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Northumbria hosts sixth form science talks

4th October 2017

The science behind cricket, noise, ice sheets and ocean waves will be explored during a series of free talks aimed at sixth form pupils in and around Newcastle.

Over the course of eight weeks, Northumbria University will host the How Physics and Maths Make a Difference in the World lecture series, which aims to show why physics and maths matter and where they can lead to.

The lecture series has been organised as part of Northumbria University’s NUSTEM project, which aims to encourage and inspire the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics students through a wide variety of educational events.

Featuring one-hour talks by academics from Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, the event is open to pupils from Year 11 upwards, as well as their parents and teachers.

The first lecture takes place tomorrow (Thursday 5 October), with Northumbria’s Dr Sara Lombardo discussing the mathematics of extreme ocean waves – part of maritime folklore for centuries and now attracting the interest of scientists.

The theme for the second lecture is Keeping the Lights on, during which Dr Sara Walker, of Newcastle University, will explore how the UK (and the world) can generate electricity in a cost effective and sustainable way, and the role physics plays.

The full lecture series is as follows:

Week 1 – The Mathematics of Giant Oceanic Waves (5th October 2017)

Dr Sara Lombardo – Department of Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering, Northumbria University

In this lecture  Dr Sara Lombardo will  focused on mathematical challenges coming from extreme environments and environmental hazards, in particular it explores the concepts of waves and extreme waves (also called rogue waves) and

Week 2 – Keeping the Lights On (12th October 2017)

Dr Sara Walker – Newcastle University

How can the UK (and world) generate electricity in a cost effective and sustainable way? What has physics got to do with this? In this talk, Dr Sara Walker will talk about electricity and renewables policy, and how she came to study these aspects following her physics degree.

Week 3 – Cricket as life and death (19th October 2017)

Dr Pete Philipson – Department of Mathematics, Physics and electrical Engineering, Northumbria University

In July 2015, ahead of the upcoming Ashes series against Australia, England’s Director of Cricket stated “it’s not about life and death, it’s a game of cricket”. Viewed through the prism of batting, however, cricket can be very much thought of as a battle for survival. Going out to bat, a batsman is ‘born’ and they then ‘live’ until they are dismissed and ‘die’.

In this talk will demonstrate that, following this analogy, run scoring can be analysed using techniques from survival analysis, thereby providing richer information than the standard one-number summary.

Week 4 – You What? – Noise Management and bio acoustics (2nd November 2017)

Dr Peter Glaves – Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University

We live in an increasingly noisy world. If you’ve ever had a sleepless night due to your noisy neighbours or busy traffic, you will understand how noise can impact on people. But what is ‘noise’? How can it be understood? And how can noise be managed?

Peter’s session will address some of the big questions in noise science and noise management:

Week 5 – The complex beauty of fractal geometry (9th November 2017)

Dr Matteo Sommacal, Department of Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering, Northumbria University

In this lecture, Dr Matteo Sommacal will explain, with the aid of some computer graphics, how Fractals – the shapes that come out of Fractal Geometry – can be defined as geometrical objects characterised by two properties: self-similarity, and non-integer dimension. Differently from the ‘smooth’ figures of classical Geometry, such as circles or triangles, Fractals turn out to be ‘rough’ and infinitely complex.

Week 6 – Body-surfing: wave dynamics in the human body (16th November 2017)

Dr Benoit Huard, Department of Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering, Northumbria University

Physiology is a vast medical field which studies a wealth of mechanisms that make the body work healthily. From brain-to-toe travelling impulses to the breath-heart beat coordination and clocks regulating blood sugar levels and sleep, they all follow basic principles which can be modelled using geometry, algebra and calculus. By looking at different wave phenomena operating in the body, we will see how various mathematical bifurcations ensure the proper tuning of our daily anatomical functions.

Week 7 – Radar investigations of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (23rd November 2017)

Dr Kate Winter, Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University

Glaciologists use ice penetrating radar to investigate the subsurface properties of ice sheets, ice caps and glaciers. Since the 1960’s airborne radio-echo sounding (RES) techniques have been used to determine ice sheet thickness and map the subglacial surface, identify subglacial lakes and volcanoes and record internal layers in glacier ice, which reflect past and present mass balance, form and flow. In this talk, Dr Kate Winter from Northumbria University will provide a brief overview of the uses and capabilities of radio-echo sounding, before focussing on how radar investigations have shaped our understanding of the current state and future stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. With reference to her recent visit to Antarctica, this talk promises lots of great photos and an insight into life in the polar regions, as well as the opportunity to appreciate the real-world application of physics in the coolest place on Earth.

Week 8 – Physics of Soft and Biological Matter: sticky, squishy, bouncy (30th November 2017)

Dr Rodrigo Lesdema Aguillar, Department of Mathematics Physics and Electrical Engineering, Northumbria University

Through natural selection, many animal and plant species have developed clever solutions to problems linked to survival in the natural world.

In this talk, we will explore how the physics of these strategies are inspiring clever technologies range from everyday materials to new energy harvesting devices for space exploration.

All talks will be held from 5.30pm to 6.30pm in Northumbria University’s Ellison Building, room EBA102A. For more information and to book a place at any of the lectures, please visit

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