The University of Southampton

Students develop career-defining skills during MPhys projects

Published: 16 August 2018
Students can use Southampton's rooftop observatory for their project work.

Fourth year physics students at the University of Southampton have the opportunity to spend time embedded in our research groups, where they work with peers and academic staff on an extended research project.

These MPhys projects, which extend over both semesters of the final year, develop important research skills. Students can choose a project in the field of physics which most interests them. Past projects have included analysing astronomy data from the Cassini satellite, investigating aspects of particle physics using CERN data and performing Raman scattering measurements on nanomaterials to study their optical, electronic and vibrational properties.

Here's a round-up from three projects that were completed this summer:

Applying Bayesian Inference techniques to financial market data

James Stephens developed an algorithm during his final year project that applied Bayesian Inference techniques used in particle physics simulations to the analysis of financial market data. He wrote the algorithm using Python, a coding language he learnt during the second year of his degree.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the independence of creating my project from scratch, with the comfort in knowing I’m being supervised by an expert in their field,” James says. “It was satisfying to be able to use the knowledge I accumulated over my degree to tackle a real-world problem outside of physics, namely in the area of mathematical finance.”

James worked alongside Dr Andreas Jüttner from the Southampton High Energy Physics (SHEP) Group to produce a final product that could precisely determine the parameters of artificial stock market data.

“The skills and knowledge attained from this project gave me the confidence to move on to a Software Implementation Analyst job at an algorithmic multi-equity trading firm in London,” he says. “They made it clear after the interview process that the problem-solving mind-set that was refined during my physics degree is what set me apart from computer science graduates competing for the same job.”

Investigating the Hubble constant

Jenny Edwards spent her final year project investigating the Hubble constant, a measure of the rate of acceleration of the Universe. This measurement can in turn be used to define several important cosmological parameters, including the age of the Universe and amount of dark energy it contains.

Jenny worked with Professor Mark Sullivan from the Southampton Astronomy Group on her project as she measured the brightness of exploding dead stars known as supernovae. She advanced the project with data from the University’s rooftop observatory and The Liverpool Telescope in La Palma, Spain.

“The experience was really interesting because it was a chance to specialise and do in-depth research on a topic I enjoy,” she says. “I particularly enjoyed the fact we were able to do our own data collection using the Southampton telescope. It meant some late - and cold – nights as we collected our own measurements and contributed live data to the project, which improved our analysis skills as we had to do a lot of calibration.”

Jenny is set to begin the defence engineering graduate scheme with Lockheed Martin UK in September.

“I am confident this project has helped me going forward,” she says. “Group work is key in many aspects of life but especially so in an engineering team, where communication is important to be able to produce results when people have different skills.”

Using the university cleanroom to fabricate devices for single-photon applications

Chris Meayers gained experience in electron-beam lithography during his project in the University’s world-leading cleanrooms, the largest multidisciplinary facility of its type in the UK. He worked alongside Dr Luca Sapienza, of the Solid State Quantum Optics Group, on the fabrication and characterisation of devices that can be used for single-photon applications.

“The experience was rewarding when you can see how your personal contribution improves the results of research,” he says. “I enjoyed fabricating the devices as this was particularly hands-on and developed technical skills beyond what I had learned during the undergraduate degree. I also liked the freedom in choosing how to go about achieving the goals set out by the supervisor.”

The source of light in Chris’ project was a nano-scopic diamond implanted with nitrogen, which produces an atom-like electronic level system. The focus of the fabrication was to write gold rings onto the device that then enhance the light emission.

“My studies have definitely prepared me for work in a scientific environment, in both knowledge and mind-set,” he adds.

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