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Portsmouth and District Physical Society      

Lecture series: Session 2017-2018

Wednesday 11th October 2017

I want to believe: An astronomer’s view of aliens

Chris Lintott, University of Oxford

Astronomers have discovered that the Universe is full of potential homes for life, with planets around the vast majority of stars, yet the skies remain disappointingly free of swooping star-ships, visiting aliens or radio signals from space. Chris Lintott looks at the evidence for life in the Universe, explains how you can help and tries to argue that the truth is out there somewhere.

Chris Lintott is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, where he is also a research fellow at New College. As Principal Investigator of the Zooniverse, he leads a team who run the world's most successful citizen science projects, allowing more than a million people to discover planets, transcribe ancient papyri or explore the Serengeti. A passionate advocate of the public understanding of science, he is best known as co-presenter of the BBC's long running Sky at Night program and the author, with Queen guitarist Brian May and Sir Patrick Moore, of two books, both available in more than 13 languages.

Martin HendryWednesday 15th November 2017

Listening to Einstein’s Universe with Gravitational Waves

Joint Lecture with Institute of Physics South Central Branch

Martin Hendry, University of Glasgow

Gravitational waves are the ‘ripples’ in the fabric of spacetime predicted by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and produced by some of the most violent events in the cosmos. On September 14th 2015 two giant laser interferometers known as LIGO, the most sensitive scientific instruments ever built, made the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves from the merger of a pair of massive black holes more than a billion light years from Earth.

Hear the inside story of this remarkable discovery, widely hailed as the scientific breakthrough of the century, and the amazing technology of the LIGO detectors – capable of measuring tiny distortions less than a million millionth the width of a human hair. Explore the exciting future that lies ahead for gravitational-wave astronomy – from a global network of ground-based interferometers to the emerging plans for spaceborne detectors – as we open an entirely new window on the Universe.

Martin Hendry is Professor of Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology in the Institute for Gravitational Research at the University of Glasgow, where he is also Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy. He is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration - an international group of more than 1000 scientists who, with their colleagues in the Virgo Collaboration, in February 2016 reported the historic discovery of gravitational waves. 

His principal research interests are in multi-messenger astronomy: developing analysis methods and observing strategies for optimally combining gravitational wave and electromagnetic data. Martin is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Institute of Physics and is also currently Chair of the Institute of Physics in Scotland. He is a passionate enthusiast for communicating science to public audiences of all ages. In 2015 he was awarded the MBE for his services to the public understanding of science.

Trevor CoxWednesday 6th December 2017 - Christmas Lecture

Making Sense of Sound

Trevor Cox, University of Salford

Every day we are bombarded with a huge variety of sounds and our emotional response to these are equally diverse. Environmental noise can cause annoyance and an increased risk of heart disease. A cooing baby can bring joy, whereas fingernails scraping down a blackboard can be excruciating. But what drives our responses to everyday sounds? That’s easier to work out for the gurgling baby or stressful noise, but scraping sounds are more enigmatic.

Drawing on a diverse set of examples, and findings from areas such as psychology, neuroscience and acoustics, I will reveal what determines our reactions - which are ancient and the product of biological evolution and which come from culture and are just learnt. We have vast knowledge of music and speech, how much can that be applied to everyday sounds? When a dog sounds sad, are we picking up on the same cues that mark out sorrowful music?

Trevor Cox is Professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford. One major strand of his research is room acoustics for intelligible speech and quality music production and reproduction. Trevor’s diffuser designs can be found in rooms around the world. He is currently working on two major research projects. Making Sense of Sound is developing algorithms to allow big audio data to be interpreted by computers – results from this project form part of the talk. The other project is investigating future technologies for spatial audio in the home.

Trevor has developed and presented science shows to 15,000 pupils including performing at the Royal Albert Hall, Purcell Rooms and the Royal Institution. Trevor has presented 24 documentaries for BBC radio including: Life’s soundtrack, Save our Sounds and Science vs the Strad. His popular science book Sonic Wonderland was published by Bodley Head in 2014 (in USA: The Sound Book, W W Norton).

Wednesday 17th January 2018

Fighting crime with ion beams

Melanie Bailey, University of Surrey

An ion beam is a beam of charged particles. At our facility, these beams are accelerated to around 10% of the speed of light before hitting a sample to reveal which elements and molecules are present. This allows a “fingerprint” of a questioned sample to be obtained. We are working with police organisations from across Europe to increase the evidential value of specimens from forensic investigations such as gunshot residue, paint and soil.

Melanie Bailey is a lecturer in forensic science in the Department of Chemistry, University of Surrey. She is the Chief Analyst at the Surrey Ion Beam Centre, which is a UK National Facility for Ion Beam Applications. Her work on drug testing from a fingerprint has been featured by over 500 media outlets worldwide, including the BBC, Sky News, the Guardian, Fox News, CNBC and Time Magazine.

Wednesday 14th February 2018

Acoustic levitation – from cells to human beings?

Joint Lecture with Institute of Physics South Central Branch (TBC)

Bruce Drinkwater, University of Bristol

Sound is all around us but there is more to acoustic waves than our ears can perceive. If you have ever heard and explosion or even listened to loud music you will have felt a physical force due to the sound waves. In this talk I will show how this acoustic force can be harnessed to levitate and move objects.

I will show a live demonstration of an acoustic tractor beam and describe how this works. I will also explain how this technology could be important to society, for example, moving tiny objects (e.g. cells, or small medical devices) in medical applications. Finally, I will conclude by considering the future possibility of levitating larger objects such as human beings.

Bruce Drinkwater was born in Hexham, England, in 1970. He received BEng and PhD degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College, London. Since 1996, Bruce has worked as an academic in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Bristol. He was awarded an EPSRC Research Fellowship in 2000 and promoted to Professor of Ultrasonics in 2007. His current research interests are divided between ultrasonic array imaging for non-destructive testing and acoustic radiation force devices for particle manipulation applications.

Bruce now leads a team of 30 researchers working on these and closely related topics. His research on high resolution ultrasonic imaging of engineering structures is now widely used by industry to detect and size critical defects such as cracks. For this work Bruce won the Roy Sharpe Prize in 2010 and the Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Award in 2016. In 2015 he invented the world’s first stable ultrasonic tractor beam which was featured in the popular press. He is now exploring a wide range of industrial and medical applications of this exciting new levitation technology.

Wednesday 14th March 2018

Where do Space Missions come from?

Joint lecture with IET Solent Young Professionals (TBC)

Neil Bowles, University of Oxford

We are all familiar with missions to explore our Solar system and beyond; we regularly see pictures from the surface of Mars, images of Saturn from spacecraft such as Cassini or data from the Hubble Space Telescope. But how do these missions come together?  What is the process that leads you from “we really need to do this in space” to the launch pad?  

This talk will describe the often arduous but very interesting process of getting a mission from a discussion over a cup of tea to proposal and then flight. I’ll describe some of the successful missions we are involved with in Oxford and also describe some of the concepts that haven't quite made it… yet.
Dr Neil Bowles is an Associate Professor in the sub-department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Department of Physics. His main research interests are in laboratory measurements to analyse and interpret data returned from space-based remote sensing and in-situ instruments for landers. He also works on developing new space-based instrumentation to study objects such as surfaces of asteroids and icy satellites of the outer planets and the Moon, and look for trace gases of biological interest in the atmosphere of Mars.

Neil is a member of the science teams for the Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS), the Mars Climate Sounder instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.  He is a co-investigator on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission that launched in September 2016 and is part of the team at Oxford working on a seismic station for NASA's InSight Mars lander, also due for launch in 2018. He is working on a range of new instrumentation including a compact imaging radiometer and infrared spectrometers for future missions, including small satellites and cubesats.



Meetings will be held at 7.00 pm in Lecture Theatre 1, Richmond Building, University of Portsmouth, Portland Street, Portsmouth PO1 3DE, by kind permission of the Vice-Chancellor and Governors of the University. Please be seated by 6.55pm.


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Students: free

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No booking required. Just turn up in good time and there should not be a problem.


Available after 5.30pm in the Milldam car park, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth PO1 3AS (£2 pay and display).




Email: David Nixon -

Tel: +44 (0)23 9273 2649