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Essay Winners

Thanks to everybody that took part in our essay competition.

Read the winning essays here.

Summer 2020

Previous Sessions

Radiation Shielding

Unstable nuclei emit particles and electromagnetic radiation. In this session you will learn about how the levels of radiation can be measured using radiation detectors and reduced using the radiation protection principles of shielding, time and distance.

You will hear from Miss Jaimie Platt about research being undertaken at the university of Liverpool to identify and characterise nuclear waste, whilst Mrs Jess Heaps will share her experiences in radiation protection.

You can try our virtual experiment to study the attenuation of gamma radiation by materials and investigate the relationship with material thickness. There is also an extended activity to try out, which involves designing a simple radiation protection shield for a real-world situation.

Link to A-Level specifications: Radioactive decay; nuclear instability; safety aspects; alpha, beta and gamma radiation

Jess Heaps - Introduction to Radiation Protection

Mrs Jess Heaps works in radiation protection as a Health Scientist at Rolls Royce Submarines, Derby. She has had an interesting career that includes time in the Royal Navy, working as an Analytical Chemist in the Pharmaceutical industry, completing an undergraduate degree in Physics with Nuclear Science at the University of Liverpool and working as a Trainee Health Physicist at Amec Foster Wheeler.

Jess has experience in providing radiation protection advice, writing radiation risk assessments, radiological surveying and monitoring.

Jaimie Platt - Developing New Ways to Characterise Radioactive Waste

Miss Jaimie Platt is a PhD student at the University of Liverpool who is developing new methods to characterise radioactive waste. Jaimie is an expert in using radiation detectors for nuclear measurements, having completed an MSc in Radiometrics. Her current research is investigating the use of a novel gamma-ray imaging system to determine the ingress of radiation in concrete for nuclear decommissioning scenarios.

Nuclear Shapes and Sizes

There are approximately 2500 known atomic nuclei, which each have a unique combination of protons and neutrons. More than 2200 of these nuclei are radioactive, which means that they decay to form other types of atomic nuclei. Researchers at the University of Liverpool use different experimental techniques to study the different sizes and shapes that these atomic nuclei have.

In this session, you can hear from Prof Bradley Cheal and Dr Liam Gaffney talk about their research that takes place at laboratories around the world. You can also use our interactive map to explore the laboratories that are used by researchers at the University of Liverpool Nuclear Physics Group.

Links to A-Level Physics Specifications: Rutherford scattering; nuclear instability; nuclear radius; mass and energy.

Professor Bradley Cheal - Measuring Nuclear Sizes and Shapes

Prof Bradley Cheal is a Professor of Physics in the Nuclear Physics Group at the University of Liverpool. He is a leading expert in using laser spectroscopy to study exotic nuclei. His experimental work takes place at international accelerator laboratories, where nuclei are produced in reactions using high energy beams. These include the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the University of Jyvaskyla Accelerator Laboratory (JYFL), the Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research (GSI), and Canada’s particle accelerator centre (TRIUMF).

Dr Liam Gaffney - Measuring the Shape of Atomic Nuclei

Dr Liam Gaffney is an Ernest Rutherford Fellow at the University of Liverpool. His expertise is studying the shape of deformed atomic nuclei using nuclear reactions and decay spectroscopy. He undertook his PhD at the University of Liverpool, for which he published his thesis on the first production and study of a first pear-shaped nucleus. This exciting work was highlighted by Physics World as one of the top 10 physics breakthroughs of 2013. Liam then held Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions fellowships at KU Leuven in Belgium and CERN before returning to the UK.

Nuclear Instability

In this session, you will learn about decay modes of unstable nuclei including alpha, beta and electron capture. You will hear from Prof Rodi Herzberg, Professor at the University of Liverpool, about how he uses experiments at international accelerator facilities to change the N and Z of atomic nuclei in order to produce super heavy chemical elements and then study their radioactive decay.

you will be able to have a go at our offline experiments to learn about the exponential nature of the decay equation. These experiments can be done at home and you can even get household members involved in your team!

Link to A-Level specifications: Radioactive decay; nuclear instability; alpha, beta and gamma half-life

Professor Rodi Herzberg - Radioactivity and the Creation of Elements

Professor Rodi Herzberg is the Lyon Jones Professor of Physics at the University of Liverpool. His research interests are nuclear structure physics, particularly spectroscopy and the structure of super heavy nuclei, conversion electron spectroscopy, octupole excitations, multi-phonon states, inelastic photon scattering and pygmy resonances.

His experiments take place across the world, including at GSI (Germany) and JYFL (Finland).

In this talk, Rodi discusses how new and very heavy chemical elements are created and identified in the laboratory.

The exponential decay worksheet and accompanying materials for the experiments can be accessed here:

Nuclear Medicine

Physics has an important role to play in many aspects of medicine. In this session, we will focus on the Physics of Nuclear Medicine.

In Nuclear medicine, radioactive materials are administered to patients for diagnosis and therapy. In diagnosis, the radiation is used to see how the body is functioning and in therapy the radiation can be used to destroy cancer cells.

You will hear from Dr Amina Powell about how she uses her physics training in her current role as a nuclear medicine physicist at Royal Brampton Hospital. Dr Laura Harkness-Brennan will also talk about research projects aiming to translate nuclear measurement techniques from nuclear physics experiments to nuclear medicine.

You will be able to try our dose ordering game and have a go at our nuclear medicine quiz!

Link to A-Level specifications: Radioactive decay; safety aspects; alpha, beta and gamma radiation; imaging techniques; half-life; gamma camera; use of radioactive implants; imaging comparisons

Dr Amina Powell - Nuclear Medicine

Dr Amina Powell is a nuclear medicine physicist at Royal Brampton Hospital, Chelsea, London. She studied at the University of Liverpool being awarded a BSc Physics with Medical Applications degree and a PhD in Nuclear Physics. She trained at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust before joining Royal Brampton and is now a Registered Clinical Scientist.

Dr Laura Harkness-Brennan

Dr Laura Harkness-Brennan is a Reader at the University of Liverpool. Her expertise is in developing detectors and techniques for gamma-ray detection and imaging, including nuclear medicine. She has spent most of her career at the University of Liverpool but also has worked as a Senior Scientist at Kromek Ltd, contributing towards the production of radiation detectors and measurement techniques.

Sessions 5 and 6

Gamma Radiation and the Inverse-square Law

Gamma rays are emitted when an unstable nucleus decays to a more stable state, typically after the nucleus has decayed by emitting an alpha or beta particle. Gamma rays are electromagnetic radiation and therefore have no charge or mass.

In this session, you will learn how gamma-rays can be detected and even tracked back to the position that they were emitted. Dr Ren Cooper from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA, and Miss Olivia Voyce from the University of Liverpool will share their exciting research in this topic. You can try study the inverse square law using our virtual experiment and then apply what you have learnt to design the geometry of a gamma detection experiment.

Link to A-Level specifications: Radioactive decay; nuclear instability; safety aspects; alpha, beta and gamma radiation

Dr Ren Cooper - Gamma Radiation and the Inverse Square Law

Dr Ren Cooper is a Staff Applied Physicist and Deputy Head of the Applied Nuclear Physics Program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), California, USA. He leads research in the areas of mobile detection and the development of novel gamma-ray detection and imaging systems for a wide range of applications.

Ren achieved his BSc Physics degree, MSc Radiometrics degree and Applied Nuclear Physics PhD at the University of Liverpool before undertaking a research position at the Joint Institute for Heavy Ion Research, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA. He moved to his current role at LBNL in 2011.

Olivia Voyce - Gamma-ray Detection with Thallium Bromide

Miss Olivia Voyce is a PhD student at the University of Liverpool, undertaking a research project in developing new types of detectors for measuring gamma radiation at nuclear sites. Her work bridges nuclear physics and material physics and she has experience in making and testing her own detectors. Olivia has undertaken several research projects that use detectors for gamma radiation measurements.

Olivia travelled to the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, USA for a project in measuring the radioactivity of nuclear fuel rods and she also travelled across Europe collecting environmental samples for nuclear assessment.

The inverse-square law worksheet and accompanying materials for the experiments can be accessed here:

Essay Competition

To finish our masterclass, we are hosting an essay competition with the chance to win some great prizes. The essay should be written in a way that is suitable for someone in your peer-group to understand about a topic that you have found particularly interesting in the masterclass. To find out more about the competition, including the rules and prizes, listen to the talk by Dr Laura Harkness-Brennan. To get some great tips about how to write a good essay for the competition, check out the talk by Dr Helen Vaughan, an award-winning Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool. Finally, you can download the essay competition guidance, which explains everything in detail, including how to enter the competition.

Dr Laura Harkness-Brennan

Dr Laura Harkness-Brennan is a Reader at the University of Liverpool and has coordinated the online nuclear physics masterclass. You will have heard her talk before in our nuclear medicine session.

Dr Helen Vaughan

Dr Helen Vaughan is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool. Amongst her many activities, Helen leads the Communicating Science module for undergraduate physicists and has won a Learning and Teaching Award. She is also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Member of the Institute of Physics. Helen organises lots of great events for physics students and teachers in our award-winning University of Liverpool Central Teaching Laboratory.

Check our release schedule

Careers Showcase

Ever wondered how people get into the nuclear industry? Or how the principles you learn at A-Level are used on a daily basis to keep people safe, treat cancerous tumours, provide electricity to millions of homes, and more?

Click here to listen to our experts in our careers showcase.

Nuclear physics around the world

Nuclear physics is a collaborative effort that requires some of the most sophisticated equipment in the world. As a result, our academics and PhD students have links with many labs across the globe.

Click one of the orange countries to get more information, or click a circle to go to the associated website. Use the map controls on the right to explore.