We are a small group of year 12 students under the expert guidance of our science teacher, Mr Thomas. Thanks to the grant we received from the Royal Society, we have been able to excitedly start work on our project, based around interferometry.
The idea for a new project came about following our previous successful Partnership Grant, where we integrated a network of local primary schools and gave them wildlife cameras in order to study local wildlife, especially badgers.
We were keen to include a network of schools in the new project, as we found that model was really successful in building links between schools and engaging the wider community in science, but this time round we decided that a network of secondary schools would be more suitable for the project we had in mind.
Initially we contacted the outreach officer at the Oxford University Physics Department and asked her if she knew anybody that would be interested in a potential partnership project with local schools. She suggested that we ask people working in areas like quantum physics and low temperature science, as they had ideas and wanted people to work with. We contacted a Ph.D. student called Tom Hird, who is currently researching quantum computing, and after some discussion, in which we had some tentative ideas about an extension workshop for A level students based around real research, we came up with the idea of using interferometry as the basis of our project.
Interferometry uses two beams of electromagnetic waves (usually light) and the principles of wave interference to very accurately measure the size of something. Interferometry is a key tool used in so many aspects of physics, but it is not touched on a lot in the physics A level. It is used in quantum computing, for instance, as a method of encrypting code, as well as in recent exciting detections of gravitational waves.
Our project would be based on the waves and interference topic covered in A level physics, but it would be taken further outside of the syllabus. For a few thousand pounds, we found a desktop sized interferometer, which we thought could be used, with some instruction and training from our research partners, to facilitate pupils to conduct real research and take effective measurements. Examples such as measuring the refractive index of air or measuring the thickness of a sodium doublet slit have been suggested as starting points. As there will be 3 – 4 local secondary schools taking part, we will send it to each school taking part in the project for some time, maybe a term or so each, to allow them sufficient time to conduct their projects, then cycle it on to the next school.
We were planning to brief each of the schools at a workshop in Oxford University, share the equipment between schools for around a year, then hold a mini science conference where results from each of the schools would be presented. Academics from Oxford University would have been invited to the conference as well as teachers and families of students taking part.
The COVID-19 pandemic held this back, and has affected the rate at which our project has progressed, so we need to delay the project by a term and move the final conference back to maybe January of next year. Overall however the project has been running relatively smoothly even under our current trying circumstances and we are awaiting delivery of the interferometer, which is being set up and checked over at Oxford.