What you will study
Scientific enquiry, whether in the field or in the laboratory, proceeds through objective observation and experimentation: the questions ’why?’ and ’how?’ are explored through interactions and tests inspired by ’what if …?’. Skilled practical scientists reveal underlying relationships by devising questions that can be addressed safely; they report effectively and critically evaluate their findings. By studying this module you will develop skills that are essential for practical work.
You will study three main topics:
Astronomy: robotic telescope – Using a remotely operable astronomical instrument over the internet, you will conduct investigations with either an optical telescope or a radio telescope. The optical observations concern multi-colour photometric data of a number of sources, from which you can derive constraints on their physical nature. As clear skies cannot be guaranteed, this activity is designed in such a way that it can also be conducted with archive data. The alternative observations at radio wavelengths are of the emissions from interstellar hydrogen, from which the structure of our galaxy can be deduced. This is generally done during the day and is not generally affected by bad weather; nevertheless, archive data sets are available in case your observations cannot be completed. Whichever instrument you use, you will be working in a group with up to four other students. You will need to book your observing session 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 we recommend that you 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. In particular you will conduct two classic laboratory experiments – either remotely or through replaying data from our archives 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 relates to special relativity and to electromagnetism. The instruments involved include a scintillator, a photomultiplier, a Hall probe and basic ways of measuring voltage, current, distance and angle. Although the values of m and e are already well known, this activity will develop your skills in conducting practical investigations, including how to handle uncertainty in measurements.
NMR: molecules and imaging – In this activity you will explore the fundamentals of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. After learning the basics of the technique, by measuring frequency-intensity data, you will investigate the 1H NMR spectroscopy of simple organic molecules, spin-spin coupling and correlation charts. You will complete this activity by exploring the fundamental relationship between proton resonance frequency and magnetic field strength and investigating key features of MR imaging. You will 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 will be able to appreciate key features (localisation and contrast) of MR medical images.
At the end of the module you will 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. Teams will share tasks of researching a practical context, modelling and experimentation. You’ll 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
During the module you will be required to use your own personal computer to access experiments and data, and to analyse and report results. You should 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 within the module will require scheduled interactions either with equipment or with your tutor group. Therefore this module may 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 2017, and if you are unavailable for study, or do not have regular access to a broadband internet connection, for more than a week during this time you may 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
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.