How the Universe Lives & Dies

3 August 2018

Last month, the Villiers Park Educational Trust hosted its fifth annual five-day physics residential course for Year 11 students, with funding from The Ogden Trust. Focusing on the fundamental theories of physics, How the Universe Lives & Dies was attended by 24 young people from across the UK.

“Having just finished their GCSEs, it is so inspiring to see a group of young students give up a week of their summer holiday to pursue their love of physics,” says Deborah Richardson, Inspiring Excellence Programme Director. “They were a very engaged group, who tackled higher level topics and tasks with lots of enthusiasm”. 

The week-long course gave the students an insight into what it means to be a research physicist, taking them beyond the school curriculum and introducing them to university-level material, debate and analysis. Joining a group of motivated and like-minded people, each student was given a taste of what studying at university may be like, helping them to raise their aspirations and become inspired to take their studies further.

The course was led by two tutors who are experts in their fields, Dr Sean Elvidge and Robin Smith, both from the University of Birmingham. Through a mix of lectures, seminars, presentations and experiments, the students were introduced to a range of topics, including: small and large-scale physics, special relativity, space weather, life and death of stars, rocket science and astronomy. 


Feedback from the course has been very positive, with one student saying “The course challenged me very much, especially QED as the subject was mind-blowing!”

“I enjoyed rocket building the most, as I had the opportunity to be involved in a team and make contributions,” said another Year 11 student.

The course included a visit to the Airbus Foundation Discovery Space, Stevenage where the students attended a talk and short film on astronomy, before taking part in a workshop on ‘making a comet’. To top it off, they also got to see a full scale Mars Rover. 

During another visit, this time to the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, students enjoyed a talk by Dr Matt Bothwell on discovering exo-planets planets. They also saw one of the oldest working telescopes in the world, the Northumberland.

“It was inspiring to see young people so engaged and amazed by what they were learning.” Said Charley Phillips, Programme Officer for the Trust, who joined the students for one day. “The students asked intelligent and probing questions during a lecture on discovering exo-planets and visited one of the oldest working telescopes in the world. The learning opportunities provided by the team at Villiers Park were fantastic, interesting and varied, giving the students an introduction to physics that they would not have access to anywhere else.”

On the last day of the course, the students also gave group presentations to their peers. Each presentation was designed as a pitch for different space missions, featuring key factors such as the research that would take place, total costs, risk factor and also how taxpayers would be persuaded of their cost effectiveness!

How the Universe Lives & Dies is one of a series of subject specific residential courses which are held at the charity’s centre in Foxton, just outside Cambridge. For many students, this is their first time away from home and the first time they have been able to focus on one subject for an entire week with other like-minded people.

2018 course feedback:

100% of the students rated the course overall as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ with 91% rating it ‘excellent’ 

 said it increased their passion for the subject, with 70% saying it largely increased it

 felt it improved their motivation skills

 felt attending the course had increased their self-confidence

 said it helped their ability to work in a team

 said it improved their ability to take the initiative

 said it helped their communication skills

For more information on the Villiers Park residential, please contact Bridget Cusack,,01223 872601

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