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Physics and Astronomy scientists take their research to Parliament

Published: 13 March 2017

Researchers from Physics and Astronomy, and the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Southampton, will be attending Parliament today to present their research to a range of politicians and a panel of expert judges, as part of STEM for Britain.

Christopher Desira, undergraduate student in the Physics and Astronomy department, and Dr Matthew Aldous, from the Quantum Light and Matter Group, were shortlisted from hundreds of applicants to appear in Parliament. Their research will be presented as posters, and judged against those of other scientists and engineers in the only national competition of its kind.

Christopher Desira is presenting his research on the classification of small (sub-kilometer) near-Earth asteroids. These are the most common kind of asteroids, and the first that will be reached by humans and exploited for their rich resources. Christopher says, “I’m very honoured to have been selected to attend the event. This competition provides me with an opportunity to convey the importance of near-Earth asteroid research in the UK, with asteroid mining likely to become a real and profitable industry within the next decade.”

Dr Matthew Aldous will be covering his work into developing a compact, portable system for generating ultracold atoms – a universal platform for quantum sensing which will unlock its unparalleled potential to the world. Matthew says, “I am delighted to receive the opportunity to present my work to some of the UK's parliamentary decision makers in this competition. The importance of continued investment in Quantum Technologies to the UK's economy, security and society cannot be overstated, and it will be marvellous to demonstrate first-hand what the government's support means to people working in this field."

Christopher and Matthew are joined in the competition alongside three other researchers from the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering. Xiaoqing Shi and Miguel Xavier are PhD students in Electronics and Computer Science, and Dr Edward Rogers is from the Faculty’s Optoelectronics Research Centre.

• Xiaoqing is presenting her research into developing a new patterning technique that uses a focused beam of helium ions on novel materials. This could enable the rapid prototyping of novel future nanoelectronic devices and ultimately offers exciting possibilities to continue the miniaturization of electronics into the sub-10 nm regime. • Miguel’s research poster shows the development of new techniques based on microfluidics to isolate skeletal stem cells from human bone marrow and promote bone regeneration. • Edward has built a new type of microscope that does not need to label the samples with the toxic dyes that are used by competing systems, allowing us to look at living systems in their natural state in unprecedented detail.

Stephen Metcalfe MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, says: “This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country’s best young researchers.”

Taking place during British Science Week, STEM for Britain aims to encourage, support and promote Britain's early-stage and early-career research scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians. Awards are made on the basis of the very best research work and results together with researchers’ ability to communicate their work to a lay audience.

Christopher, Matthew and Edward’s work has been entered into the Physics session of the competition; Xiaoqing and Miguel’s has been entered into the Engineering session. Each session will end in a gold, silver and bronze prize-giving ceremony, judged by leading academics. The gold medalist from each session receives £3,000, while silver and bronze receive £2,000 and £1,000 respectively.

The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee runs the event in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Biology, The Physiological Society and the Council for Mathematical Sciences, with financial support from the Warwick Manufacturing Group, Clay Mathematics Institute, Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research, Institute of Biomedical Science and the Society of Chemical Industry.

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