All posts by Jake

Hello! My name’s Jake and I’m a second year Astrophysics student at Queen Mary (who also did a foundation year.) It’s actually quite funny how I got onto the foundation year, I was applying for university whilst revising for January exams and in my haste to apply for Queen Mary, I accidentally applied for the 4-year degree that started with the foundation year rather than the 4-year degree with a masters. It’s all worked out quite well though because I’ve decided to do a PGCE after my degree and go into teaching and the foundation year was very helpful in letting me adjust to university life. Anyway, I’d say my favourite part of Physics are the academics, they’re all so interested in what they do and it’s very refreshing to talk to people teaching you Physics who care about it as much as you. Outside of my course my main interest is sport. I’m a huge fan of American Football, having played for a league team in the UK for a few years. Now I play Football for the Physics society’s team, PsiStar Belgrade, and Rugby for my local team, Beckenham RFC. I love playing sports because it gets you outside and meeting new people you normally wouldn’t on

PsiStar Wars: Return of the Students

Late afternoon June 9th, Mile End Park’s sun-baked astroturf would be the scene of another fierce battle between student and teacher. After a tough season in the 7-a-side league a battle hardened PsiStar Belgrade were out for revenge having lost to the staff on penalties in the winter and looked to have their heads in the game (go wildcats.)

The scorched earth coliseum of Mile End Park
The scorched earth coliseum of Mile End Park

Okay, enough of that ‘gritty’ sports writing, basically we played the staff at football again! It was actually a really good game, PsiStar ended up winning 5-1 (I got a goal and an assist!) and it was a fun day had by all! Some spectators came down with some drinks, posted up in the shade and spurred on their respective team as well which was a welcome addition as they brought orange slices for half time!

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Official incineration ceremony adjudicated by referee Stephen Gurney

Now you’re probably thinking “what’s the point of all this?” In short, we’re doing the Ashes. After three matches, we’ve decided to make this into an ongoing series playing for a beaker full of ashes (each game’s team sheet’s ashes to be precise) and the losing team is burdened with looking after them until the next game in 6 month’s time. It’s very reflective of the School of Physics and Astronomy as a whole actually, how connected the students are to the staff and the level of respect both groups have for each other. We’re constantly interacting with each other throughout the day during term time, sharing social spaces with them, forming relationships with them and in my opinion at least, this lets the students know that this isn’t just 6th form again, the lecturers are more than just teachers and it is important to have a working relationship with them to succeed.

This link between students and staff makes Queen Mary stand out as a university. Talking to my friends who go to other universities has given me some perspective on this interaction with lecturers that I had taken for granted before these games. It’s rare for this level of interaction to take place between students and lecturers especially across the department like it is at Queen Mary and it has been incredibly helpful to my degree and a right laugh at these events.

Hopefully the staff will come back fighting in the summer with their midfield maestro Dr Ramgoolam back on the field and maybe then they won’t lose so badly!

Post game drinks with both teams
Post game drinks with both teams – “Better luck next time!”

Astronomer Photographer of the Year at Greenwich Observatory

I’ve had a fleeting interest in photography for a while now. I did a GCSE in it (I got a B, hold the applause) and its been pretty fascinating to me ever since. I still find it amazing that with a bit of curved glass you can create all these peculiar effects, adding extra detail and emphasising things that the ordinary eye wouldn’t have picked out. It’s this interest that had me wandering out to Greenwich to go see the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibit at the Royal Observatory. Having been to Photographer of the Year exhibits before, I had an idea of what was going on at the Royal Observatory but it’s essentially a small pop up art gallery below the observatory.

The view from outside Greenwich Observatory
The view from outside Greenwich Observatory – (Sorry for the quality, it’s only my phone’s camera!)

Having marched up the side of a hill I wandered into the observatory just looking for somewhere to have a rest and accidentally found the exhibit straight away. It was quite a small room with the lights dimmed (to emphasise the actual pictures I presume) and small screens littered about with a video telling you about some of the stories of how the pictures were taken. Compared to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit this one seemed a bit pokey and tucked away, as if they didn’t particularly want it to be found. Once I started to actually look about the room, I couldn’t understand why! Every picture was astonishing in it’s own right, each with a different subject varying from far away nebulas to our own sun and even the northern lights. All the photographers had written little tales of how they’d come to take the picture (even the children’s category, which was suspiciously eloquent for something written for 7-11 year olds… I feel some parental “supervision” may have occurred, but that’s neither here nor there.) Some of these paragraphs spoke of long nights in Norway’s blistering cold, waiting for the perfect that never came until upon surrender, the night’s sky presented them with all they had wanted and so much more.

What caught me off guard was the lack of experience of some of these astrophotographers. Pictures that had been given honourable mentions in the competition or even won were taken by first timers with pretty basic cameras (iPads, phones and one that was a 6-month exposure of a home made pinhole camera!) This gave the exhibit a feeling that anyone could make it into the exhibit, making it all the more exciting knowing that even I could capture such overwhelming beauty on my phone (providing I know where to look, of course!) Of course, the more professional pictures were much more detailed using deep field images and solar flares as subject matter, taking the pictures with specifically designed home made instruments (one mosaic creator went and wrote some code to help organise and line up the vast amount of pictures he had taken of a nebula to create one fluid and highly detailed image.)

When I left the exhibit I felt like I had a greater understanding of scale in the universe. One of the pictures had shown the Moon and ISS “overlapping” each other, the space station taking up a tiny tiny tiny proportion of the Moon’s area in the picture (barely covering the smallest of visible craters in the picture.) Knowing how close the ISS is to Earth compared to the Moon, you suddenly realise just how tiny people are. Diagrams you see in school are obviously not drawn to scale but you still think that there’s probably some degree of accuracy to it. You’re shown the cliché pictures of the planets next to the Sun, the Sun next to other stars and so on but your head can’t quite grasp the actual meaning of this scale difference. Seeing exactly how small you are right in front of you in a real picture is quite different, almost unnerving in fact. It really cements in you just how large space is in comparison to your regular life.

The statue of Yuri Gagarin in the courtyard of the observatory was a welcome surprise. It reminded me of the effort people went to such a short time ago to take pictures that nowadays 7 year olds can on an iPad and how far we’ve come since then. When I walked out, I was greeted with a fantastic panorama of London’s skyline and felt compelled to take a picture. Not because it was something I don’t see often or because it was a pretty picture, but because I wanted a reminder that I’m not in space every day, I don’t come across these giant rocks on my way to Mile End every day before lectures and that there’s plenty down here on pokey little Earth to keep me busy for now.

Your friend and mine - its Yuri Gagarin!
Your friend and mine – its Yuri Gagarin!

Cosmonauts Exhibition!!

I’ve always been interested in space. When I was five, most of the few videos I’d watch were the old Star Wars films so you can see why I’d be interested about going to an exhibit about the Soviet space program at the Science Museum. Having lived in London all my life, I’m quite often at the museums in Kensington (Science, Natural History and V&A) because there’s usually something to do there and if there’s not, it’s always fun to look at the dinosaurs! This time though I saw the Science museum had an exhibit on the Soviet space program called “Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age” so I got some friends to come along and ended up having a sort of school trip.IMG_1323

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this, usually you can gage what’s on the inside of an exhibit just from having a vague interest in the subject matter but this was different. This whole venture happened during the golden age of secrecy and misinformation so I didn’t know much about the Soviet side of the space race. Turns out, they got a lot done!

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The exhibit is littered with oddly endearing bits of trivia and unheard tales of badassery by the Soviet cosmonauts like the first woman in space (yes, the Soviets did that 20 years before the US) just happening to notice that she was off course to the point where if left unaltered she would have escaped Earth’s gravity, letting ground control know and then deciding to fix the problem on her own anyway. The Soviets also sent dogs into space to test the rockets and actually brought most of them back! Unfortunately, the first dog, Laika, was incinerated on re-entry into the atmosphere, so that’s a bummer but they all got to go to the park before going to space so there’s that!IMG_1295

The sad thing is that all these pioneers are overshadowed by NASA’s achievement of landing on the moon first. It’s even more upsetting when you realise that the
US only funded NASA when it became politically relevant during the Cold War as an attempt to bankrupt the Soviet Union (who were on such a tight budget they were melting cutlery to build their rockets.) In the end this tactic worked with Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative but it all started with Kennedy’s gauntlet of reaching the Moon before the end of the 60’s.IMG_1310

This exhibit honours those courageous people who strapped themselves to knives and forks and flew about faster than sound! I’d really recommend going before it closes in March (March 13th is the last day), even if you’re not particularly interested in space, just to see some of the crazy things that went on in the Soviet Union.