Merton Tutorials

Dear Second Year Physicists,

As part of your practical work for this year, you are supposed to give a brief talk (maximum 20 minutes including questions) on a subject of your choice. You organise and run the show and I listen, comment, evaluate and (hopefully) enjoy the performance. Here is, roughly, how it works

WEEK 3. Choose your topic (by the end of the 3rd Week). You can talk just about anything, as long as it is interesting. I do not have any specific suggestions, just google "physics breakthrough of the year” or the like, and see what you get. Essentially anything that will keep me, and others, awake for fifteen to twenty minutes is fine. It does not have to be physics. I welcome any wacky topics. For guidance on style and delivery take a look at You can also check who talked about what in the past (archive page). Let me know your choice by the end of the 3rd Week - I expect an email from you with a title and an abstract of your talk - and I'll get back to you with some comments. You may also approach Alex Schekochihin, who will be happy to advise you on the selection of material and the structure of your presentation.

WEEK 6. Try your oratorical skills on me (Week 6, Monday and Tuesday 10:00-12:00, via Zoom). Call it a rehearsal session, if you wish. I will ask you to go through your presentation, after which we will discuss ways of improving it.


  • 10:00-10:30 Alexander Christie

  • 10:30-11:00 Andrei-Alexandru Cristea

  • 11:00-11:30 Andrei-Horatiu Eftime

  • 11:30-12:00 Megan Evans


  • 10:00-10:30 William Isotta

  • 10:30-11:00 Jeremi Litarowicz

  • 11:00-11:30 Rishin Madan

  • 11:30-12:00 Benedict Yorston

WEEK 8. The Grand Finale (Week 8, Monday 10:00-13:00, via Zoom). You should all show up. Feel free to invite your friends and colleagues. First Year Physicists are in particular welcome.

Looking forward to seeing you (virtually) soon.


Merton Presentations 2020

Titles and abstracts

Alexander Christie

An Introduction to Wakefield Acceleration

In this talk I will briefly discuss how conventional particle accelerators work and their limitations. I will then look more deeply into the concept of wakefield acceleration as a method to accelerate electrons. I will show how this concept has the potential to revolutionize accelerator design but also how there are still many technological hurdles to overcome before this becomes reality.

Andrei-Alexandru Cristea

Phylogenetics and the Evolution of Myths

A paramount idea in the study of biology is that of evolution and evolutionary relationships between biological entities. Phylogenetics is the science of inferring such relationships from the observance of heritable traits among individuals or populations. However, oral tradition is a powerful catalyst for cultural change, allowing or rather forcing myths and stories to suffer alterations in time similar to those of living beings. Thus, one can employ the tools provided by phylogenetics to study the evolutionary relationships between myths and their related forms, to reconstruct ancestral states and gain various historical or psychological insights from their analysis. In this talk, I will discuss the concept of mythemes and shed some light on the technical approach to comparative mythology provided by phylogeny.

Andrei-Horatiu Eftime

Applications of Machine Learning and Neural Networks in Physics

Since its invention, traditional programming has aided the development of physics by allowing scientists to perform calculations and extract information from large sets of data. However, in recent years, Machine Learning Algorithms and Neural Networks became increasingly more popular in analysing data, because of their ability to find hidden dependencies that scientists weren't even foreseeing. Nowadays, neural networks are present in all scales of physics, from quantum state tomographies to deduction of dark matter properties. In this talk, we are going to analyse some of these uses and speculate on the evolution of these techniques.

Megan Evans

A Second Look at the Twin Paradox

In free space, the stay-at-home twin who does not accelerate is the older, regardless of the path his brother takes. Once you have that, you can argue that the proper time - the time experienced by an individual doing the travelling - is longest for someone living in an inertial frame. Only, in the classical approximation for a free particle, maximizing proper time looks like the principle of least action we found in Newtonian mechanics. I will see if I can derive some of the consequences of this - including energy-momentum conjugates and what happens when you change to a non-inertial frame of reference.

William Isotta

Game Theory

Game theory attempts to model the behaviour of interacting rational agents in order to predict the outcomes of games, and to quantify and optimise decision making. In this talk, we shall develop some of the basic concepts within non-cooperative game theory, and discuss their application to some simple games.

Jeremi Litarowicz

The thought that set the course of science in the Celestial Empire

For almost two millennia the achievements of Imperial China outshone those of any other civilisation on earth, its command of nature exceeding anybody else's by centuries - until it was swiftly outpaced by the mathematised science of the West. In this talk, I will examine the mathematical and philosophical realities that defined the initially successful relationship of Chinese culture to nature, and the political system that preserved this paradigm largely unchanged for 2000 years.

Rishin Madan

Barbour-Bertotti's 'Best-Matching'

Newtonian mechanics, ever since it was presented in Newton's magnum opus, Principia, has claim to being the most successful scientific theory in humanity's history. Yet, since its inception, there have been those who disagree with Newton's mechanics on a fundamental level, regarding the reference to unobservable spatial structure as inadmissible. This view was most prominently espoused by Gottfried Leibniz and Ernst Mach and is now known as relationalism. However, relationists had not been able to recover the empirical predictions of Newtonian mechanics with just relational distances, leaving them in need of recourse. That is, until 1982, when Julian Barbour and Bruno Bertotti developed their 'best-matching' principle, recovering the same empirical predictions as that of Newtonian mechanics (with caveats), without appeal to absolute structure. In this talk, I will detail Barbour-Bertotti's relational mechanics. I will then leave it to the audience to ponder the relevance and importance of this development.

Benedict Yorston

Talent - We have no excuses

What links Mozart, Federer, and Polgár? A God given gift of superiority over us mere mortals, or something else? I will be questioning the very existence of talent in an examination of some of the most successful individuals in history, in an effort to discover what really made them so.

Departmental mark scheme

Individual talks are marked as a percentage using the University’s USM scale:

  • 70%+ 1st class

  • 60-69% 2.1

  • 50-59% 2.2

  • 40-49% 3rd class

  • 30-39% Pass

  • <30% Fail

The majority of presentation talks should be marked in the range 60-75%, with any competent talk receiving a mark of at least 60% and any good talk receiving a mark of at least 70%. Higher or lower marks can be awarded for particularly strong or weak talks, but marks below 50% should only be awarded where the student has made little or no serious attempt, and marks above 85% should only be awarded for quite exceptional talks.