What you will study
Scientific enquiry, whether in the field or in the laboratory, proceeds through objective observation and experimentation: good experimental design starts with a clearly defined and testable hypothesis or research question and proceeds by assembling the necessary equipment and techniques to carry out investigations to test that hypothesis. Skilled practical scientists reveal underlying relationships by devising questions that they can address safely; they report effectively; and critically evaluate their findings. By studying this module, you’ll develop skills such as calibration, data analysis and data interpretation that are essential for practical work.
You’ll study three main topics:
Astronomy: robotic telescope – Using a remotely operable astronomical instrument over the Internet, you’ll conduct investigations with either an optical telescope (PIRATE) or a radio telescope (ARROW).
The optical observations concern photometry of open and globular clusters of stars in different wavebands, from which you can compile a colour-magnitude diagram in order to estimate properties such as the age and distance of the clusters. As we can’t guarantee clear skies, we’ve designed this activity so that you can also conduct it with archive data if necessary.
The alternative observations at radio wavelengths are of the emissions from interstellar hydrogen, from which we can deduce the structure of our galaxy. You’ll generally do this during the day, so bad weather will affect it less; nevertheless, archive data sets are available in case you can’t complete your observations.
Whichever instrument you use, you’ll be working in a group with up to four other students. You’ll need to choose from the two options (PIRATE or ARROW) at the start of the module: places on each telescope option are limited and will be available on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis, so book early to maximise your chances of getting an observing session on your preferred activity.
Probing the electron – This activity is about charged particles and radiation. You’ll conduct two classic laboratory experiments – one using real-time remotely operated X-ray equipment and the other as an interactive screen experiment (ISE). These investigations lead to the determination of two fundamental properties of the electron: its mass and its charge, using Compton scattering of X-rays and the Lorentz force on a beam of electrons. These are classic experiments in physics and their interpretation depends on special relativity and electromagnetism.
This activity will develop your skills in conducting practical investigations including calibration of equipment, handling of experimental uncertainties and the presentation and interpretation of results. In the course of your investigations into the Compton effect, you’ll also be recreating a Nobel Prize-winning experiment that confirmed a fundamental result in quantum mechanics – that photons carry momentum.
NMR: molecules and imaging – In this activity you’ll explore the fundamentals of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. After learning the basics of the technique, by measuring frequency-intensity data, you’ll investigate the 1H NMR spectroscopy of simple organic molecules, spin-spin coupling and correlation charts. You’ll complete this activity by exploring the fundamental relationship between proton resonance frequency and magnetic field strength and investigating key features of MR imaging. You’ll be able to establish the key principles of spatial localisation in one dimension. In an interactive screen experiment, you will discover how to measure a spin-lattice relaxation time. As a result, you’ll be able to appreciate key features (localisation and contrast) of MR medical images.
At the end of the module you’ll complete a short team-based project involving mathematical modelling and practical analysis relating to experimental data. This activity will guide you through the manipulation and interpretation of large-scale observational data on oceans, atmosphere and planetary surfaces and you’ll learn how differential equations are used to model physical systems. Teams will share tasks of researching a practical context, modelling and experimentation. You will work collaboratively with your team using a variety of communication methods, including scheduled online forums. Experience of this kind of professional teamwork is highly regarded by many employers.
Method of study
You’ll be required to use your own personal computer to interact with remote experiments and to process data, and to analyse and report results. Be prepared to set aside several periods of up to half a day for completing some of the tasks. Therefore, to study this module successfully, you must be able to study regularly (for 8-10 hours per week) and have broadband access to the internet (for up to 4 hours per week) throughout the duration of the module.
Some tasks will require scheduled interactions either with equipment or with your tutor group. Therefore, this module might not be suitable for you if you are often unavailable for study for more than a week at a time. The end-of-module assessment (team project) will require working online in a group from the end of April to the end of May, and if you’re unavailable for study, or don’t have regular access to a broadband internet connection, for more than a week during this time, you might not be able to complete the module satisfactorily.
You will learn
The practical skills developed in this module include:
- planning and conducting observations and experiments
- data handling
- data presentation
- report writing
- safe working
- professional team-working.
You will catalogue evidence of your achievement of these in a Skills Portfolio that forms part of the assessment.
While studying a variety of interesting topics, this module will develop your problem-solving abilities, team working and use of computers for learning and communication. All these skills are likely to be useful in a work context, particularly for jobs requiring a precise and quantitative approach.