Physics is cool, physics is creative, and physics students are in short supply. These were just some of the key messages at a recent Ogden Trafford Partnership conference, held at St Ambrose College, Altrincham.
The event was organised by Trafford Partnership co-ordinator, Melissa Lord and St Ambrose physics teacher Sabiyah Qadir. It brought together some of the region's leading physics exponents as they talked to the aspiring young scientists at this special conference. Hundreds of GCSE students from secondary schools across Trafford, contemplating the choices to be made before the next stage of their education, listened intently to a series of experts now using their physics qualifications to improve society.
The event examined both the intellectual challenge of studying the largest and smallest aspects of the universe, as well as the practical impact physicists make on our daily lives. The students heard about a wide range of physics applications and careers, from state of the art audio and acoustics technology to safety issues around our nuclear defence; from understanding how power will be transferred for the planned new breed of electric trains, to finding out about the principles of modern meteorology. Not to mention, the physics of water flow that is essential in helping to protect communities from floods.
Andrew Thomson, a design engineer for railway systems manufacturer Mott-McDonald, was clear: “Get involved. Physics is cool and there are endless possibilities for creative roles in society.”
Andrew Marwick, a lecturer in astrophysics at Jodrell Bank, Manchester University was equally enthusiastic about the options made possible through physics: “I was always looking up at the stars and was fascinated by the fact that I could never go there, but then I discovered you could find out what was there by looking at them and examining the chemical molecules in outer space.” He added: “who knows what advances future generations will make – one day we might be able to inhabit other parts of the universe.”
Peter Greenhalgh, an oceanographer and meteorologist with the Royal Navy Reserve, said: “The advances in technology in our field have been astonishing and something I said with conviction 20 years ago I would discount now, so who knows how far the next generation will take us.”
Emily Richardson, is a health and safety expert in the nuclear industry who also spoke at the event: “I wanted to study medicine but then I did a Smallpeice scholarship at Lancaster University and in that week my life changed as I discovered I could find out how things work and design new applications. I had to go back and rewrite my university application overnight,”
Sabiyah Qadir believes events like this can help encourage students to take physics further: “Teachers need role models to help inspire young scientists from beyond the classroom. We have just lost one of our greatest role models in Sir Stephen Hawking, but believe more and more of our best young people will take up the challenge to discover more about the world around them, and in so doing provide practical solutions to our very real problems.”