Physics and Astronomy

Our talks

We have a wide selection of talks that are suitable to be presented (for free!) at a variety of levels for suitable educational groups, inclduing schools, colleges and public societies (although we only visit groups who can ensure a diverse audience, with the exception of single-sex schools).  All our talks are approximately 45 minutes in length, allowing time for questions at the end.  Please contact us if you would like any of our speakers to visit you, with suggested dates and times, and we will do our best to visit when convenient.  Details of these talks, covering both Physics and Astronomy are listed below.


Dr Iacopo Vivarelli - The Higgs boson: a look beyond the media hype

For a particle physicist, the 4th of July is a special day - the day in which the Higgs boson discovery was announced in 2012. For the first time in many years, particle physics has been celebrated by the media worldwide. However, the media often fail in giving a simple and accessible description of what the Higgs boson actually is, and why its discovery has required the effort of thousands of scientists and funding agencies from all over the world to build the largest existing particle collider, the LHC. Did the Higgs boson discovery really deserve all the relevance it had? After this talk, you will be able to judge for yourself.

Dr Simon Peeters - Connections in Astro-Particle Physics 

Dr Simon Peeters explains what particle physics is, what our current understanding is and how our understanding of matter (i.e. particles) at a fundamental level will improve our understanding of the Universe. The connection between the big (the universe) and the small (particles) will become even clearer when he discusses the four main questions that fundamental physicists are trying to answer. He puts this all in context by relating these questions to particle physics experiments that have been in the news recently, such as the Large Hadron Collider and neutrino experiments.

Dr Lisa Falk - Ghosts in the Particle Zoo 

There are a huge range of particles that exist in nature, and even though there are so small that we cannot even see them, scientists have developed ways to detect and understand them. Physicists now know that particles like protons or neutrons are made up of quarks that can be put together like 'Lego in miniature'. They even know of 'ghostly', elusive particles called neutrinos, that travel straight through the entire earth, and can change in character as they do so.

Professor Antonella De Santo - The Big Bang Experiment

Particle physics studies the smallest known constituents of matter, exploring the structure of Nature at very short distances and at very high energies. With the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) start-up, experimental particle physics is entering a new golden age, widely expected to unveil evidence for new physics at unprecedented high energies. The LHC will recreate conditions thought to have existed billionths of a second after the start of the Big Bang, allowing us to probe deeper into the heart of matter and further back in time than has ever been possible before. For the first time it will be possible to perform experiments expected to shed light on fundamental questions such as the origin of mass, the nature of Dark Matter in our universe, and even explore the existence of yet undiscovered additional dimensions of space!

Professor Winfried Hensinger - Rise of Quantum Technology: from Teleportation to the Fastest Computers on Earth 

In the Schrödinger's cat paradox, quantum theory predicts that a cat can be in limbo between being dead and alive. This Quantum spookiness stunned many scientists – most notably Albert Einstein. Since its creation in the early twentieth century, many experiments have proved the validity of quantum mechanics. 

Computers built with quantum technology (a quantum computer) would be much faster than today's computers. For example, a quantum computer would be able to crack the encryption we use to send our credit details over the internet in a matter of hours, where our current super computers would take thousands of years! Quantum computers would also help us understand the world around us. They would, for example, help us to understanding of chemical reactions that would allow us to create new medicines. We have not yet made a practical quantum computer, but we are working on it! 

Professor Hensinger will talk about his work developing quantum computers using atoms cooled to around -270°C to store the information in quantum bits or qubits. Quantum mechanics also allows teleportation, like in Star Trek, however so far only with individual atoms.

Professor Stephan Huber - Why is There More Matter Than Antimatter in the Universe? 

You might guess that the universe should contain equal amounts of matter and antimatter. But we, and everything we see, is made of matter. So does the universe contain no antimatter? I shall introduce Sakharov's three conditions for why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the universe (the matter-antimatter asymmetry) and how these conditions may have been realized in the decay of super-massive particles. And can we test these theories by observing the early universe?

Professor Matthias Keller - Atoms and Molecules: what matter is made of? 

Hear the story of how the structure of the atom was discovered, of how electrons can behave like a wave of particles and an individual particle at the same time, and how atoms join together to form molecules.


Dr Stephen Wilkins - The End of Dark Ages: The First Galaxies 

For most the of the first few hundred million years of the Universe's history there were no stars or other sources of light. These "Dark Ages" ended with the formation of the first stars and galaxies a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Until recently it was impossible to probe this critical period of the Universe's history. This changed with the addition of Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. The exquisite sensitivity of Wide Field Camera 3 makes it possible to identify galaxies that are present only a few hundred million years after the big bang. Future facilities, including the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and European-Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will further allow us to explore this critical epoch of the Universe's history, allowing us to discover and study, the first galaxies to form.

Dr Darren Baskill - Xtreme Astronomy: Seeing the Universe through X-ray eyes

A beautiful clear night full of stars may look poetically peaceful, but it is the biggest illusion we know of. The Universe is violent almost beyond comprehension. Some stars you can see in the night sky are being consumed by their partners; others are violently collapsing in the biggest explosions known to man; and black holes are surrounded by disks of hot gas, the distorted remains of countless stars. X-rays originate from wherever gas is heated up to millions of degrees in the most energetic phenomena we know of. During this talk you will see the universe as witnessed through the eyes of the latest generation of X-ray telescopes.

Dr Darren Baskill - Extreme Astronomy: Observing the Hawaiian Skies

The best places to observe the night sky also have some of the most extreme conditions on the planet. British astronomers have access to telescopes at an altitude of 4,200m on the summit of Mauna Kea, on the Big Island of Hawai'i. This talk is a personal perspective on making astronomical observations in harsh conditions using the UK infra-red telescope atop Mauna Kea.

Dr Darren Baskill - The birth and death of stars

How are stars formed, and how do they die? To see stars in the process of forming we need an infrared telescope; and to see stars in the process of dying we need an X-ray telescope. This talk shows what is revealed in the night sky by using telescopes sensitive to these parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Professor Seb Oliver - A Brief History of Star-formation

Where do stars come from? This talk, illustrated with the latest observations from both ground and space-based telescopes both, will answer that question.

Professor Seb Oliver - Watching the Cool Universe From Space

Everything in the universe emits energy as heat and infrared light... you are emitting infrared radiation right now as you read this! Looking at the sky at infrared wavelengths allows astronomers to see objects that are too cool to emit visible light, such as planets orbiting other stars, cool stars, gas clouds, interstellar molecules and brown dwarf stars.
However, there are two difficulties with infrared astronomy. First, water vapour in the air absorbs a large amount of infrared radiation, and so space telescopes are often used. And second, the infrared cameras used are themselves warm, and so to avoid a glow of infrared radiation around the camera, they are cooled down to the coldest temperatures possible. This talk covers the basics of infrared astronomy, and looks at beautiful images from the latest generation of infrared telescopes currently in use, such as NASA's Spitzer, Japan's Akari, and Europe's Herschel space telescopes.

Professor Seb Oliver - Cool, Cosmic, Cartography: mapping the Universe with the Herschel Space Observatory

Discover the cool universe through the eyes of the Herschel Infrared Space Telescope, which was launched by the European Space Agency in May 2009. To understand why the Herschel space telescope (and the survey it will carry out) is so important, this talk includes a brief history of astronomical surveys, the nature of the speed of light, galaxy evolution, star-formation, and computer-simulation movies of star-bursting and colliding galaxies.

Dr Darren Baskill - Cataclysmic Variables: Stars that go 'bump' in the night

Cataclysmic variable stars are, as their name suggests, stars that vary in brightness cataclysmically! Every few months, some of these stars can suddenly brighten by a factor of 100 in just 6 hours! Some of these stars have been regularly observed by amateur astronomers for over 100 years – will you see one of these stars suddenly brighten tonight? This talk will tell the entire story, from how they were first discovered, to our latest understanding of these stars, based on the observations made by space telescopes – and how, simply by looking through a small telescope, you could cause a space telescope to follow up your observation!

Dr Darren Baskill - How to be a Rocket Scientist/Astrophysicist/Particle Physicist

A career talk discussing the few career steps required to become a scientist.

Dr Darren Baskill - Introduction to Astronomy UG Course

We also have an "Introduction to Astronomy" lecture course for University of Sussex non-science undergraduates, which is also suitable for A-level and good GCSE students. The following lectures form part of that course, and are available as part of our outreach offerings.

  • Historical Milestones in Astronomy
  • The Earth and our Moon
  • The inner solar system: Mercury to the asteroid belt
  • The outer solar system: Jupiter to the comets
  • The Milky-way
  • The formation of stars & planets
  • Exoplanets
  • Life
  • Sun-like stars and their evolution
  • Massive stars and their evolution
  • Extreme stars: White dwarfs, neutron stars & black holes
  • Galaxies
  • Quasars & AGN
  • Big Bang & Beyond
  • Tools of the trade: modern telescopes
  • Multi-wavelength astronomy
  • Astro-photography

Other talks:

  • How to be a Rocket Scientist/Astrophysicist/Particle Physicist