Wednesday 17 January 2018

Midlands Alliances

Spurred by an "over-coffee" conversation about links between Midlands Universities, I discovered that a research and innovation partnership called "Midlands Innovation" brings together eight Midlands universities:

Their mission statement is to "drive cutting-edge research, innovation and skills development that will grow the high-tech, high skilled economy of the Midlands" by building "global hubs of research and innovation excellence", "exploiting the unique strengths and building on the rich history of collaboration of eight leading Universities across the Midlands: Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick." 

They point out that the "Midlands is at the heart of the UK, with a population of more than 11 million, creating £222 billion Gross Value Added – more than 14% of the total for the UK. It is also a high-export economy, with exports worth more than any other region in the UK – £49 billion annually, 17% of the UK total.  The region is at the heart of UK manufacturing and advanced engineering, accounting for 20% of UK manufacturing output through world leading business and industry like Alstom, Bombardier, Jaguar Land Rover, JCB, National Grid, Rolls-Royce, Tarmac and Toyota UK."  Midlands Innovation is tapping into "the Midlands Engine for Growth, the Government's ais to raise the long-term growth rate of the region, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and add £34 billion to its economy by 2030."

A component of this is the Midlands Physics Alliance:  "a coordinated research group and joint Graduate School with the critical mass to compete with the top US and EU Universities.  The Alliance was established in 2007, with £5 million from the Engineering and Physics Sciences Research Council to invest in new, pioneering groups on cold atom physics. At its core, the Alliance consists of the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Warwick. The Universities of Leicester and Loughborough are also represented on the Graduate School Steering Committee."

I hadn't been aware of any of these Midlands groupings, but it makes a huge amount of sense in an era of dwindling resources and diminished UK influence in the global arena.  The Midlands has a really strong technology base and the immense advantage of lower cost-of-living than the South of England - I think it's time that people heard more about these alliances!

Undergraduate Physics Research Internships

One of my roles at the University of Leicester is to manage the SURE Programme (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience), which provides opportunities for paid summer jobs working with our researchers in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.  Typically, we're able to offer 5-6 positions each year to 3rd-year undergraduates from the UK.  However, I receive something like 100 applications, meaning that I have to turn some 95% of applicants away.  I've never found a decent list of internship opportunities (maybe to whittle down to the most persistent undergraduates!).  But I'll do my best to keep a list here - no promises to keep it up to date!


Overseas and Open to UK Undergraduates:
  • Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI): Space Astronomy Summer Program [I benefited from this as an undergraduate in 2003, working alongside Dr. Frank Summers on an outreach project.]

Jupiter Update: January 2018

New year, and new views of Jupiter are rolling in.

John Rogers of the British Astronomical Society is always a wonderful source of insight as Jupiter changes its stripes (see his accounts of changes through the first ten Juno perijoves through to December 2017:, and this apparition has been no different, as he continues to comment on the images from amateur observers.  At the same time, Marco Vedovato continues to update his database of Earth-based maps (, with maps from Nov 2017 to today.

So far this year, he's noted "how rapidly the [North Equatorial Belt] is evolving, at least in this sector; the great waves have developed into a series of barges, and the northern half is rapidly fading.  The dark brown NEB has receded so far southwards in this image that I begin to wonder whether it will become as narrow as in 2011-12, leading to another spectacular NEB Revival in 2019." The pattern of cyclones (dark) and anticyclones (white) on the northern edge of the NEB look absolutely spectacular - they're one of the end states of the NEB expansion and contraction phase that we saw throughout 2017.

The southern edge of the NTB (North Temperate Belt) continues to be a vivid red - maybe a photochemically-produced red haze as a result of the 2016 plume activity.

In the southern hemisphere, the rifting to the west of the Great Red Spot appears to be continuing.... this might be the "...resumption of normal convective ('rifting') activity there, in which case the [South Equatorial Belt] will probably not fade this year."  There's also a deep-red barge sat in the brown SEB that appears rather dramatic.

Meanwhile, Juno is on its way for the 11th perijove encounter on February 7th, and with luck, we'll have a whole variety of Earth-based observatories (VLT included) pointing towards the giant planet...

January 16th 2018 image from Anthony Wesley.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

PhD Studentships for 2018

Tips for Student Reviews/Reports

[Health warning: personal preferences may differ between researchers!]

One of the key skills being developed in an undergraduate or graduate degree is the ability to summarise and communicate complex ideas in a succinct and accessible way.  This is tested several times during the Physics degree course here at Leicester, and common mistakes can lead to lost marks.  Here's a list of my own personal preferences for reviews and reports, in case they're of use to the wider community.

  • Three Ts:  Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you’ve told them.  Repetition of key points helps to reinforce them.  You’re telling a story.
  • Central Theme:  Use the introduction to define a central question or thesis that your review will address, and keep referring back to this in each Section and in the Conclusion.  That way, the reader will understand how each particular section fits into the wider review.
  • Summarise sections:  At the end of a section, before moving on, try to include a few sentences/statements to say where we are in the review – what is the take-home message of the previous section, and what are we going to look at next?  This helps to avoid abrupt transitions between sections.
  • Numbered Sections:  Use numbered sections and subsections to break up large sections of text, and to make it easy to refer both forwards and backwards to different sections (signposting).
  • Figures:  Make sure that figures are referred to in the main text, so that the reader knows when they should be looking at a particular chart, table, or diagram.  Ensure that the caption contains sufficient information to explain what the reader is seeing, and contains either a source (Author et al, yyyy) or a web URL for the origin.  Ensure figures have a sufficient size to be useful.
  • References:  Avoid references to ‘NASA’, ‘ESA’, ‘Met Office’, etc. – if the information came from a weblink without a distinct author/year, use a footnote to provide the link.  If the information came from a primary source, use the ‘Author et al., (yyyy)’ format and include in your bibliography.
  • Text boxes:  Sometimes definitions or brief digressions are required in a review, so make use of text boxes (placed in the document like figures and referred to in the main text) rather than breaking up the flow of the report.
  • Columns:  The use of two columns helps to break up large blocks of text and is easier on the eye.
  • Keep to the point:  Don’t be tempted to go off topic or to introduce information that isn’t relevant to the central theme of the project – this can just lead to confusion and dilutes your take-home messages.
  • Proof-read:  Read it over and over again, even out loud, to make sure that the sentences flow together and make the points you’re intending.