Physics and Astronomy

Showcase of student project work

See examples of our student's project work in Physics and Astronomy

PhD student Poppy Joshi

Student work

Some of our students have taken part in the University of Sussex Junior Research Associate (JRA) scheme, which aims to develop future research leaders. They reward academic excellence by supporting high-achieving undergraduates to work alongside Sussex's top research faculty during the summer holiday.

Junior research associate poster showcasing research by student Toby Wallage

Poster showcasing Toby's research project

Junior Research Associate project searching for Axion-like-particles

"My JRA research project related to searching for Axion-like-particles as a potential candidate for Dark Matter. These particles would have a very small mass which would make them behave more like waves, they are also predicted to interconvert with photons in the presence of magnetic fields.

"My research involved finding pairs of quasars and galaxy clusters that can be observed by future X-ray observatories. We can then look for evidence of this interconversion as the X-rays from the quasar travel through the magnetic fields of the galaxy cluster."

Toby showcased his research at the annual JRA poster exhibition.

Toby Wallage
Physics MPhys with Astrophysics

MPhys Astrophysics student Andrew Bowell with Maasai Farmers in KenyaJunior Research Associate with DISCUS (Data Intensive Science Centre at Sussex)

Andrew worked with DISCUS on two machine-learning projects - SimFarm2030 using past weather and crop yield data to try to predict future crop yields across the UK, and AstroCast using satellite data to predict areas in Kenya at risk of drought.

Following his Junior Research Associate (JRA), he continued developing the forecasting software for the AstroCast project, benefiting agricultural communities during times of climate change and went to Kenya to train stakeholders on how to use the model developed from the AstroCast project to forecast the vegetation condition index (VCI), an agriculture drought index derived from satellite remote sensing images of earth. It looks at how sunlight reflects off vegetation and measures how green and healthy the plants are. If it isn’t doing well, the region is said to be in drought or at risk of a drought.

"Working for DISCUS has opened my eyes to the possibility of a PhD in data science or physics. I’ve enjoyed being in a research setting. The idea of doing ground-breaking research fascinates me and I would love to continue aiming for that. I definitely know that whatever I do will involve machine learning and programming, whether at Sussex or for a company somewhere else. The DISCUS team has offered me amazing experiences that have accelerated and diversified my learning."

Read more about Andrew's experience in This Sussex Life series

Andrew Bowell
Physics MPhys with Astrophysics

Junior Research Associate placement in the Quantum Systems and Devices group

Student Daniel NightingaleDaniel was awarded a Junior Research Associate placement in the Quantum Systems and Devices group working on real world applications. The group are working on Optically Pumped Magnetometers (OPMs) with plans to make them commercially viable. His project focused on an automated way to scan the alkali vapour cells that are needed in OPMs to test their suitability to be used and will involve some coding of the automated algorithm used for the scanning as well as 3D and circuit design. This is the 2nd summer he worked with the group.

"It was good to be back in the QSD group and actually be able to go into the labs last year. Everyone was really helpful and welcoming. The previous year I had to work remotely due to the pandemic, but last year my project was lab based. By working from home, I figured out that I want to get much more hands on.

I liked working in the Quantum Systems and Devices group as it is very applied and has real world applications. The strand of research I worked in focused on the development of novel quantum sensors that are used for the characterisation and understanding of electric vehicle batteries, as well as advancements in magnetoencephalography, which could lead to the early detection of degenerative brain diseases. The real-world applications and potential for advancements that could have a profound impact on society are what interest me."

Daniel Nightingale
MPhys Physics (research placement) (with a study abroad year)

Find out more about our Quantum Systems and Devices group

Junior Research Associate looking for isolated neutron stars

"For my project, I was looking for isolated neutron stars. As of then, only 7 had been discovered despite thousands being predicted. I used data from the Dark Energy Survey and the ROSAT all sky survey to see if I could find more candidates. I had 2 candidates and was looking for more!

"It was exciting to be able to apply my skills to ongoing research in an exciting area of physics. It's fun to be able to work with other scientists and see what research is all about!"

Chloe Randall
Physics MPhys with Astrophysics (with a study abroad year)

Studying a potential component for neutrino detectors (DUNE)

Graduate James Coleman Smith"As my final-year project during my last year of my Physics BSc, I took on research commissioned to the University of Sussex by the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) – a vast international experiment involving over 1000 scientists from over 30 countries.

Explained in broad stokes, the primary aims of DUNE are to determine the hierarchy of neutrino mass states, and ultimately help shed light on the mystery behind the matter-antimatter imbalance of the universe. Other secondary aims include: detecting the birth of black holes, and searching for signs of proton decay - potentially revealing a relation between the stability of matter and the Grand Unification of forces.

"This field of physics still possesses many unknowns – we know that neutrinos can change from one type to another but the mechanism behind that is not fully understood – and this was my first time working on something at the edge of human knowledge. It was very exciting!

"I spent the whole year working on the project alongside Dr. Clark Griffith, with occasional support from Iker De Icaza -- one of his PhD students -- and Dr. Ian Wardell, an associate Research Fellow in Physics and Astronomy.

"In essence, by incorporating a “reflector foil” into the Time-Projection Chamber (the bit where particles are detected) of DUNE, data of a higher fidelity may be taken – improving the performance of the experiment. My supervisor and I were testing whether a suggested material for the reflector foils would be suitable. Conditions generated inside DUNE involve cryogenic temperatures of 77 K (-196 °C) and an electric field of half a million volts. By immersing samples of the reflector foils into a cryostat filled with liquid cryogen and subjecting them to an enormous electric charge we were able to observe their breaking point, and then experiment with various backing materials to increase their resistance.

"Over the course of the year I gained and strengthened a broad range of valuable skills: data-collecting, statistical analysis, operating machinery, and problem solving; then when creating my dissertation, I particularly honed my ability to write scientifically and analyse data. I also found that part of the necessary background reading for this project neatly complimented two of the modules I was taking alongside it."

James Coleman-Smith
Physics BSc graduate and prize winner for the outstanding BSc project

Students talk about summer projects they were involved in within the Quantum Systems and Devices laboratory:

Designing arbitrary 1D potentials using digital micro-mirror devices

Poppy (pictured at top) found her way onto the Foundation year after not getting the grades she required and taking a few years out. During the summer of 2019, she worked in the lab on a new set up using a blue laser for rubidium spectroscopy. Working with optics was all new for her and she enjoyed the practical applications of her first year of studies and being able to see results for what she was doing. She gained great experience and even presented a slide in the group meeting on the work she was doing.

“My favourite thing about the lab is that it is so multicultural.”

Poppy was back in the lab during the summer of 2020, designing arbitrary 1D potentials using digital micro-mirror devices. She worked on this project remotely.

"My project partner Luke and I would spend most of the day on Zoom together so it almost felt like we were in the lab still. And yet, I was lucky enough to be in Cornwall, which meant I was able to head out for an after-work surf!

My coding came on so much due to the project, setting me up for the labs module in my final year."

Poppy graduated with a 1st class Honours and is now doing a PhD with our Quantums Systems & Devices research group.

Poppy Joshi
Physics MPhys graduate 2021 and currently doing a PhD with Quantum Systems & Devices research group

Working with electrical vehicle batteries and a 3D scanner to measure magnetic fields in a 3D space

MPhys Physics Student Micah AnnorMicah was keen to have a placement in quantum physics as he wanted to take the abstract into applications that are used in everyday lives. In the labs he worked with electrical vehicle batteries with a PhD student and a postdoc on a 3D scanner to measure the magnetic fields in a 3D space. He was daunted by the prospect at first but found the people in the lab so helpful and keen to explain things and after his MPhys he is keen to go into research.

“I have picked up so much and found it such a rewarding experience”

Micah Annor
Physics MPhys

Designing a device that can alter the polarisation of a laser beam

Physics MPhys student Luke McHughLuke is another success story from the Foundation year which he took as he just missed the grades for Sussex. However he jumped at the chance when he was offered it as he really wanted to go to Sussex and says he does not regret the decision.

He worked on a summer project to design a device that can alter the polarisation of a laser beam. He thoroughly enjoyed his placement which led him to reconsider his planned path into astrophysics and focus more on quantum modules.

 Luke McHugh
 Physics MPhys

 Some of our students have completed SEPnet placements and talk about their projects and experiences

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