professor Romer on the Dark Energy Survey, says:

“Releasing the data to the public is very exciting. There’s a lot of weight on our shoulders to make sure the hard work from the whole of the Dark Energy Survey collaboration is shouted from the rooftops to the science community and the public.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved and very honoured have been awarded co-authorship on the scientific paper. I am so grateful for these opportunities available to me as an undergraduate at the University of Sussex.”

Stellar streams are remnants of smaller galaxies torn apart and devoured by our Milky Way. Stellar streams provide insight into the formation and structure of the Milky Way and its dark matter halo and give a snapshot of a larger galaxy being built out of smaller ones. Prior to the survey, only around two dozen stellar streams had ever been discovered

 

IPPP Associateship for Professor Antonella De Santo

Antonella De Santo, Professor of Experimental Physics, was recently awarded an IPPP Associateship with the Institute of Particle Physics IPPP Associateship for Professor Antonella De SantoPhenomenology in Durham to explore synergies and complementarity between the High-Luminosity LHC and future colliders. She has been awarded a grant of £3k.

Further information is available at www.ippp.dur.ac.uk/ippp-associateships

University of Sussex scientists present mysteries of quantum computing at Science Museum

Physicists from the University of Sussex will reveal the secrets of quantum computers to the UK public at the Science Museum in London this week.University of Sussex scientists present mysteries of quantum computing at Science Museum

Launching today (Wednesday 7 February), the Could quantum computers change the world? exhibition will illuminate a topic that has baffled scientists for decades. Curated by Sussex physicists in partnership with the Science Museum, it will be displayed in the Tomorrow’s World gallery space and will run for four months.

Once confined to science fiction – quantum theory predictions include that an object can be in two places at the same time – quantum computers are now becoming a reality, with the University of Sussex among those leading the development. 

The technology is so powerful that quantum computers will be able to calculate in minutes what would take even today’s fastest supercomputers billions of years. Unlike current computing, which uses binary codes, quantum computers instead use quantum states. It has enormous implications for a broad range of sectors such as finance, science and security.

Last year the University of Sussex published the world’s first practical blueprint for constructing a quantum computer. It followed collaboration with scientists around the world and Google US. The Sussex team is now in the process of building a prototype device, and are ramping up their efforts to build what may be the most powerful computer on earth.

Dr Sebastian Weidt, senior scientist in the Ion Quantum Technology group at the University of Sussex, is the lead physicist on the exhibition. He and colleagues will be talking to members of the public at a series of live events at the Science Museum between 13 and 15 February. Visitors will have the chance to remotely take control of a small-scale quantum computer that is located at the University of Sussex.

Dr Weidt said: “It has been a fantastic experience and a great pleasure to work with the Science Museum on this exhibition and help explain this potentially world-changing technology to the public.

“I am particularly thrilled visitors will be able to see some of the core quantum computer components currently under development at the University of Sussex. It’ll help people get a real feel for what these machines look like. I am also very much looking forward to having the opportunity to talk to the general public about our work at the Science Museum Tomorrow’s World Live events.” 

Amy Pollak, Content Developer at the Science Museum, said: “Quantum computers may soon have a significant impact on all of our lives. So it’s great for us to be working with the University of Sussex to share this exciting and cutting edge technology with our visitors.”

About the exhibition

Visitors will learn about some of the most important underlying principles of how a quantum computer works and what makes it so powerful. They will learn how these computers will be useful, and may change our lives. A model of the vacuum system used in the University of Sussex’s quantum computer prototype will be on display. The exhibition will also show a silicon wafer comprising 64 quantum computing microchips, which is the heart of the quantum computer being developed at Sussex.

Student Led Teaching Award for Professor Marco Peccianti

Marco Peccianti, Professor of Photonics, has been awarded a Student led Teaching Award for Outstanding or Innovative Undergraduate Teaching. Student Led Teaching Award for Professor Marco Peccianti

The Student Led Teaching Awards are a partnership between the University of Sussex and the Students’ Union. Each year students are invited to say thank you to members of staff they feel have made a difference to their teaching and learning experience at Sussex by nominating them for an award.

Certificates will be presented at a forthcoming Sussex Teaching and Learning Conference.

Sussex scientists observe ghostly antiparticles that could unlock secrets of the universe

Sussex scientists observe ghostly antiparticles that could unlock secrets of the universe

Physicists from the University of Sussex have observed electron antineutrino appearance – oscillations of these ghostly antiparticles could hold the key to understanding some of the most fundamental mysteries of the universe. The team are part of the NOvA experiment – a global collaboration of scientists studying neutrino particles – who are announcing the first antineutrino findings from their experiment today, at the Neutrino 2018 conference in Heidelberg, Germany.  

For more than three years, scientists on the NOvA collaboration have been observing neutrinos as they oscillate from one type to another over a distance of 500 miles. In the results unveiled today, NOvA scientists saw strong evidence of muon antineutrinos oscillating into electron antineutrinos over long distances, a phenomenon that has never before been observed.

The University of Sussex is one of only two UK institutions participating on the NOvA experiment, along with University College London. Professor Jeff Hartnell, Professor of Physics at the University of Sussex comments on the findings:

“I've been researching these ghostly neutrino particles for 17 years and this is one of the most exciting results of my career. We've seen for the first time the appearance of electron antineutrinos, which was postulated over 50 years ago. More than just seeing this for the first time though, is what it says about the potential of our future measurements.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve our measurements to help answer questions such as why the universe is dominated by matter and not antimatter, and how galaxies cluster together on large scales. Over the next five years we will make further measurements with the NOvA experiment while we build the future DUNE experiment to really understand how these ghostly particles work.”

PhD student Diana Mendez, who won a Chancellors’ International Scholarship to study at the University of Sussex, was the first person in the world to see the muon antineutrino part of this new result. She adds:

“Being the first to see the data felt like opening a present, but much more intriguing and gratifying. I was very excited that day, so I could barely do anything else except wait to get permission to see the data. There was nothing I could compare it to because we had never seen this before; I was honestly surprised by the results.”

NOvA uses two large particle detectors – a smaller one at Fermilab in Illinois, and a much larger one 500 miles away in northern Minnesota – to study a beam of particles generated by Fermilab’s accelerator complex and sent through the earth, with no tunnel required. Based at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, NOvA is the world’s longest-baseline neutrino experiment. Its purpose is to discover more about neutrinos, ghostly yet abundant particles that travel through matter mostly without leaving a trace. The experiment’s long-term goal is to look for similarities and differences in how neutrinos and antineutrinos change from one type – in this case, muon – into one of the other two types, electron or tau. Precisely measuring this change in both neutrinos and antineutrinos, and then comparing them, will help scientists unlock the secrets that these particles hold about how the universe operates. 

The new result is drawn from NOvA’s first run with antineutrinos, the antimatter counterpart to neutrinos. NOvA began studying antineutrinos in February of 2017. Fermilab’s accelerators create a beam of muon neutrinos (or muon antineutrinos), and NOvA’s far detector is specifically designed to see those particles changing into electron neutrinos (or electron antineutrinos) on their journey.

If antineutrinos did not oscillate from muon type to electron type, scientists would have expected to record just five electron antineutrino candidates in the NOvA far detector during this first run. But when they analyzed the data, they found 18, providing strong evidence that antineutrinos undergo this oscillation.

Co-spokesperson of the NOvA collaboration, Peter Shanahan from Fermilab comments: “Antineutrinos are more difficult to make than neutrinos, and they are less likely to interact in our detector. This first data set is a fraction of our goal, but the number of oscillation events we see is far greater than we would expect if antineutrinos didn’t oscillate from muon type to electron.  It demonstrates the impact that Fermilab’s high-power particle beam has on our ability to study neutrinos and antineutrinos.”

The key to NOvA’s science programme is comparing the rate at which electron neutrinos appear in the far detector with the rate that electron antineutrinos appear. A precise measurement of those differences will allow NOvA to achieve one of its main science goals: to determine which of the three types of neutrinos is the heaviest, and which the lightest.

Neutrinos have been shown to have mass, but scientists have not been able to directly measure that mass. However, with enough data, they can determine the relative masses of the three, a puzzle called the mass ordering. NOvA is working toward a definitive answer to this question.

The NOvA collaboration includes more than 240 scientists from nearly 50 institutions in seven countries: Brazil, Colombia, Czech Republic, India, Russia, the UK and the U.S. For more information visit the experiment’s website at http://novaexperiment.fnal.gov.

NASA to test Sussex physicist's atomic bubble trap theory in space

For 18 years Professor Barry Garraway has wondered what might be revealed by his ‘atomic bubble trap’ if it were ever to be created in a place without gravity.NASA to test Sussex physicist's atomic bubble trap theory in space

Now the University of Sussex quantum physicist is about to find out. A box containing the equipment for his experiment, which involves cooling atoms to a fraction above absolute zero (minus 273 degs C), was sent by unmanned rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) on 21 May.

Once the equipment is fully operational on board the ISS, NASA astronauts will set the experiment running to see what happens to the cooled atoms in a complete vacuum. Will they behave as Professor Garraway predicts and move in unison to create a wave motion similar to light waves, but inside a bubble of atomic matter? Or will something completely unexpected happen?

The answers, expected later this year, will give insights into some of the fundamental properties of matter and the nature of gravity, and could also unlock the mysteries of dark energy - the bits of the universe we know exist but cannot see.Professor Barry Garraway

For Professor Garraway, it will be a proud moment. “I was delighted that my experiment was selected out of thousands that were under consideration. As a theoretical physicist, it’s incredibly exciting to see the moment when experimentalists pick up on your theory and actually do the experiment.”

Professor Garraway developed his bubble trap experiment in 2000 after his colleagues at Sussex were the first physicists in the UK to create a Bose-Einstein Condensate, in which 100,000 atoms were cooled to just a few hundred billionths of a degree above the coldest temperature it is possible to reach.

In this state atoms are virtually motionless and without energy, which causes them to collapse and merge into a ‘superatom’. Although predicted by Saytendra Bose and Albert Einstein in the 1920s, the phenomenon was only proved through experiments in 1995.

Professor Garraway proposed to develop the experiment further by creating a bubble shape with the cooled atoms (of the metal rubidium) to observe what would happen.

He hoped to see the atomic bubble move in unison in a wave motion, but the effect of the Earth’s gravity would cause the atoms to collapse before scientific observations could be completed.

“I knew that gravity was an issue with this,” he says. “But as we didn’t have the option of trying it in space, I put the experiments aside and moved on to other work.”

When NASA put a call out for ISS projects, Nathan Lundblad, an academic who had been adapting Professor Garraway’s experiment, submitted the matter-wave bubble idea. 

After the project was accepted, Professor Garraway visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, USA, where the experiment was assembled by NASA engineers and Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) researchers prior to launch.

“The fact that this is now being followed up by NASA as a space experiment is tremendously exciting as it realises the original vision for the bubble trap,” he says.

“And it has renewed my interest.  I am going to think about different technical aspects of the experiment.  We could get the bubble of atomic matter to collapse and vibrate and make different shapes. Choosing different topologies usually means that something interesting happens.”

The challenge for the NASA astronauts when the experiment is running will be in creating as little disturbance in the ISS as possible.

“It’s a very fragile experiment for what is still quite a hostile environment,” says Professor Garraway. “So the experiment will run during the astronauts’ rest periods and will be controlled remotely from the ground.

"Studying these ultra-cold atoms could inform our development of Quantum Technologies, or even reshape our understanding of matter and the fundamental nature of gravity.”

 

Sussex quantum physicist gives evidence to MPs on future of technology

Professor Winfried Hensinger, Director of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies and Head of the Sussex Ion Quantum Technology Group Prof Winfried Hensinger giving evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committeeappeared before the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Select Committee on 17 July, to give evidence as part of the Committee’s inquiry exploring the opportunities and challenges for new quantum technologies. A recording of Professor Hensinger’s evidence is available on Parliament’s website and a transcript of the session will be published on the Committee’s web pages in due course, alongside written evidence the University has provided to the Committee as part of its inquiry.

Quantum technologies seek to harness the theories of quantum physics in the development of new cutting-edge applications. This includes the theory that an atom can be in two different places at the same time (known as “quantum superposition”) and the theory that atoms can be linked, so that  changing one atom can also change another (known as “quantum entanglement”).

Researchers at the University of Sussex are working on the development of a broad range of quantum technologies, as part of an interdisciplinary approach that brings together expertise from across different academic disciplines.  These technologies include ‘ghost imaging’ that will allow people to look around corners, high precision quantum clocks, quantum networks, a range of quantum sensors (including devices that can monitor brain activity) and the construction of a prototype quantum computer.

Referring to the development of quantum computers, Professor Hensinger told MPs they had the potential to solve certain problems which even the fastest super computers would take “billions of years” to calculate and presented “tremendous opportunities” to transform our lives. 

Professor Hensinger said; “It’s very unlikely we understand all the opportunities quantum computers pose, similar to when we first built conventional computers.”

While the first conventional computers allowed us to break encryption as early as the 1940s, most of the applications of conventional computers have only been developed in the last 30 years.

Professor Hensinger described to MPs the potential of quantum technology to inspire the next generation of scientists, referring to the positive response young people had given to an innovative walk-in quantum computing installation . The University took the installation to London’s Spitalfields Market last year, to educate the public about the quantum computer being developed by Professor Hensinger and his team.

He also stressed the importance of the National Quantum Technology Programme and its impact in developing ready to market technologies than can capitalise on the UK’s unique expertise. Professor Hensinger summarised some of the achievements of the programme and made suggestions for its continuation.

Public engagement event for Quantum Technology wins gold HEIST award

Professor Winfried Hensinger (pictured) and his team of physicists took their pop-up quantum computing laboratory to Spitalfields Market in London.Professor Winfried Hensinger (pictured) and his team of physicists took their pop-up quantum computing laboratory to Spitalfields Market in London.

In August 2017, Sussex set up an innovative pop-up lab in London's Spitalfields Market inviting members of the public to learn about the University's cutting edge work to build the world's first quantum computer. The public engagement event was led by Head of Campaigns, Sarah Ross, in conjunction with Professor of Quantum Technologies, Winfried Hensinger, Director of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies and Head of the Sussex Ion Quantum Technology Group.

At the recent HEIST Awards, the project received a gold award in the category of ‘best community/business engagement campaign’. 

Figure by PhD student Daniel Cutting selected for feature in prestigious Physical Review Journal

A figure from Sussex PhD student Daniel Cutting’s recent paper has been chosen for the Physical Review D’s Kaleidoscope feature. The paper the figureFigure by PhD student Daniel Cutting selected for feature in prestigious Physical Review Journal is taken from investigates a violent process in the early universe called a first-order phase transition. During a first order phase transition, bubbles of a new phase of matter form and expand, and eventually collide. As the bubbles collide they produce ripples in space-time called gravitational waves. Daniel performed a series of simulations to find the signal of gravitational waves produced during the bubble collisions. These could have implications for an upcoming space based gravitational wave detector called LISA.

The figure chosen is a snapshot of a movie of a 2D slice through one of these 3D simulations. The expanding bubbles can be seen in blue, and the gravitational waves can be seen in red.

Said Daniel: “It’s great to see one of our figure's being chosen to be displayed on Physical Review D’s website. We put a lot of effort in producing these visualisations in order to give insight into our research and to have this recognised is really gratifying!"Figure by PhD student Daniel Cutting selected for feature in prestigious Physical Review Journal

Sussex team wins place in Europe's bid to win global quantum race

The University of Sussex’s Ion Quantum Technology Group, headed by Professor Winfried Hensinger, has been selected to participate in the European Quantum Technology Flagship initiative.Professor Winfried Hensinger

The prestigious Flagship will see Europe positioning itself at the forefront of the global race to build a quantum computer and to see quantum technologies become a reality.  This win places the UK, and Sussex itself, at the heart of the race. 

Professor Hensinger’s team is part of a €2.4m project - ‘Microwave driven ion trap quantum computing’ - and they will be working alongside research groups from the Foundation for Theoretical and Computational Physics and Astrophysics (Bulgaria), Siegen University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Leibniz University, Hannover.  These research groups have expertise in compact microwave technology, which currently exists in mobile phones but which may be critical in advancing quantum computing technology.

Prof Hensinger’s team unveiled the first blueprint for a practical large-scale quantum computer last year, which they are now constructing in their lab at the University of Sussex. The group will use the £550,000 funding which will come to Sussex, as part of the wider project, to get even closer to building a large-scale quantum computer.

Prof Hensinger says: “I’m incredibly proud that the hard work, expertise and ingenuity of Sussex’s Ion Quantum Technology Group has been recognised by the European Commission and that we are among a handful of institutions selected for the prestigious Quantum Flagship initiative. It’s particularly encouraging given the background of Brexit – especially given the uncertainty for other UK scientists on the Galileo satellite navigation system project.

“We’ve seen Europe lag behind on other technological revolutions, and so it’s crucial that the hive of world-leading quantum research activity is focused on placing Europe at the forefront of the biggest technological conundrum facing the world today: how to build a quantum computer.”

The Flagship has been divided up into five areas: communication; computation; simulation; sensing and metrology; and basic enabling science required in those areas. The Sussex project falls under the basic science category, for which there were only seven successful projects out of 90 submissions. 

What the Sussex team will do
The team will work on improving the error rates within the quantum computer they are developing.  This in turn will impact the size and efficiency of the trapped-ion computer that they are in the process of developing. At present, it is estimated that the ultimate computer would fill the size of a football pitch. By focusing their efforts on reducing the magnitude of errors produced, they can in turn reduce the number of components – or qubits – which will shrink the overall size of the computer. Prof Hensinger estimates that it might be possible to bring the computer down to the size of a house.

Additionally, work over the next three years will focus on improving the resilience of the quantum computer as well as the implementation of early quantum programs to be executed on quantum computer prototypes.

Proffesor Antonella De Santo awarded prestigious Senior Experimental Fellowship

Professor Antonella De Santo, who leads the Sussex team working on the ATLAS experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), has been IPPP Associateship for Professor Antonella De Santoawarded a prestigious Senior Experimental Fellowship at the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (IPPP) in Durham.

The award will enable the furthering of ongoing collaborations between members of the Sussex ATLAS team, IPPP researchers and other researchers nationwide, who are also exploring Standard Model physics and searching for Beyond-the-Standard-Model phenomena at the LHC and its future high-luminosity upgrades.

 2017 Achievements

Hunt for dark matter is narrowed by new University of Sussex research

 Scientists at the University of Sussex have disproved the existence of a specific type of axion - an important candidate ‘dark matter’ particle - across a Hunt for dark matter is narrowed by new University of Sussex researchwide range of its possible masses.

The data were collected by an international consortium, the Neutron Electric Dipole Moment (nEDM) Collaboration, whose experiment is based at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland. Data were taken there and, earlier, at the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble.

Professor Philip Harris, Head of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, and head of the nEDM group at Sussex, said:

“Experts largely agree that a major portion of the mass in the universe consists of ‘dark matter’. Its nature, however, remains completely obscure. One kind of hypothetical elementary particle that might make up the dark matter is the so-called axion. If axions with the right properties exist it would be possible to detect their presence through this entirely novel analysis of our data.

“We’ve analysed the measurements we took in France and Switzerland and they provide evidence that axions – at least the kind that would have been observable in the experiment – do not exist. These results are a thousand times more sensitive than previous ones and they are based on laboratory measurements rather than astronomical observations. This does not fundamentally rule out the existence of axions, but the scope of characteristics that these particles could have is now distinctly limited.

“The results essentially send physicists back to the drawing board in our hunt for dark matter.”

It has been believed for decades that axion particles might make up at least some of ‘dark matter’ – the stuff that we know is in our universe but which cannot be seen. Axions are important because finding them, if they exist, could hold the key to why the universe has lots of matter but relatively little antimatter. Equal amounts of matter and antimatter would have been created when the universe began, and it should all have mutually annihilated, but the Universe clearly now has plenty of matter – but essentially no antimatter – left over; we do not understand why.

This is the first experiment to use laboratory equipment – rather than astronomical observations – to investigate this type of axion. Previously, physicists had been gradually narrowing the range of possible masses of the axion through telescope-based experiments. The research published today wipes out a whole swathe of potential masses. As a result, particle theorists attempting to explain the origins of the Universe and the nature of dark matter will have to go back to the drawing board as they revise, constrain and tune their models. An important benchmark has been set for future experimental searches; and other experiments, working in related topics, will be able to analyse their data in this new way to extend the sensitivity further.

The experiment does not rule out the existence of axions entirely. Firstly, the axions would need to have interacted strongly enough with the neutrons for any change in its rotation rate to be spotted.  Secondly, their mass might either be larger or smaller than expected. It does, however, provide important new constraints, and it points the way forward to future avenues of investigation to help resolve one of cosmology's great outstanding mysteries. These experiments make an important contribution to the search for dark matter. 

 

 

SEPnet Public Engagement Award for Prof Winfried Hensinger

The award ceremony for the SEPnet Public Engagement Awards was held recently. Winfried Hensinger, Professor of Quantum Technologies and Director of The 'Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies', was awarded a Highly Commended Certificate for the Communication Award.

Winfried and his team were also shortlisted for the Project Innovation Award and he was invited to give a presentation at the ceremony which can be downloaded at: www.sussex.ac.uk/physics/iqt/Sepnet_awards.pptx

Find out more about the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies: www.sussex.ac.uk/scqt/

 

RSE Enterprise Fellowship for Research Fellow James Waterfield

James Waterfield, a Research Fellow in the Experimental Particle Physics group, has won an RSE Enterprise Fellowship.

He is one of only seven fellows from across the UK for 2017, and one of only two awarded to STFC researchers.

The one year Fellowship supports James in his ambitions as an entrepreneur, providing intensive business training and mentorship. James obtained his PhD from Sussex in July 2017 and wrote his thesis on “Optical calibration system for SNO+ and sensitivity to neutrinoless double-beta decay”. Supervised by Professor Jeff Hartnell, he now works with Dr Simon Peeters to develop an innovation developed over many years by Sussex staff including Dr Richard White.

The patent pending innovation, a compact nanosecond light pulser, has been developed by James, Simon and Richard into a commercial product. It has applications for calibration systems in major physics experiments and in life and material sciences research; notably TCSPC (Time Correlated Single Photon Counting).

James will head up a new business unit in the University PulserOptics, with the goal of creating a spin-out company and creating impact outcomes deriving from Sussex Physics research.

Professor Hensinger co-authors popular science book

Can scientists predict the future? How will quantum computing change our lives?

 

 

Winfried Hensinger, Professor of Quantum Technologies and Head of the Ion Quantum Technology Group at Sussex, has co-authored a popular science book which has been published today. “What's Next?: Even Scientists Can’t Predict the Future – or Can They?”- a fascinating, fun and informative look at what's in store for the human race includes predictions from 18 scientists.

Professor Hensinger has written a chapter on quantum computing and how this cutting-edge research will influence our future lives. In February, he unveiled the first practical blueprint for how to build a quantum computer, the most powerful computer on Earth set to revolutionise industry, science and commerce. Once built, the computer’s capabilities mean it would have the potential to answer many questions in science; create new, lifesaving medicines; solve the most mind-boggling scientific problems; unravel the yet unknown mysteries of the furthest reaches of deepest space; and solve some problems that an ordinary computer would take billions of years to compute. The computer’s possibilities for solving, explaining or developing could be endless. Professor Hensinger and his team are currently constructing a prototype quantum computer at Sussex.

The paperback book is widely available both in the UK and US: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1781258953/ref=rdr_ext_tmb 

Sussex physicists have breakthrough on brittle smartphone screens

Professor Alan Dalton and his team have developed a new way to make smartphone touch screens that are cheaper, less brittle, and more environmentally friendly. On top of that, the new approach also promises devices that use less energy,   are more responsive, and do not tarnish in the air.

The problem has been that indium tin oxide, which is currently used to make smartphone screens, is brittle and expensive. The primary constituent, indium, is also a rare metal and is ecologically damaging to extract. Silver, which has been shown to be the best alternative to indium tin oxide, is also expensive. The breakthrough from physicists at the University of Sussex has been to combine silver nanowires with graphene – a two-dimensional carbon material. The new hybrid material matches the performance of the existing technologies at a fraction of the cost.

In particular, the way in which these materials are assembled is new. Graphene is a single layer of atoms, and can float on water. By creating a stamp – a bit like a potato stamp a child might make – the scientists can pick up the layer of atoms and lay it on top of the silver nanowire film in a pattern. The stamp itself is made from poly(dimethyl siloxane) - the same kind of silicone rubber used in kitchen utensils and medical implants.

Professor Dalton, from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, says:

“While silver nanowires have been used in touch screens before, no one has tried to combine them with graphene. What’s exciting about what we’re doing is the way we put the graphene layer down. We float the graphene particles on the surface of water, then pick them up with a rubber stamp, a bit like a potato stamp, and lay it on top of the silver nanowire film in whatever pattern we like.

“And this breakthrough technique is inherently scalable. It would be relatively simple to combine silver nanowires and graphene in this way on a large scale using spraying machines and patterned rollers. This means that brittle mobile phone screens might soon be a thing of the past.

“The addition of graphene to the silver nanowire network also increases its ability to conduct electricity by around a factor of ten thousand. This means we can use a fraction of the amount of silver to get the same, or better, performance. As a result screens will be more responsive and use less power.”

Dr Matthew Large, lead researcher on the project within the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, says:

“Although silver is also a rare metal, like indium, the amount we need to coat a given area is very small when combined with grapheneSince graphene is produced from natural graphite – which is relatively abundant - the cost for making a touch sensor drops dramatically.

“One of the issues with using silver is that it tarnishes in air. What we’ve found is that the graphene layer prevents this from happening by stopping contaminants in the air from attacking the silver.

“What we’ve also seen is that when we bend the hybrid films repeatedly the electrical properties don’t change, whereas you see a drift in the films without graphene that people have developed previously. This paves the way towards one day developing completely flexible devices.”

The paper, “Selective mechanical transfer deposition of Langmuir graphene films for high-performance silver nanowire hybrid electrodes”, is written by Matthew J. Large, Sean P. Ogilvie, Sultan Alomairy, Terence Vockerodt, David Myles, Maria Cann, Helios Chan, Izabela Jurewicz, Alice A. K. King and Alan B. Dalton at the Universities of Sussex, Surrey, and Taif in Saudia Arabia. It is published in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir.

The paper is also published here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.langmuir.7b02799 

Blind student develops app building blind people to access science courses

Blind student Daniel Hajas who graduated this year with a Masters degree in Theoretical Physics, has developed a new ground-breaking apDaniel Hajas app for blind studentsp that will make it easier for visually impaired people to study science.

The Iris app allows blind people to upload complicated graphs and diagrams to an online system and get them described by sighted experts around the world – helping make science courses more accessible.

The ground-breaking app was developed by Daniel, who went blind at the age of 16, and a team of fellow students at Sussex and Portsmouth universities.

Daniel HajasDaniel normally uses screen‑reading software, but found that this technology couldn’t decipher the complex scientific material he came across in his degree.

Daniel HajasHe explains: “I’ve managed to achieve good grades so far, but it’s been difficult and other blind students might have given up by now.

“I don’t know of too many blind people who’ve become scientific researchers, and this might be because they are not getting the right help.”

Apps that connect blind people with sighted volunteers already exist – but Iris is the first service that is specifically designed to pair blind students with scientifically-trained volunteers.

The app has already built up a network of sighted experts from countries across the world, including volunteers from Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, although Daniel’s team is looking for many more people to give their time to the project.

The 23-year-old, originally from Hungary, has high hopes for the future of the technology – he and a team of fellow students are working on an update that could see the service embedded into websites across the internet.

Tim Lingard, a PhD student who has been working alongside Daniel, says: “I think everyone should have access to scientific material.”

“This is not just to learn about how our world works, but also because a scientific mindset comes in useful in all walks of life.”

Daniel first came to Sussex as an undergraduate student in 2013. After finishing his Masters course, he’s looking forward to starting a PhD at the University in September.

Daniel says: “When I decided to do a Physics degree, many people told me I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I’m happy to have proved them wrong.

“A big part of my success so far has been down to the help I received from the Physics department at Sussex, and from the wider University community.”

Daniel is currently seeking charity status for his organisation, Grapheel, which aims to make science subjects more accessible to blind people through Iris and other projects.

The enterprising student so far received £5,000 in funding towards Grapheel from Michael Chowen CBE DL, a local businessman and Consort of the High Sheriff of East Sussex, which was matched by £5,000 from the bank Santander.

He has also received support from the Sussex Innovation Centre, an innovation hub based on the University’s campus, which has provided him with a year’s free virtual membership and £500 in funding towards the project.

First ever blueprint unveiled to construct a large scale quantum computer

An international team, led by a scientist from the University of Sussex, have today unveiled the first practical blueprint for Dr Bjorn Lekitsch (left) and Prof Winfried Hensinger behind a quantum computer prototype at the University of Sussex.how to build a quantum computer, the most powerful computer on Earth.

This huge leap forward towards creating a universal quantum computer is published in the influential journal Science Advances.

It has long been known that such a computer would revolutionise industry, science and commerce on a similar scale as the invention of ordinary computers. But this new work features the actual industrial blueprint to construct such a large-scale machine, more powerful in solving certain problems than any computer ever constructed before. 

Once built, the computer’s capabilities mean it would have the potential to answer many questions in science; create new, lifesaving medicines; solve the most mind-boggling scientific problems; unravel the yet unknown mysteries of the furthest reaches of deepest space; and solve some problems that an ordinary computer would take billions of years to compute.

The work features a new invention permitting actual quantum bits to be transmitted between individual quantum computing modules in order to obtain a fully modular large-scale machine capable of reaching nearly arbitrary large computational processing powers.

Previously, scientists had proposed using fibre optic connections to connect individual computer modules. The new invention introduces connections created by electric fields that allow charged atoms (ions) to be transported from one module to another. This new approach allows 100,000 times faster connection speeds between individual quantum computing modules compared to current state-of-the-art fibre link technology.

The new blueprint is the work of an international team of scientists from the University of Sussex (UK), Google (USA), Aarhus University (Denmark), RIKEN (Japan) and Siegen University (Germany).

Professor Winfried Hensinger, head of the Ion Quantum Technology Group at the University of Sussex, who has been leading this research, said: “For many years, people said that it was completely impossible to construct an actual quantum computer. With our work we have not only shown that it can be done but now we are delivering a nuts and bolts construction plan to build an actual large-scale machine.”

Lead author Dr Bjoern Lekitsch, also from the University of Sussex, explains: “It was most important to us to highlight the substantial technical challenges as well as to provide practical engineering solutions.”

As a next step, the team will construct a prototype quantum computer, based on this design, at the University.

The effort is part of the UK Government’s plan to develop quantum technologies towards industrial exploitation and makes use of a recent invention by the Sussex team to replace billions of laser beams required for quantum computing operations within a large-scale quantum computer with the simple application of voltages to a microchip.

Professor Hensinger said: “The availability of a universal quantum computer may have a fundamental impact on society as a whole. Without doubt it is still challenging to build a large-scale machine, but now is the time to translate academic excellence into actual application building on the UK’s strengths in this ground-breaking technology. I am very excited to work with industry and government to make this happen.”

The computer’s possibilities for solving, explaining or developing could be endless. However, its size will be anything but small. The machine is expected to fill a large building, consisting of sophisticated vacuum apparatus featuring integrated quantum computing silicon microchips that hold individual charged atoms (ions) using electric fields. 

The blueprint to develop such computers has been made public to ensure scientists throughout the world can collaborate and further develop this brilliant, ground-breaking technology as well as to encourage industrial exploitation. 

Professor Hensinger heads the Ion Quantum Technology Group at Sussex and is Director of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies. The work is funded as part of UK's National Quantum Technology Programme, a £270M investment by the UK Government to accelerate the translation of quantum technologies into the marketplace. The group is part of the UK Quantum Technology Hub on Networked Quantum Information Technologies which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, its vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

2016 Achievments

Sussex astronomers observe the deepest view of the Universe

Sussex astronomers - working with an international team - have observed the Hubble Ultra Deep Field - our deepest view of the Universe.ALMA deep view of the universe

Senior Lecturers in Physics and Astronomy, Dr Mark Sargent and Dr Stephen Wilkins, have been using a revolutionary new telescope, the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), to measure the light which is missed by the Hubble Space Telescope and thereby gain a full picture of the galaxies.

The ALMA observations are significantly deeper and sharper than anything seen before.Dr Stephen Wilkins

Dr Wilkins said: “These early results have really demonstrated the power of the revolutionary ALMA observatory. I’m really looking forward to getting more observations and building a clearer picture of the obscured Universe.”

The results will be published in a series of papers appearing in the Astrophysical Journal and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and are also among results being presented this week at the Half a Decade of ALMA conference in Palm Springs, USA.

For more information go to https://www.eso.org/public/unitedkingdom/news/eso1633/

Bursary awarded to second year MPhys Physics student

Two £2,000 prizes have been awarded to enterprising students as part of this year's University of Sussex Santander Junior Associate EntreprenJessica Hislopeurship Bursary scheme.

Jessica May Hislop, second year MPhys Physics with Astrophysics (Research Placement) student, will receive a bursary to help  her develop her business idea - with the support of experts at the Sussex Innovation Centre, which manages the scheme on   behalf of the University.  Jessica's business, the Space Party Agency, is designed to create interest and enthusiasm for the STEM subjects among 5-11 year olds, by running children’s parties with a space theme. She plans to use the funds to work on    developing her business plan and creating a marketing strategy, as well as seeking advice around her intellectual property. 

The competition judges felt that the Space Party Agency represented a timely and valuable effort to inspire children with science,    at a time when educators and government are making a concerted effort to address the STEM skills gap by encouraging more young people – and particularly girls – to engage with these subjects.

"I'm honoured to have been chosen for the bursary," said Jessica. "I can't explain what a boost this is, and such a pleasant surprise. This business is something I truly care about so much, and I am so excited to now be able to further the Space Party Agency with this financial support, but more so the guidance, advice and experience of the team at the Sussex Innovation Centre."

Four prizes of £2,000 each are awarded across every academic year as part of the StartUp Sussex Enterprise Programme, a joint initiative delivered by the Sussex Innovation Centre and the University of Sussex Careers and Employability Centre

Sussex academic gives prestigious lecture at the US Departmet of Energy explaining quantum computing

Prof. Winfried Hensinger, Director of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies and Head of Sussex Ion Quantum TProf Hensinger in front of the West Wing of the White Houseechnology Group was invited by the US Department of Energy to talk about his work on constructing a quantum computer as part of the US Department of Energy’s Cyber Distinguished Lecture Series. The lecture was given at the Department’s headquarters in Washington DC and broadcast via the internet to all DOE National Laboratories and facilities around the USA.

Prof. Hensinger had been invited to visit the US Department of Energy and the Office of Science and Technology at the White House in order to brief officials on the state-of-the-art, threats and opportunities of quantum computing. The Sussex Ion Quantum Technology Group, headed by Prof. Hensinger, works on constructing a trapped-ion quantum computer and a quantum simulation engine at Sussex and they also develop portable quantum sensors.

Watch a recording of the lecture:

Physics graduate meets with 29 Nobel Laureates

PhD Physics student Nicholas Ayres was selected to attend the prestigious week-long 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting.PhD Physics student Nicholas Ayres

The opportunity to join the annual gathering of Nobel Laureates at Lindau is provided exclusively to outstanding young scientists aged up to 35 – undergraduates, PhD students, and post-doctoral researchers. In order to participate, Nick had to pass a multi-step application and selection process: first of all locally within the Department of Physics and Astronomy; next by a panel at the Royal Society; and finally by a scientific review panel responsible for the Lindau meeting itself, who every year evaluate the numerous applications by young scientists from all over the globe who aspire to participate. This year, 400 young scientists from 80 countries were selected to attend.  Nick was also selected to present a poster titled “Testing Time Reversal with Ultracold Neutrons" and a brief talk about his work. 

The commitment of Nobel Laureates to foster the exchange among scientists has been the mainstay of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings ever since their beginnings in 1951. To this day, more than 350 recipients of the Nobel Prize have accepted the annual invitation to meet the next generation of leading scientists at Lindau.

For the young scientists standing at the beginning of their careers, it is an invaluable opportunity to meet these undisputed role models and mentors, to seek their advice, to exchange thoughts and views, and to discuss current developments in science and beyond.  The Nobel Laureates shape the scientific programme with their topical preferences, and as a result, the Lindau Meetings provide a unique opportunity to experience both the professional and the personal side of Nobel Laureates.

Says Nick: “This was genuinely an extraordinary event, where I met and mingled with the outstanding minds of our era.  I’m truly humbled.  I’d like to thank all of those around me for their support in the process, and especially those who contributed to and reviewed my application.  I’m really grateful for the opportunity to represent my research group, the Department and the University at such a prestigious event.”

Apparatus for Nick's neutron EDM experimentApparatus for Nick's neutron EDM experiment

Nick’s supervisor, Professor Philip Harris, adds: “Nick is a truly outstanding student – he was making high-level contributions to our research even during his early undergraduate days, on our innovative Research Placement degree programme.  I’m delighted that his talent and potential has been recognised in this way.  This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity should serve as a superb springboard for him.”

Nick works on an experiment to measure the electric dipole moment of the neutron, a fundamental parameter in particle physics related to the origin of all of the matter in the Universe. It’s one of the most sensitive measurements that it is possible to make in all of physics, and the Sussex group has held the world record continuously for the last 17 years.

Quantum physicist wins three-minute PhD contest

Anna Webb, a physics doctoral researcher, won a University-wide competition for explaining her PhD in just three minutes. She beat off stiff competition Physics PhD student Anna Webbfrom 11 of her peers to triumph in Sussex’s first-ever Three Minute Thesis contest in June 2016.

Anna impressed the judges with her fascinating research on how microwaves could hold the key to building the world’s first large-scale quantum computer – an invention that would revolutionise computing.

But before doing this she had to first explain the foundations of quantum mechanics - a notoriously tough task. Indeed, as Anna recalled, even the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman once said that “nobody understands quantum mechanics”.

“Anyone who can explain quantum computing to me in just three minutes deserves to win this prize,” said Professor Michael Davies, who chaired the contest in his role as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research. He added: “Anna was superb.”

Anna won £1,000 to attend an international conference.

Founded by the University of Queensland, Three Minute Thesis is an international competition that challenges participants     

to communicate their doctoral research to a non-specialist audience with the aid of just one slide.

The judging panel considered the speakers on criteria such as clarity, enthusiasm, and performance.

"Grapheel" wins further business consultancy support thanks to the Sussex Innovation Centre

Grapheel, an initiative aiming to enhance access to science education for blind and visually impaired learners has won a further £500 busiDavid Turner and Daniel Hajasness consultancy support via the local Santander prize, thanks to the Sussex Innovation Centre StartUp Sussex Awards 2016 in which they were runners up.

David Turner (left) and Daniel Hajas with a module of the TGD model


Students Daniel Hajas, founder of Grapheel and co-founders David Turner and Tim Lingard entered the competition as a  group with the Tactile Graphics Display (TGD) project. The team along with 60 other students attended fortnightly workshops, where they familiarised themselves with business and management concepts in order to build a financially sustainable business model around their idea and grow it to an opportunity. The three physics students were selected by the Head of Sussex Innovation Centre and the Director of Careers and Employability Centre, based on the presentation of the business model canvas and a two minute pitch, to progress to phase two of the competition as the six best opportunities out of the pool of 60.

Daniel Hajas
Says Daniel: "I am very glad the Sussex Innovation Centre found all of the 6 finalist ideas, including our ambition, valuable enough to support it further. Regardless of the short term outcome of the competition, the Startup Sussex scheme was incredibly helpful in team building, setting clear mission, and gather skills needed to execute our plans on helping visually impaired learners see science in a new light. The further business support in the next six months, will enable us to  establish Grapheel’s constitution and ensure appropriate legal and financial bases, turning an undergraduate project to a scalable   social enterprise, and showcase we are serious about our mission."                                                                                                                                

Sussex early universe research features in multimedia science show

The visuals and music team behind the movie Interstellar have developed a new multimedia show called 'The Warped Side of the Universe’, which features computer animations of  energetic processes in the early stages of the Big Bang, made by Mark Hindmarsh, Professor of Theoretical Physics, and his collaborators.  The first performance was on 9 April at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, with another due in early July 2016 in Tenerife.

The scientist in the team is Kip Thorne, who asked Mark to contribute to the project, as he knew he was working on sources of gravitational waves in the early universe.  Mark is working on two different projects:

The first is studying how the Higgs field (which gives elementary particles their masses) turned on at around 10 trillionths of a second after 'the beginning', when the Universe was so hot that every particle had roughly the energy of the colliding protons in the Large Hadron Collider.  The turning-on process might have made the whole universe behave like boiling water, and gravitational waves would have been generated everywhere just by the sound of the boiling. The waves would still be around today and detectable by a space-based gravitational wave detector called eLISA, being developed by the European Space Agency for launch in 2034.  

Bubbles” - the animation of the boiling process - is based on the following journal abstracts: http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.041301 (which was an Editors’ Choice and featured on the cover) and http://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.92.123009.  The animation was produced by collaborator David Weir, a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Stavanger.

Mark's second project is about cosmic strings - lines of pure mass-energy - stretching across the entire Universe, which are predicted to hav'Bubbles'e been formed in the very early universe by many theories. As they straighten and oscillate, they emit very high energy particles and gravitational waves.

The animation “Cosmic Strings” is based on the paper https://arxiv.org/abs/1510.05006, which is to appear shortly in Physical Review D. The animation was produced by collaborator David Daverio at the University of Cape Town, with help from Jean Favre of the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre. One of Mark's cosmic string animations featured in the recent LIGO   press release from 11 February, announcing the detection of gravitationalCosmic Strings waves.

See Mark's animations at: http://www.phys.susx.ac.uk/~markh/movies/