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The difficult second blog post

Today, I’m going to discuss the project I completed at the University of Sheffield last summer, funded by the Nuffield Bursary Scheme, as well as the Big Bang Fair, at which I exhibited said project.

 

So, in Year 11 I decided to Google “sixth form science bursary” because I was a bit of a keeno, and I came up with the Nuffield Bursary Scheme. The scheme provides funding for sixth-formers to undertake a research project at a university, company or other institution during the summer holiday between Year 12 and Year 13, enabling them to gain an insight into research and development in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The research projects undertaken are completed in association with working scientists, and are defined so they will make a real contribution to the work of the group the student is placed with.

 

After e-mailing a few university physics departments, Dr Lee Thompson at Sheffield replied and offered to host my placement in the neutrino astrophysics group, on the ACoRNE (Acoustic Cosmic Ray Neutrino Experiment) project. Neutrinos are tiny, neutral particles that travel at close to the speed of light through the Universe, unimpeded by even the most massive of objects. They can teach us a lot about the Universe, but are very difficult to detect. One method of detection, acoustic detection, takes advantage of the fact that when neutrinos enter water with enough energy they give off a characteristic sound pulse. Studying these high energy neutrinos is especially interesting because it could shed light on the origins of high energy cosmic rays (charged particles travelling close to the speed of light through space).

 

I spent six weeks at Sheffield, working on two projects. Here’s one of the many project summaries I wrote for various purposes: Detecting ultra-high energy neutrinos could shed new light on the Universe. ACoRNE is developing acoustic detection methods, using hydrophones to listen for bipolar sound pulses generated when “ghost particles” interact with seawater. Background noise was investigated first – SeaPro and MATLAB were used to analyse odontocete “clicks” present in ACoRNE data. Power spectra (showing peak frequencies) demonstrated killer whales are a possible noise source. A water tank and two hydrophones (transmitter and receiver) were then used to study hydrophone response to simulated neutrino-like pulses. This revealed a limit beyond which linearity between transmitted and received pulses breaks down (gain of -3.3).

 

In a nutshell:

1) I used software to look at background noise in data recorded by ACoRNE, specifically from whales and dolphins. By looking at the frequencies involved I concluded that the noise could be being produced by killer whales.

2) I used a water tank and two hydrophones to transmit and receive pulses like those a neutrino would produce and worked out where the relationship between the actual pulse and what we record is no longer linear – this means that the characteristics of the original pulses can be worked out by looking at received pulses with amplitudes below the limit.

 

At the same time as writing my report for the Nuffield Foundation, I decided to enter my project for a British Science Association CREST Gold Award. This involved submitting my report to the British Science Association and completing a profile of my research. I did this, and was given the award, making me eligible to apply to exhibit at the inaugural Big Bang Fair (a.k.a. the UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair). I was going to attend the East Midlands regional fair, but it was cancelled at the last minute, so I self-nominated for the Big Bang Fair instead. To my great surprise I was accepted (I received the letter five days before a university rejection letter, so if nothing else it helped soften the blow!).

 

The Big Bang Fair was a great experience – about 200 projects competed for various awards in various competitions. I was entered in the British Science Association CREST Awards and the National Science Competition, and was visited at my stand by several pairs of judges, as well as researchers and other interested parties. I even got to discuss my project with Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell! Since I didn’t expect to even get to the Fair I was even more shocked to be awarded the EU Contest for Young Scientists Prize; this means I will be one of three UK representatives at the EUCYS in Paris next week. In retrospect, losing my summer holiday and having a four-hour daily commute wasn’t that terrible!

 

In my next post I’ll talk about what I did after the Big Bang Fair. That’ll be posted later today or tomorrow, since on Friday I’m actually off to do something that resulted from the Big Bang Fair!

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