Dr Rosalind Allen of the School's Institute of Condensed Matter & Complex Systems has been awarded a 1.8m euro Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC).
The award will support the next five years of Rosalind's work on the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections - a current major global health issue. Together with collaborators including the School's Dr Bartek Waclaw, she will use experiments and computer simulations to understand why some infections, in which the bacteria form dense colonies called biofilms, are especially hard to treat with antibiotics. Rosalind will also investigate whether these spatially structured infections could act as important sources of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
"I am delighted to receive this funding from the ERC. Biological physics has been an expanding area within the School for some years now, and the School's investment in labs and both experimental and computer support has been an important factor in helping me to get this grant. Antibiotic-resistant infections are a growing and widely recognised problem worldwide. As physicists we can bring a new perspective to understanding the factors that control the emergence of these resistant infections and I am delighted to contribute to this effort." Dr Rosalind Allen, Institute of Condensed Matter & Complex Systems
Prof Jim Dunlop of the School of Physics & Astronomy has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s (RAS) Herschel Medal for his pioneering research into galaxy formation.
The prize, to be presented at an event in June, is one of a series presented annually by the RAS.
In the golden age of our current paradigm for galaxy formation, the hierarchical Cold Dark Matter Universe, and before the discovery that the Universe needs an unknown Dark Energy to explain its present acceleration, Jim Dunlop was discovering that galaxies as old as the Universe - perhaps, even older - existed just a couple of billion years after the Big Bang.
This surprising discovery towards the end of the ’90s found corroboration among colleagues in a series of papers which led to the acceptance of another seemingly contradictory paradigm, the baryonic downsizing in galaxy formation, which sees the most massive galaxies forming first in the Universe. Jim Dunlop’s fortitude to trespass the known territory pushed the frontiers of extra-galactic astrophysics and observational cosmology towards the limits of knowledge. He discovered the first dust-enshrouded galaxies just two at redshift larger than 3 and played a key role in shifting the understanding of galaxy evolution into the yet unknown territory of sub-millimetre cosmology.
Presently Professor Jim Dunlop, Head of the Institute of Astronomy in Edinburgh, leads the most ambitious international programme to discover and understand the first galaxies, at epochs when the Universe saw its first light. Understanding cosmic re-ionisation, which tells about the link between the primordial Universe and galaxy formation, is a primary goal of modern astrophysics and cosmology.
For these reasons, Professor Dunlop is awarded the Herschel Medal.
Experiments by researchers in the School's Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions (CSEC) have reached the highest ever recorded pressures on dense hydrogen, in excess of the pressures found at the centre of the Earth.
As reported in the prestigious "Nature” magazine, the study provides evidence that at above 350 GPa (3,500,000 atm) and at room temperature hydrogen adopts a novel structure. Interestingly the results are suggestive that this new phase could prove to be the precursor to the long sought metallic phase of hydrogen, predicted over 80 years ago by theory.
As the simplest, lightest and most abundant element of the Universe, hydrogen is of fundamental interest in many fields of science. At high pressure and low temperatures, hydrogen is predicted to transform from a molecular system to a metallic (atomic) state. This behaviour is crucial to planetary science as hydrogen is believed to be found in the centre of Jovian planets and to be the source of their exceptionally high magnetic fields. This predicted state is also believed to exhibit rich phenomena such as superconductivity and super-fluidity, which would result in many technological breakthroughs. Reaching such conditions with hydrogen in the experimental laboratory however has been a great challenge in the field of high pressure research: only 4 years ago it was limited to less than half of the pressure recorded in the study.
Through new technological breakthroughs in the containment of hot hydrogen in diamond anvil cell experiments, Philip Dalladay-Simpson, Ross Howie and Eugene Gregoryanz at the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions report that above 350 GPa hydrogen adopts a novel phase, phase V.
Tracking this transformation over a large pressure regime up to 400 GPa and up to 450 K through Raman spectroscopy and comparing with theoretically predicted structures, the team suggest that phase V could be the precursor to the experimentally elusive, completely metallic and atomic phase of hydrogen. The work will undoubtedly reinvigorate both theoretical and experimental efforts to understand these newly discovered phases and hydrogen’s evolution to a purely metallic (atomic) structure.
"The past 30 years of high-pressure research saw numerous claims of the creation of metallic hydrogen in the laboratory with the latest being made in 2011, but all these claims were later disproved. Our study presents the first experimental evidence that hydrogen could behave as predicted, although at much higher pressures than previously thought." Prof. Eugene Gregoryanz, Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions
Cait MacPhee, Professor of Biological Physics, has been made a CBE.
Congratulations to Cait MacPhee who was recognised in the Queen’s New Year's Honours list for her services to women in Physics.
Cait works with primary school teachers across Scotland, increasing their confidence in incorporating science into their day-to-day lessons. She also led the School's succesful bids for the Athena SWAN Silver and Project Juno Champion awards.
Project Juno and Athena SWAN
The Institute of Physics' Project Juno recognises and rewards departments that can demonstrate they have taken action to address the under-representation of women in university physics and to encourage better practice for both women and men.
Athena SWAN supports women in science, engineering and technology, and in the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students.
The Edinburgh Particle Physics Experiment group has been successful in obtaining combined funding of £3m from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
This award will support the group's work over the next 4 years for the ATLAS and LHCb experiments at CERN, the dark matter experiment Lux-Zeplin, and plans for a neutrino experiment (Hyper-Kamiokande) in Japan.
The activities of these major international experiments include research into the properties of the Higgs boson, the search for new particles beyond the standard model such as dark matter, and investigations into the difference between matter and antimatter in beauty hadrons and neutrinos.
"This is excellent news. The LHC successfully started operating again this year at almost twice the beam energy. Over the next few years, Edinburgh physicists are looking forward to recording and analysing even larger data samples. We hope this will allow us to shed light on three of the major unsolved questions about how nature works, namely the origin of mass, dark matter and the asymmetry between matter and antimatter." Prof. Franz Muheim, head of the Particle Physics Experiment group at the University of Edinburgh
"This funding is welcome news for the Atlas experiment group in Edinburgh! By supporting our team of academics, researchers, engineer and technicians, we can take the next steps in investigating the Higgs boson particle, and in answering some outstanding mysteries of our universe, such as the existence of dark matter and how to incorporate the force of gravity into theories of quantum mechanics." Dr Victoria Martin, Particle Physics Experiment group
Postdoctoral Research Associate Flavia Dias has joined 40 other scientists in this year's fast-paced live chats with pupils from nearly 160 UK schools.
Between the 9th and 20th of November, the scientists will be competing for the school pupils’ votes by answering questions on everything from particle physics, to the ageing body, to the heart, to changing fish populations.
"I find it very satisfying to interact with students and share my enthusiasm about the beauty of Particle Physics and how it helps us understand the Universe. Talking to the young generation also reminds me to look back into the bigger picture and to think outside the box. It's a great experience that both students and scientists can benefit from." Flavia Dias, Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics
What is ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here’?
‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here’ is a free online event where school students get to meet and interact with scientists. It’s a free X Factor-style competition between scientists, where the students are the judges. Students challenge the scientists over intense, fast-paced, online live CHATs. Then they ask the scientists all the questions they want to, and vote for their favourite scientist to win a prize of £500 to communicate their work with the public.
Weather patterns in a mysterious world beyond our solar system have been revealed for the first time, a study suggests.
Layers of clouds, made up of hot dust and droplets of molten iron, have been detected on a planet-like object found 75 light years from Earth, researchers say. Findings from the study could improve scientists’ ability to find out if conditions in far-off planets are capable of sustaining life.
University researchers used a telescope in Chile to study the weather systems in the distant world - known as PSO J318.5-22 - which is estimated to be around 20 million-years-old. They captured hundreds of infra-red images of the object as it rotated over a 5-hour period. By comparing the brightness of PSO J318.5-22 with neighbouring bodies, the team discovered that it is covered in multiple layers of thick and thin cloud.
The far-off world is around the same size as Jupiter - the largest planet in our solar system - but is roughly eight times more massive, the team says. Temperatures inside clouds on PSO J318.5-22 exceed 800°C, researchers say. The team was able to accurately measure changes in brightness on PSO J318.5-22 because it does not orbit a star. Stars like our sun emit huge amounts of light, which can complicate measurements made of the brightness of objects orbiting them, researchers say.
Such techniques may eventually be applicable to cooler, lower mass planets, which are more likely to be capable of supporting life.
The study, published in The Astrophysical Journal, was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The work also involved institutions in the US, Germany, France and Spain.
We're working on extending this technique to giant planets around young stars, and eventually we hope to detect weather in Earth-like exoplanets that may harbour life.
Dr Beth Biller, Chancellor's Fellow, School of Physics and Astronomy
Congratulations to Michal Michalowski, a researcher at the Institute for Astronomy, who was chosen in recognition of outstanding, individual accomplishments in the field of astronomy.
The full citation reads: "Dr Michalowski has made a significant contribution to our understanding of formation and evolution of dust in the Universe, and he is an independent and extraordinarily productive researcher. In particular, Dr Michalowski has found evidences that in the distant universe most of dust formed through grain growth in the interstellar medium, and was not directly produced by supernovae or asymptotic giant branch stars. Dr Michalowski has also proven that a large fraction of star formation activity in the Universe happened in the most luminous galaxies, which is a significant constraint on cosmological galaxy evolution models, and that these luminous galaxies have similar characteristics to their fainter counterparts. Moreover, Dr Michalowski found that most of stars in these luminous galaxies were formed before the current strong star-formation episode."
"I am honoured to receive this award. It was established in 1970 and since then has been awarded to many distinguished Polish astronomers. I am especially happy because now, together with the RAS award, the astronomical communities of the country where I am from and the country where I work have both recognised the importance of my research." Michal Michalowski, Institute for Astronomy
Neutrinos are fundamental particles which are created in radioactive decays, in fusion processes in stars, such as our Sun, and in cosmic ray interactions with the Earth’s atmosphere. Even though neutrinos are very abundant in nature and billions pass through our bodies each second, their very weak interaction make observation challenging.
Similar to other fundamental particle of the Standard Model, neutrinos come in three flavours: electron-, muon- and tau-neutrino.
The 2015 Nobel prize for Physics was jointly awarded to Prof. Arthur McDonald of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) in Canada and Professor Takaaki Kajita of the Super-Kamiokande (Super-K) collaboration in Japan. The experimental teams led by the laureates showed that neutrinos can switch (or oscillate) between the different flavours. This important observation implies that neutrinos have a small but non-zero mass.
The SNO experiment focused on studying neutrinos produced in our Sun. Previous measurements, for which Ray Davies was awarded the 2002 Nobel prize, indicated that there was a deficit in the electron-neutrinos produced compared to expectations from solar models. The measurements from SNO solve this discrepancy by showing that the electron neutrinos produced were oscillating into muon- or tau-neutrinos. The Super-K experiment is a large underground detector in Japan, consisting of a cylindrical stainless steel tank that is 41 m tall and 39 m in diameter holding 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water. It’s large size makes it ideal to detect and study neutrinos produced in the atmosphere and the experiment demonstrated the oscillation phenomenon applies also to muon-neutrinos, changing flavour into tau-neutrinos.
'The award of the Nobel prize for neutrino physics is fantastic news and well deserved. The fact that neutrinos oscillate and have mass was totally unexpected’.
Dr Greig Cowan, University of Edinburgh
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh, including Greig, have recently joined the planned successor to the Super-K experiment, called Hyper-K. Hyper-K is also an underground detector located in Japan, filled with 1 million metric tons of ultrapure water, a volume approximately 20 times larger than that of Super-K. Start of science operation is foreseen from around 2025.
The behaviour of neutrinos could well surprise us in the future, in particular Hyper-K aims to study with unprecedented accuracy the differences in the switching properties for neutrinos and their anti-matter counterpart. During the Big Bang equal amounts of matter and anti-matter should have been produced. However, our Universe we see today is dominated by matter.
As Dr Cowan explained 'There must be new yet unknown physics processes that distinguish matter and anti-matter. One possibility is that neutrino oscillations are not the same for neutrinos and anti-neutrinos, which could help resolve the puzzle of the matter asymmetry of the Universe. If this is the case we will pin this down with Hyper-K in the coming years. The next years are going to be very exciting times for neutrino physics.'
The Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) is offering PhD studentships for outstanding students from anywhere in the world.
These prestigious and competitive awards are intended to attract excellent students to study for a PhD in Scotland. SUPA opens a single front door into Physics PhDs in Scotland. When you apply for a SUPA Prize PhD Studentship you will also be considered for all other funded places available in physics departments in Scotland.
Major themes pursued by researchers in SUPA are:
- Astronomy and Space Physics
- Condensed Matter and Materials Physics
- Particle Physics
- Physics and Life Sciences
- Nuclear and Plasma Physics
SUPA Prize Students are registered for a PhD in physics at one of the participating universities:
- Heriot Watt
- St Andrews
- University of the West of Scotland
An excellent training environment will be provided by the SUPA Graduate School, giving candidates access to a wide range of courses across Scotland.
How to Apply
Applications should be made using the online application form available at: http://apply.supa.ac.uk/
Instructions for completing the form are given in our Application Guide.
Applications MUST be submitted by 23:59 GMT on Sunday 31st January 2016.
References MUST be uploaded by 23:59 GMT on Sunday 7th February 2016.
You will be informed of the result of your application by each institution. You must also apply to your chosen SUPA university to undertake a PhD and are obliged to meet the minimum requirements of that institution.