Merton Talks Archive

Merton Presentations 2020

Titles and abstracts

Miles Testa A 2D Simulation of the Moon's Break-Up After a Mysterious Collision, Inspired by Neal Stephenson's "Seveneves"

In this project, the author sets out to code a 2d simulation of the moon's behaviour after an extremely dense unknown entity travelling at sub-relativistic speed crashes into it (as described in "Seveneves"). The simulation will essentially be an N-body inelastic collision simulation in the frame of the moon's rotation about the earth. The process of creating the program will be discussed (algorithm choice, associated errors and overall structure of the code), followed by an interpretation of the results. It is hoped that the simulation will point towards the "white sky" phenomenon described in the aforementioned novel. At the end of the talk, a brief discussion of possible extensions of the simulation to 3 dimensions and/or accounting for the finer properties of the N-bodies.

Radoslaw Grabarczyk: Juggling Mathematics

As a collection of perfectly timed throws at given heights, toss juggling inspired a combinatorial problem of finding all possible repeating patterns - juggling tricks - one can perform with a given number of hands and balls. First considered by Claude Shannon, the mathematical description of a juggler has since grown to the level of sophistication of modern discrete mathematics. In my talk, I will present both the theory and practice of juggling notation and basic theorems that follow from it.

Jan Siuta: Fields, Antiparticles and All That

The 2 great pillars of modern physics are Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. They were wed together for the first time in 1928 by P.A.M. Dirac. Out of them comes out a beautiful union which forces upon us great changes in the way we perceive the world. In the talk I will present how the fundamental principles of the above 2 theories leads us, almost uniquely, to a theory of quantized fields. We shall see that Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry as evidenced in the prediction of existence of antimatter.

Alexander Pett: Lyndon B Johnson: Power, politics, and the race to space.

An exploration of the character of Lyndon B Johnson, a man who would ultimately have an immense impact on the allocation of scientific funds in the US, through his revolutionary and incredibly corrupt 1948 senate campaign.

Robert Vickers: A survey of the general features and the history of cults

How and when cults arise, how they recruit followers, how they maintain followers and survive in hostile countries and influence the countries in which they live. These points will be illustrated by example from the some notable cults from history e.g. Aum Shinrikyo, Heaven's Gate and Scientology.

Nicholas Mitchell: Coding a Brain

How do you programme a computer to learn? Many programming problems in pattern recognition can be solved by training an artificial neural network, rather than manually coding identification techniques ourselves. In this talk I hope to introduce the basis of a neural network to gain an understanding about how it works at a basic level, demonstrate some basic issues and solutions via simple examples as well as discuss more generally about them.

Marcell Szakaly: An introduction to superconducting magnets

Where and why do we use superconducting magnets, and what unique design challenges do they pose? In this talk I will give an introduction to the properties of superconductors, and to the design, construction and operation of superconducting magnets, illustrated by their use in the LHC. I will also show you what happens when things go wrong...

Lasse Wolff: The problem of induction

My presentation is about what is known as the problem of induction in philosophy. Inductive methods of inference are essential in science to the extent that all scientific theories are supported by induction. Two philosophical arguments - the old problem/riddle of induction and the new problem/riddle of induction are supposed to show that it is much harder than most people would expect, if not impossible, to formally justify inductive methods. If one accepts one of these arguments, then one has no more formal justification for believing inductive inferences than one has for believing inferences made from guessing. This seems to suggest that I am no more justified in believing that the kind food I have eaten my entire life will continue to be nourishing tomorrow than I am justified in believing that the same kind of food will be poisonous tomorrow...

Graham Matthews: Transistors : Past, Present, and Future

In the 1950s, the first transistor radios had less than 10 transistors, yet today several million could sit on a chip less than a micron wide. This presentation will discuss the invention of the transistor, the innovations which revolutionized their usage, and the future of the technology that defined the last half decade.

Merton Presentations 2019

Titles and abstracts

Richard Chatterjee

Coriolis Force Elucidated

Despite being a relatively simple concept, the Coriolis force is one of the most widely misunderstood and mischaracterised phenomena in Physics. In this talk, I will build up a clear understanding of the Coriolis force, overthrow surrounding prevalent misconceptions and discuss some of its many physical consequences, including in atmospheric circulation. Along the way there will be two insightful demonstrations, a short biography of Gustave-Gaspard de Coriolis and I will conclude with the atmospheric equations of motion on Earth.

Maeve Dai

Physics in the Medieval World

Natural philosophy, as circulated around the universities in Medieval Europe, takes a very different shape from what we see now as physics. In this talk, I’ll walk through some interesting advancements in physics in the medieval age, especially the ones associated with the history of Merton College. I’ll also discuss how scientific methods are different under the Aristotelian world view, and hence how the Enlightenment reshaped the scientific world.

Ross McDonald

Gödel’s incompleteness theorems

In 1931, Kurt Gödel published a paper which dashed Hilbert’s hopes to axiomatize all of mathematics and to show its consistency. It emphatically showed that there exist “undecidable statements” within any sufficiently powerful axiomatic system, and further that a formal system cannot be used to prove its own consistency. In this talk I will introduce the major ideas behind Gödel’s proof and briefly discuss an interesting conjecture: that the self-referential structures it introduces could underlie consciousness.

Oskar Maatta

The Astounding Nature of Cellular Automata

Cellular automata are generally quite simple models, consisting of a grid of cells, each in one of a finite number of states (e.g. on or off), which evolve in discrete time intervals based on a fixed rule. In this talk I will explore some examples – notably the most famous cellular automaton, Conway’s ‘Game Of Life’, to demonstrate the amazingly complex structures and consequences that can arise from such basic rules. I will then present some real world applications and links to the natural sciences.

Rayhan Mahmud

Quantum computers: What’s all the fuss about?

Quantum Computing is a fascinating new field at the intersection of computer science, mathematics and physics. It promises to solve problems which are intractable on classical computers. This field studies how to harness some of the strange aspects of quantum physics for use in computer science, allowing quantum algorithms to decrease the computational steps for some problems by many orders of magnitude. In this talk, I will begin by giving a brief overview of classical computers, addressing some limitations. Next I shall give an introduction to fundamental phenomena in quantum mechanics such as superposition, interference and entanglement which underlie quantum computation. After this I shall look at what qubits are and how different quantum logic gates act on them. I then take a look at examples of some quantum algorithms and the application of quantum computers. The talk then concludes with some comments on limitations and difficulties in building a quantum computer including decoherence.

Merton Presentations 2018


Week 3, Saturday: Deadline for titles and abstracts submissions.

Week 6, Monday (Breakfast Room) 09:30-12:00 and 14:30-17:00 : Rehearsals.

Week 8, Monday 16:00-20:00 (Ian Taylor Room): Final presentations.

Titles and Abstracts

Lucy Biddle

Title: The Science of Storage

Abstract: Computers today bear very little resemblance to those from 50 years ago, and much of this change is due to the development of increasingly space-efficient forms of data storage and processing. In this talk I will present the evolution of computer hardware, explain the limitations faced by current technology and outline what the next generation of storage could look like.

Jules Desai

Title: Modern Art and Modern Physics: Painting the Paradigm Shift

Abstract: The early twentieth century saw physics turned on its head by the likes of Einstein, Planck and Schrödinger. Along with this came a philosophical crisis as the world attempted to understand the epistemic and metaphysical implications of this “Modern Physics”. At the same time, artists began to change their perspective on the function and purpose of their art. Art was no longer about the about the narrative but instead moved towards the abstract and the unconscious reaction. This talk will investigate how the paradigm shifts in modern physics influenced and shaped the art of its time. I will consider how, in their work, artists attempted to embody concepts such as non-Euclidean geometry, higher dimensionality and relative simultaneity. I hope to convince you that art and physics are more tightly intertwined than you might think (but, after all, the more one thinks about this the more evident it becomes!).

Jacob Robertson

Title: Random Processes in Genetics

Abstract: In this talk I will discuss a stochastic model of evolution with the aim of calculating certain interesting quantities associated with genetic drift. The talk will begin with a brief discussion of natural selection and the theoretical need for discrete units of heredity, of exactly the kind Gregor Mendel had already experimentally found. The rest of the talk focusses on the Moran model, a stochastic model of evolution, in the absence of mutation or selective effects. This will enable a calculation of the probability that a certain allele ‘reaches fixation’ i.e. obtains a frequency of 100% in the population as well as an estimate for the time it will take to do so. The talk concludes by showing how in the limit of large populations the Moran model becomes a diffusive process.

Andrew Doyle

Title: Neural Networks and Machine learning

Artificial intelligence is evolving rapidly. Whether it will be self-driving cars or almost human robots, nobody knows exactly how it will impact our lives, but the immense power and potential of it are quickly becoming apparent. In this talk I plan to outline the basics of how Neural Networks are structured and go on to explain how machines “learn” by showing a common example of hand written digit recognition. Finally I will look at current projects that may shape our future.

Roshan Dodhia

Title: What does it mean to own a bitcoin?

Abstract: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system. Since it’s creation in 2009, there has been a growing interest in this mysterious idea of ‘mining’ for bitcoins. We are all very familiar with a concept of digital currency in the form of credit and debit cards, but few people really understand what it means to own a bitcoin. In my talk, I will explain how cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin work, why they are different from normal currencies we are so comfortable with and finally I’d like to tackle the million dollar (or 114.17 bitcoin) question: should you be investing in cryptocurrencies?

Georgia Acton

Title: The Science Behind Hubble

Abstract: Since its launch in 1990 The Hubble Space Telescope has contributed to many ground-breaking discoveries; from observations that helped to calculate the rate of expansion of the universe, to mapping the 3-D distribution of dark matter, Hubble has aided the world of science in many ways. In this presentation I want to explore the science that made Hubble possible and the technology that has led to its extraordinary observations. I will discuss the camera technology on-board, the science and need for a thermoelectric cooler, the presence of a spectrograph, and the use of gyroscopes and flywheels to orientate and focus itself. Hubble has not only help uncover amazing science, it is itself a beautiful piece of technology and I hope to convey this throughout.

Jack McIntyre

Title: Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem: The trouble with ranked voting

Abstract: Imagine that you are tasked with designing a voting system. Each voter gets to rank a group of candidates from best to worst and you must somehow turn these individual rankings into a single ranking for the whole electorate. This should be done in such a way that gives the same output ranking each time that your system is presented with the same set of voter preferences. A potential first step would be to decide on some criteria that your system should fulfil to be considered fair. One thing that you may suggest is that if all the voters prefer candidate A to candidate B then the ranking for the group should also prefer A to B. It would also seem sensible to require that whether candidate A beats candidate B or candidate B beats candidate A should be independent of how the voters rank candidate C. It turns out that the only way to satisfy both of these, seemingly reasonable, criteria is to have what is known as a dictatorship, where the result of the election is completely determined by how one particular voter fills in their ballot. This rather surprising result is know as Arrow’s impossibility theorem. In this presentation I will prove the theorem and discuss where it leaves ranked voting.

Leonie Woodland

Title: The Physics and Physiology of Vowel Production and Perception

Abstract: Communication by speaking is usually done effortlessly, with no thought put into how to produce words or how to decode the sounds we hear into speech. However, speech produces complex sound waves and figuring out which speech sounds these correspond to from the waveforms is not a simple task. In this talk, I will first examine how sound is produced by the larynx. The source-filter theory of speech sound production will then be discussed, along with the anatomy of the vocal tract. The differences between vowels and consonants will be examined. Vowels correspond to specific formants, or amplified harmonics in a spectrogram of the speech, and are thus relatively easy to identify, so the correlations between the articulation of different vowels and the corresponding spectrograms will be examined.

Catherine Felce

Title: The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

Abstract: When ‘Nice but Dodgy’ derivations seem to dominate the first and second year physics syllabus, we are naturally left wondering whether there’s more luck than inevitability in the successful discoveries of our subject. Eugene Wigner reflects on a more fundamental disparity between what physicists can know, and what we might expect to be able to. I will follow his argument and consider various responses and philosophical interpretations.

Merton Presentations 2017


Week 3, Saturday: Deadline for titles and abstracts submissions.

Week 6, Tuesday (Fitzjames 1) and Wednesday (Ian Taylor Room) 16:00-18:00 : Rehearsals.

Week 8, Tuesday 16:00-19:00 (Ian Taylor Room): Final presentations.

Titles and Abstracts


Do we ever "act on instinct"?

We seem to be familiar with the concept of instinct and how it affects our everyday lives. We sometimes even say that we act on instinct, trying to justify our behaviour in response to a particular stimulus by blaming our inability to fully control our own actions on this still somewhat arcane biological concept. However, in doing so we are wrong almost one hundred percent of the time. In my talk I will attempt to clarify what instincts are, trace evolution of insticts by exploring how they manifest themselves in other species, show how little of them we still have, and what we have gained instead.


The Shockley-James paradox

When Einstein proposed the special theory of relativity, proper understanding of the new theory led to the solution of many paradoxes caused by the inconsistency between Newton's mechanics and Maxwell's electromagnetism. One of these paradoxes is the Shockley-James paradox which resolution requires careful relativistic analysis of the conservation of the linear momentum. A fairly simple system of charges exhibits an unexpected behaviour. Namely, if a point charge is placed near the magnetic dipole of changing magnetisation, an electric force acting on charge will be induced, but there is no reaction force on the magnet. In this presentation, I will analyse this paradox and show its solution.


Fusion Power

Since first theorised in the 1930’s, nuclear fusion as a means of energy production has remained a highly attractive - though elusive - prospect. In this presentation, I will discuss the motivations for this technology and the important role it may play in the future of energy. I will then examine the conditions necessary for nuclear fusion (and, more importantly, ignition) to occur and explore some of the ways that this incredible feat might be accomplished, focussing in particular on magnetic confinement reactors. Finally, I will talk briefly about some of the recent developments in the field as well as what is planned for the future of fusion power.


Summing Divergent Series: The Magic and Dangers of Infinite Sums

The sum of the natural numbers from one to infinity is equal to minus a twelfth.

Well not exactly.

It's very true that the sequence of natural numbers from one to infinity is a divergent series with no sum, but what if we could extend our idea of a sum to encompass all series not just convergent ones? Like the analytic continuation of a complex holomorphic function so too can we extend the domain of sums. There exists a perfectly rigorous mathematics of "generalised sums", extensions of the idea of summation to divergent sums. In this talk I will introduce some examples of generalised summation techniques, such as Cesàro and Abel Summation. We'll also take a look at Ramanujan's mysterious "constant of the sum" which, incidentally, is equal to minus one twelfth for the infinite series of natural numbers. If time permits, I'll also show how these generalised summation techniques are not just useless abstractions of armchair mathematicians, but actually useful for Physics. Specifically in producing correct results for theoretical predictions of the Casimir Effect.

Be prepared for an enlightening glimpse at the magnificent beast we call infinity.


Have I freely chosen to do this presentation?

If free will is incompatible with determinism, then the position and momentum of any object, and the action of every being at any infinitesimal point in time is predetermined by the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe and I have not freely chosen to do this presentation. If we conclude that we don’t have free will and all of our actions are predetermined, then no moral responsibility can be assigned to our actions. I will argue that the alternate possibilities theory must be slightly modified such that moral responsibility can still be assigned despite an individual having had no alternate possibilities. Instead, for an individual to not be morally responsible for an action, not only must they not have had an alternate possibility, but had there been an alternate possibility available, they would have in fact chosen that action, over the action that they were predetermined to make. That is, were there an alternative universe with different laws of nature and different initial conditions, in which someone like me were faced with a similar situation as me, then they would choose that alternate action available.


Physics beyond physics: economic Bose-Einstein condensation and other interesting concepts

I will start by giving an overview of econophysics, and its relation to traditional physics and economics. I will then demonstrate an example by showing how statistical mechanical methods can be applied to the economy. I show a model in which energy levels represent levels of revenue, and firms are represented by particles. The case of perfect competition corresponds to indistinguishable particles (the case of monopolistic competition corresponding to distinguishable particles), so the firms follow a Bose-Einstein distribution. A macroscopic number of firms may condense into the lowest energy level (i.e. go bankrupt), leading to an economic crisis. If time allows I will also talk about the application of Bose-Einstein condensation to other complex systems such as biological systems. Lastly, I will return to a bigger-picture perspective and make a few final general comments. Does applying physics to economics make sense, particularly as one of the criticisms of mainstream economics is that it is already too mathematical? If econophysical theories turn out to be true, would it be just a mathematical curiosity, or could it reveal something deep about the nature of our universe?


The Rise of Sport Analytics

Sport analytics allows sporting competitors to utilise both real time and historic data to provide information which can be used to gain a competitive advantage. As sport science continues to lead people to look for ever finer margins of improvement, sport analytics is becoming increasingly commonplace in a wide range of sports. Continued technological advances allow more data about a team or individual’s performances to be gathered than ever before, and allow the development of the computing capacity required to process this data. In this talk I will give a brief outline of what sport analytics is, and will introduce how it is being used in certain sports to improve performance in several different ways. I will also aim to outline the profound effect the rise of sport analytics has had on the approach towards how to make improvements in sporting performance, in an increasingly professional sporting world, and also examine the limitations of this approach, as well as what the future may hold.

Merton Presentations 2016


Week 3, Saturday: Deadline for titles and abstracts submissions.

Week 6, Tuesday and Wednesday 16:00-18:00 (Ian Taylor Room): Rehearsals.

Week 8, Tuesday 16:00-19:00 (Ian Taylor Room): Final presentations.

Titles and Abstracts


The Wisdom and Madness of Crowds: A Warning for the Future

The 'crowd' is often a word used to refer disparagingly to the homogeneous masses of society, with no thought given to the positive connotations of the word. Spring boarding o the ideas outlined by James Suroweicki in his book "The Wisdom of Crowds", this talk will discuss how the collective intelligence and collaborative power of the crowd in our in- creasingly inter-connected society can become undermined by more subtle and, potentially, sinister aspects of crowd behaviour. These, I believe, serve as a warning for the future that cannot be ignored.


The Echidna Code - An Exploration of Alan Turing’s Theory of Morphogenesis

Alan Turing’s accomplishments in the field of computer science are legendary, but less well known is his contribution to the field of mathematical biology. In his 1952 paper ‘The Chemical Theory of Morphogenesis’, Turing proposed a mechanism by which the genes contained in a zygote might determine the anatomical structure of the organism it develops into. Turing realised that this phenomenon, called morphogenesis, can be accounted for by a simple model in which the chemical substances that trigger growth are allowed to both react chemically with each other and diffuse through tissue. In this talk, I will describe how Turing formalised this idea mathematically, and applied it to a simple model of an organism in the early stages of its development. I will then explore the predictions of such a model of morphogenesis, and discuss the evidence for the approach from observations of real organisms. If time permits, I will use computer simulations to apply Turing’s model to more complex cell structures, and examine the effect of non-linearity in the model.


Fluid simulations for use in computer graphics

Fluid simulation is possible one of the most widely used tools of computer graphics with a great range of applications, including, but not limited to, films, advertisements, video games. Fluid simulation is not the only application of physics to computer graphics, rigid and soft body dynamics and optics are commonly used but what makes fluid simulation special from other areas is that it requires the most insight in to underlying physics and not just knowledge of computer algorithms. Fluid behavior is too complex to be animated ”by hand” (which is commonly done with rigid and even soft body dynamics) and in my opinion produces the most stunning results in the end. The main governing equations for fluids are Navier–Stokes equations, which are on their own quite interesting, as there is still no proof of existence of smooth analytical solution of them. So the goal is to produce numerical solution to those equations (while allowing some very crude approximations) which can then be presented in a visually pleasing and plausible form for the viewer in the most efficient and fast way to create tools for animators and artists too use. I will discuss some of underlying physics of the problem, methods and techniques for the problem and present implementations of some of the algorithms. I will also discuss technique that can be used to achieve better performance when executing such algorithms and touch on the topic of parallel computing in the context of the problem.


The Fractal Dimension of Music

Fractals geometry is a dramatic departure from the Euclidean system, possessing properties unheard of in all other geometries. Fractals have the bizarre properties of fractional dimensionality, Self similarity with different scaling and are continuous yet nowhere differentiable. Despite there puzzling nature they are abundant in nature and to some degree even music is fractal. In this presentation I will be investigating how the property of fractional dimensionality may be exploited to analyse and characterise different music styles.


Quantum Biology: a bird’s eye view

On the face of it, the surprising predictions of quantum theory seem at odds with living organisms in the natural world. However discoveries in recent years have suggested that precisely these quantum effects may play an important part in many biological processes, from the ability of birds to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field to the basis of our sense of smell, and even perhaps the all-important process of photosynthesis. In my talk I will introduce this exciting field before looking in-depth into the theory of the role of quantum theory in the navigational sense of the European robin and the evidence that supports this intriguing proposal.


Current Events - Gravitational Waves

Recently, the press has been flooded with the recent discovery of gravitational waves. This announcement has rippled through social media - But why is this discovery making waves? In this talk I will describe the theory that predicted the waves, how they were detected, and the event that caused them, before explaining what this discovery means for the future of science.


The little ion engine that could

When we imagine interplanetary travel, we tend to think of huge machines trailing great plumes of fire. But in reality, chemical rockets are limited in the journeys they can achieve by the mass of fuel they require. This talk will discuss electrical propulsion as an alternative, outlining the theory of how it works, and the various forms of propulsion that are or could be in use. We will touch on the key concepts of space travel, such as Specific Impulse and delta-V, and compare the chemical engine to the electric one. We will end with a brief discussion of Project Orion, the USA’s novel idea for building a rocket by (you guessed it) strapping an enormous nuclear bomb to the bottom.

Merton Presentations 2015


Week 3, Saturday: Deadline for titles and abstracts submissions.

Week 6, Tuesday and Wednesday 16:00-18:00 (Fitzjames 1): Rehearsals.

Week 8, Tuesday 16:00-19:00 (Fitzjames 1): Final presentations.

Titles and Abstracts


Nonlinear chemical dynamics: oscillations and chaos

Chemical reactions are often thought of as the transformation of matter, where some substances are used up, while others are created. The concentration of reactants decreases, while the concentration of products increases, until the system reaches a fixed equilibrium. However, not all chemical systems behave in such a simple manner. This presentation will explore the more complex behaviours that can be exhibited. I will start by talking about oscillatory reactions, and then look at how, under special conditions, chaotic behaviour can be observed. Finally, I will show that in excitable media, oscillatory behaviour can lead to the formation of travelling waves.


Chaos is come again: A non-linear tour from Othello to Edward Lorenz to Mariah Carey

In this talk, I will give a brief history of the concept of chaos, formally introduce chaotic dynamical systems, and discuss their prevalence in nature. Using the example of the nonlinear Lorenz equations I will show how we can not only categorise and understand chaotic systems, but how we can use their inherent unpredictability to our advantage. Finally, I will treat my audience to what is undoubtedly the pinnacle of modern scientific achievement - the use of a chaotic circuit to secretly transmit a Mariah Carey song.


Static and Silence - The Cosmic Microwave Background

A few percent of the fuzz familiar to analogue TV users is in fact the remnant of the conditions in the early Universe from long before the formation of stars. Within this ‘background noise’ lies the blueprint for the distribution of matter on the grandest scale; galaxies and superclusters. The cosmic microwave background radiation, discovered accidentally in 1965, has provided information from which cosmologists can attempt to construct a timeline of the early Universe; it provides strong evidence for the Big Bang theory, and its inherent anisotropies are responsible for slight inhomogeneities in the Universe; as such inhomogeneous aberrations, we should all be fascinated by it! In this talk I will describe the discovery and outline the significance of this remarkable phenomenon, and the inferences that we have been able to make from studying it; if time permits, I will discuss its relation to the Lambda Cold Dark Matter model of cosmology and possible future measurements attempting to confirm the existence of gravitational waves.


The Majorana Fermion

The Majorana particle is a particle that is its own antiparticle, Ettore Majorana hypothesized its existence in 1937 but only recently the experiments detected the behavior associated with this fermion. I will talk about the experiments in Netherlands (2012) and Princeton (2013) where a majorana type particle was found using superconductors at extremely low temperatures. I will also present the difficulties associated with the detection of such particles. This will include its quantum properties and the theory that predicts its existence. The talk will also cover the possible applications of the particle in quantum computing as well as how its properties could explain the behaviour of neutrinos and the origins of dark matter.


Physics and Epistemology: Can we ever really know anything?

Many of the greatest thinkers in the history of Physics; such as Newton, Hooke and to some extent Einstein, could in fact be considered 'Natural Philosophers' rather than 'physicists'; concerned not just with the how and why of what we see around us in the observable universe, but also with how and why we *can* examine the world around us. The fact that we seem to be able to describe the natural world using mathematics and empirical (or sensory, experiential) evidence is fascinating and mysterious, and a topic of hot debate amongst epistemological philosophers and scientists alike. I intend to examine the extent to which an apparently logically sound theory known as the 'Problem of Induction', undermines claims of scientifically discerned 'knowledge', and also the extent to which areas of debate and subjectivity within Physics (such as the measurement problem) can exist, despite the fact that Physics intends to construct absolute and universally applicable theories to describe nature.


Pushing the envelope – the limits of aerodynamics

In this talk I will begin with a brief account of the aerodynamic force of lift, and the characteristics of a typical aerofoil. I will proceed to consider how the airflow over an aerofoil can be disrupted, and the effects this can have on the lifting characteristics. Lastly I will consider regimes of extreme velocity and density and the difficulties and dangers they pose to aircraft operating within them. If there is time I may touch on design steps which can be taken to minimize these difficulties.


The Casimir effect

The Casimir effect is a quantum mechanical effect which demonstrates that the vacuum in quantum field theory is far from empty. I will start with a short outline of the history of the Casimir effect, before deriving the formula for the force between two parallel conducting plates in vacuum. Then I would like to briefly discuss the mathematical process of renormalization, which arises in this context when dealing with infinities. Next, I will describe the experiments which were conducted to measure the Casimir force, and focus on the 1997 measurement by S. Lamoreaux. We will also look at a different, but related effect: the dynamical Casimir effect, which was experimentally verified in 2001. In this case the plates are accelerating and this causes photons to be emitted from the vacuum. I will end with possible applications of the Casimir effect in physics research and in technology and then give an outlook.

Merton Presentations 2014


Week 3, Saturday: Deadline for titles and abstracts submissions.

Week 6, Tuesday and Wednesday 16:00-18:00 (Fitzjames 1): Rehearsals.

Week 8, Tuesday 16:00-19:00 (Fitzjames 1): Final presentations.

Titles and Abstracts


Self-Organized Criticality

It has been observed that many complex dynamical systems exhibit certain common features, including scale invariant spatio-temporal behaviour and 1/f noise in the power spectrum. I will introduce the theory of self-organized criticality (SOC), which aims to explain these behaviours. I intend to give a qualitative explanation of how SOC could arise for a system which is slowly driven and has dominant internal interactions. I will then explain the sandpile model introduced in the 1987 paper by Wiesenfeld et al. and discuss the extent to which it is in agreement with experiment. Finally, I shall conclude by examining whether or not SOC can account for the behaviour of a variety of other real dynamical systems.


Quantum Mechanics and Photosynthesis: The Tree of Superimposed Knowledge?

This talk will explore the importance of quantum mechanics in photosynthesis. It was long thought that classical physics accurately described the process of energy transfer in photosynthesis, however this view is now being challenged and it is thought quantum mechanics plays a crucial role. I will explore new theories concerning the relevance of quantum mechanics in photosynthesis and the experimental evidence supporting them, and hope to cover possible implications for new technology.


Mother Earth Will Kill Us All

In this talk I shall examine some of the various ways in which large scale destruction of life might occur due to natural processes. The areas covered will include climate change, volcanic activity, and variations in the Earth’s magnetic field. I hope to cover the relative risks posed by each of these things, including the scientific background, the plausibility of such an event occurring, and the scale of catastrophe that each would cause. I will also consider the timescale on which these things would happen, in order to evaluate the risk of death and destruction to us as individuals, to Merton College, and to mankind as a whole. Due to the widely disputed nature of some of these topics, I shall also consider varying viewpoints on each area, and examine the scientific evidence behind these viewpoints.


Liquid Crystals

Liquid crystals are to familiar to many due to their use in electronic displays.However, they have other practical uses, and are also commonly found in nature. I willlook at the fundamental properties of liquid crystals, and how their inherentanisotropy gives rise to interesting optical, mechanical and electromagnetic properties. I will then aim show how these properties are used in practical applications, not onlyin displays but also thermometers and tuneable filters. I will end with examples of how their physical properties can give rise to complex and beautiful patterns.


Black Holes, Information Paradox and the Firewall Debate

This talk will cover our evolving understanding of the nature of Black Holes. Starting from their initial prediction, have represented one the few areas where General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics overlap. This is exemplified by the Information Loss Paradox that was shown through Hawking radiation. My aim will be to discuss the debate surrounding the most recent attempt to resolve this paradox: the Firewall. I will briefly explain the semiclassical interpretation of Black Holes and the previously accepted solution of the paradox through complementarity. Then, I will discuss the need for a deviation from complementarity, the principles of the Firewall, and the responses to this resolution of the paradox. If possible, I will attempt to speak on the most up to date information regarding this ongoing debate.


The Strike of Enlightenment: exploring the mysterious phenomenon of lightning

Mankind has often be awed by the ferocious power of bolts of electricity from the heavens but our understanding of lightning has come a long way since Benjamin Franklin experimented with kites in thunderstorms. I will attempt to explain how and why lightning originates in our atmosphere and why it is not just found in thunderstorms, or even localised just to Earth. I will then go on to distinguish between types of natural lightning before examining what actually happens in the atmosphere during an electrical discharge and how this has been recreated in the laboratory, leading to artificial lightning. I shall comment on theories concerning the harnessing of power from natural lightning before concluding with a brief foray into the elusive nature of ball lightning, centred on recent experiments carried out to probe its behaviour. I might even answer the million dollar question: does lightning strike twice?


A Guide to Chalksmanship

In the Department of Physics at Oxford, the vast majority of teaching is done with the help of chalk and blackboards. Each lecturer has their own preference as to the role that the blackboard plays; some use it in tandem with projected PowerPoint slides, perhaps showing the steps of a derivation, whilst others forgo any digital aids whatsoever and exclude themselves to using only the blackboard. The skill with which lecturers wield and use chalk varies; some are prone to having small pieces breaking off whenever they write, whilst others seem to be able to reproduce the same handwriting regardless of the size or shape of the particular piece in their hand. I aim to investigate some of the factors that affect how chalk behaves as it is being used, and suggest an optimal method with which blackboard-writing should be approached. If time permits, I may also investigate a method that allows a user to draw dashed lines quickly (popularised as the 'Walter Lewin' method), and see how such a process may be explained.


Quantum dots

Quantum dots are semiconductor nanocrystals that display unique optical and electrical properties due to the quantum confinement effect. The aim of this talk is to briefly introduce the concept of quantum dots and their applications in various fields.

I will start by outlining a fairly simple model that explains the physical properties of quantum dots, namely theband-gap dependence on the size of the dot and the quantization of electron energy levels. I will then briefly cover the various ways of manufacturing quantum dots. Finally, I will look in some detail at the applications of quantum dots in science and technology, which include particle and cell tracking in biology, single electron transistors, solar cells, quantum dot LEDs and quantum dot displays. I may also cover the possibility of using quantum dots as qubits for quantum computing.

Merton Presentations 2013


Week 3, Saturday, deadline for titles and abstracts submissions.

Week 6, Tuesday and Wednesday 16:00-18:00 (Fitzjames 1). Rehearsals.

Week 8, Tuesday 16:00-19:00 (Fitzjames 1). Final presentations.


Title: Beyond the Cradle

Abstract: As the human population continues to grow, becoming ever hungrier for resources, it increasingly seems that the most economically feasible long-term solution is for humanity to try its fortunes in interplanetary space. In this talk I aim to discuss how the first steps of this process might be taken, beginning with the development of more efficient means of reaching orbit and the physics behind them. I will examine the ways that passing asteroids could serve as new sources of raw materials, and the orbital mechanics involved in regularly making journeys back and forth to an object with an eccentric orbit. Finally, if I have time, I will look at the survival challenges faced by humans in space, in particular the threats posed by cosmic radiation and micrometeoroids.


Title: Quantum Teleportation

Abstract: The talk will start with mentioning classical bits and introducing their quantum equivalent, the qubit. Some properties of them are discussed and quantum indistinguishability is revised. After this introduction the theory of quantum teleportation is discussed. This includes superdense coding to introduce important concepts such as the four Bell states and the four unitary transformations used to recover certain quantum states. After that I will talk about the actual quantum teleportation protocol as proposed by Bennett et al. and mention theorems such as ‘no-cloning’. After the theory, the talk will move to the experimental realisation thereof starting with describing a source of entangled photons using parametric down conversion and very quickly touch on the issue of performing a BSM. This discussion will be incorporated into the last part of the presentation, if time does not allow an extra treatment of it. In the final part of the talk I will quickly describe the experimental setup and outcome of the experiment performed in Innsbruck by Zeilinger et al.


Title: The Physical Possibilities of Travel through Time

Abstract: The aim is to give an overview of Einstein’s ideas of a curved spacetime and how his theory of relativity can lead to many physical possibilities of time travel, to the future and to the past. Explaining how multiple theories satisfying Einstein’s equations can accomplish time travel including Special and General Relativity, as well as Superstring theory and the concept of wormholes.


Title: Physics and Butterflies

Abstract: From striking colourful wings produced by optical effects of the interference of light, to their uses in new technologies, butterflies and physics when looked at together have the ability to both amaze the observer and improve technologies. This presentation aims to look at these interesting properties and contemplate the movements of butterflies in air and analyse the physics of this. It will then go on to look at how current research is turning to nature, and to butterflies, in order to advance materials by taking inspiration from where nature has triumphed first. This presentation aims to convince the audience of how physics can be seen beautifully in nature through the butterfly and ponder what advances we can develop from a butterfly and what these could mean for future technology.


Title: Superconductors, Superfluids and their uses in today's world.

Abstract: Superconductors were strange and unintuitive when they were first discovered. They bemused scientists and inspired a new generation of physicists. In this talk I aim to unravel the mysteries of the superconductors and explore how they were discovered in the first place. I will then demonstrate, through the means of YouTube, some of their most interesting properties and try and give the audience a taste the physics behind them. I will continue by taking a slight detour and dive into the world of superfluidity. To conclude I will show the audience how they can be utilised in today's world and how these weird and wonderful properties lend themselves to certain applications.


Title: Quantum Encryption

Abstract: In my presentation I plan to briefly touch on the problems with classical encryption (and how their security is dependent on the eavesdroppers computing power). I then plan to talk about how quantum physics can be used to send encryption keys securely through both entanglement and polarized photons and how their security does not depend on an eavesdroppers computing power. However, I may decide to shift my talk to be more about one method of security than the other depending on time constraints and the amount of detail I wish to express.


Title: The Flight of a Frisbee

Abstract: I will discuss the physics behind a Frisbee's flight, focussing on how it generates and utilises aerodynamic lift and gyroscopic stability to achieve a smooth flight. If possible, I want to develop a decent model of the Frisbee flight and conduct numerical simulations.


Title: Metamaterial cloaking

Abstract: In recent years astonishing scientific progress has been made in developing the 'invisibility cloak' of legend. One particularly ingenious way of achieving this has been by channeling the awesome power of 'metamaterials': complex artificial materials that have been engineered at the subwavelength level to give rise to incredible electric and magnetic phenomena not found in nature. The principle of their operation is the new and fascinating field of 'transformation optics', which details how the trajectory of light through a medium can be twisted and warped as desired using appropriate coordinate transformations of space according to a ray of light. However, as expected from a field at such an early stage, there are still many barriers to reaching the ultimate goal: cloaking a human-sized object in a practical way. I hope I can show you how and why this works, and perhaps shed some light on recent developments...or not.

Merton Presentations 2012


Tuesday, 6 March, 16:00-19:00, Hawkins Room

Rehearsals: Week 7, Thursday (Ian Taylor Room) and Friday (Hawkins Room), 16:00-18:00.


Title: Where Physics and the UN meet: how can climate science inform public policy?

Abstract: In this talk I will explore the interface between climate science and public policy. I will examine how climate scientists use computer modelling to predict future climate scenarios, and how these findings can be used to inform policymakers. By examining the literature around this area, I will talk about the different approaches to the problem and examine the misconceptions about the important features of an emissions reduction profile that will avoid dangerous climate change. I will conclude that there is a dangerous mismatch between the science and the policy, which must be urgently addressed.


Title: Neutrinos: A Biography

Abstract: Firstly, I will explain why neutrinos were first postulated by Pauli as mystery particles that were necessary to maintain conservation laws. I will then go on to describe the properties of the neutrino why these properties make it hard to detect and how this is overcome. From this I will go on to talk about the results from OPERA. Firstly I will describe how the measurements were taken and what the results said. I will discuss about why most scientists believe these results to be false, referring to the experiment involving Supernova 1987A. Then I would like to speculate at what if the results were genuine. I want to say why this would be exciting for young theoretical physicists and also discuss some of the possible theories that have been talked about.


Title: A (very) brief introduction to quantum computing

Abstract: I will begin by discussing the history of quantum computing and outline the consequences to society which would result if or when it ever becomes feasible, such as the security of internet communications. I will then go on to outline the basic principles of quantum computing and why a quantum computer would be so computationally potent whilst also relating these principles to those of classical computers. Following this, I will discuss briefly some of the practical difficulties in constructing and operating a quantum computer.


Title: False Assumption about Organic Light Emitting Diode Operation, Manufacture and Materials

Abstract: I will briefly describe the operation of two types of organic electroluminescent device, OLED and Light Emitting Electrochemical Cell. I will discuss how they are made briefly and why they are made using these methods. Then I will talk about the fact that these two routes of manufacture are used, on the assumption that the materials have low thermal degradation, (at least for polymer based devices.) This statement cannot be made with any confidence this parameter has been measured for <10% of OLED materials. These OLED materials will in fact survive melt processes, briefly discussing how I showed this. Then I will discuss advantages and disadvantages of the melt process, and how it can be improved by using a Light Emitting Electrochemical cell system.


Title: Destroying planet Earth the in most energy efficient manner

Abstract: In this talk I will begin by outlining a definition for the destruction of planet earth as this is a necessary prerequisite to properly considering methods to attain that aim. We also have to consider a time-frame for project completion as the entity interested in this venture will be a living being so this should be done within a lifetime. I will then consider the physics of some of the most interesting, most efficient, and most achievable methods under current technology. I will also need to consider methods that are currently unrealistic but could be achieved sometime in the future. I will then come to a conclusion from the research and calculations I have done to advise on the method which I believe to have the lowest energy cost whilst still retaining a good chance of geocide in a reasonable time frame.


Title: Dark Matter & Dark Energy: how far do we know the Universe?

Abstract: In this presentation I will give a brief account of why the need for such thing as "Dark Matter" to exist arises. I will also discuss what the likely candidates for Dark Matter are, with advantages and disadvantages for each. Then I will briefly address the topic of "Dark Energy", and how it arises from the recent discovery that the expansion of the Universe could be accelerating.


Title: Balancing the Solar System

Abstract:To begin with I'd like to talk about orbital resonance, expand a bit on the theory of it and give some examples (like the gaps in saturn's rings). I'd also then like to talk about the differences between stable and unstable resonances and possibly its role in allowing larger bodies to eject bodies in a similar orbit out of the solar system. I'd then like to talk about the chaotic nature of the solar system and how models of it tend to fail and talk about the time scales on which that happens. Then I'd like to look at the precession of orbits. I'd then like to combine these ideas together to study the orbit of Mercury and how it interacts with other bodies in the solar system (particularly Jupiter) and the resulting effect on the shape of Mercury's orbit.


Title: Quantum Mechanics vs. The Economy; Schrodinger Fat Cat and its Bonus.

Abstract: This talk will discuss the relationships between Quantum Mechanics and our Global Economy, going to speculate on the causes on the recent recession and on how, as Physicists, we can avoid further catastrophe. Firstly, I will discuss Game Theory and the how, from a scientific point of view, an analytical mind is far more successful than an emotive one, often leading to rather surprising results. I will then talk about the similarities between Zero Point energy, and liquidity and leverage (or interest rate), coining the term Zero Point Money. Finally, the Big One, I will try to philosophise on a method of calculating risk, and economic probability, using Quantum Amplitudes and interference.


Title: Supernovae: The Basics

Abstract: I will be talking about supernovae, types I and II, giving a description of what the different types are, and how they might occur, i.e. from accretion from a stellar companion, merging etc. I will also describe how these processes transform one type of stellar body into another, as in the transformation of a white dwarf into a neutron star, and talk about the discovery of supernovae while showing some examples of the ones we have observed.