News Highlights from 2007

  • Efficient Dynamic Nuclear Polarization at High Magnetic Fields by G Morley and Co-workers
  • Large Magnetic Anisotropy of a Single Atomic Spin Embedded in a Surface Molecular Network by Cyrus F. Hirjibehedin in Science
  • A Stability Limit for the Atmospheres of Giant Extrasolar Planets by Tommi Koskinen, Alan D Aylward and Steve Miller
  • Departmental Prize Giving Ceremony
  • IoP Awards and Medals
  • STFC Royal Society Fellowships
  • First water found on extra-solar planet
  • Searching for life on other worlds
  • The 22nd International Conference of Physics Students at UCL, 10th – 16th August 2007

Efficient Dynamic Nuclear Polarization at High Magnetic Fields

Gavin W. Morley, Johan van Tol, Arzhang Ardavan, Kyriakos Porfyrakis, Jinying Zhang, and G. Andrew D. Briggs

Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 220501 (2007)

 Large Magnetic Anisotropy of a Single Atomic Spin Embedded in a Surface Molecular Network

Cyrus F. Hirjibehedin, Chiung-Yuan Lin, Alexander F. Otte, Markus Ternes, Christopher P. Lutz, Barbara A. Jones, Andreas J. Heinrich

Science 317, 1199 (2007)

Magnetic anisotropy allows magnets to maintain their direction of magnetization over time. Using a scanning tunneling microscope to observe spin excitations, we determined the orientation and strength of the anisotropies of individual iron and manganese atoms on a thin layer of copper nitride. The relative intensities of the inelastic tunneling processes are consistent with dipolar interactions, as seen for inelastic neutron scattering. First-principles calculations indicate that the magnetic atoms become incorporated into a polar covalent surface molecular network in the copper nitride. These structures, which provide atom-by-atom accessibility via local probes, have the potential for engineering anisotropies large enough to produce stable magnetization at low temperatures for a single atomic spin.


A Stability Limit for the Atmospheres of Giant Extrasolar Planets

Tommi Koskinen, Alan D Aylward and Steve Miller

Nature, 6th Dec (2007)

Recent observations of the planet HD209458b indicate that it is surrounded by an expanded atmosphere of atomic hydrogen that is escaping hydrodynamically. 

Theoretically, it has been shown that such escape is possible at least inside an orbit of 0.1 AU.  Jupiter's atmosphere is stable, so somewhere between 5 AU and 0.1 AU there must a crossover between stability and instability.  We have used a three-dimensional, time-dependent thermosphere-ionosphere model to simulate the upper atmosphere of a Jupiter-type planet orbiting a solar-type star at different orbital distances, and shown that there is a sharp breakdown in atmospheric stability between 0.14 and 0.16 AU.  Beyond 0.16 AU, cooling by H3+ ions balances heating by the star, but inside 0.16 AU molecular hydrogen dissociates thermally, suppressing the formation of  H3+ and effectively shutting down that mode of cooling.


Departmental Prize Giving Ceremony

"On Tuesday, 30 October 2007 we held our first ever evening Prize Giving ceremony in The Old Refectory, UCL.  There were at least 45 people present including the recipients, their parents or friends and many members of Academic staff.

Professor G. David Price, Dean of the MAPS Faculty presided, whilst Professor Jonathan Tennyson acted as host and caller.  The majority of the prizes were presented by Mrs Sally Darius whose husband, Jon, was a former student in the Department and who, sadly, died at the very young age of 45.  In order to create a "living gift" in Jon's memory Sally very generously set up a Fund to endow the "Jon Darius Prize for the Best Postgraduate Research, Astronomy"; this year the prize was awarded to Tom Bell.

Professor Marshall Stoneham also very generously endowed "The Marshall Stoneham Prize for the Best Postgraduate Research, CMMP". As a result of the generosity  of both Sally and Marshall, it enabled us to make a Postgraduate Award to each of the four Research Groups. The Carey Foster Prize was awarded to the best Postgraduate in the AMOPP Research Group.  The HEPP Prize has yet to be formally endowed by a named "benefactor".  The Harrie Massey Prize is now to be awarded to the Best MSc Student (or, in the case of this year, students) in the Department.

David Morris from Tessella presented the "Tessella Prize for the most innovative use of software in a final year project" to Simon Binnie.

Jonathan Tennyson and I will, during the course of the next year, endeavour to find other sources of funding for additional 'named' prizes.

The evening was a great success and we received many kind and encouraging remarks.

Finally, many, many congratulations to all our prize winners who have so clearly demonstrated that we, as a Department, are a force with which to be reckoned!

OLIVER LODGE PRIZE (Best performance 1st year Physics)


HALLEY PRIZE (Best performance 1st year Astronomy)


C.A.R. TAYLER PRIZE (Best 2nd Year Essay)


WOOD PRIZE (Best performance 2nd year Physics)


HUGGINS PRIZE (Best performance 2nd year Astronomy)


DAVID PONTER PRIZE (Most improved performance in Department, 2nd year)


CORRIGAN PRIZE (Best performance in experimental work, 2nd year)




Best Performance 3rd Year Physics


Best Performance 3rd Year Astronomy




BURHOP PRIZE (Best performance 4th year Physics)


HERSCHEL PRIZE (Best performance 4th year Astronomy)


BRIAN DUFF MEMORIAL PRIZE (Best 4th Year project in the department)


WILLIAM BRAGG PRIZE (Best overall undergraduate)



(Best use of software in final year Physics/Astronomy projects)


CAREY FOSTER PRIZE (Postgraduate Research, Physics AMOPP)


HEPP GROUP (Postgraduate Research, Physics HEPP)


MARSHALL STONEHAM PRIZE (Postgraduate Research, Physics CMMP)


HARRIE MASSEY PRIZE – Joint Winners (Best MSc Student)


JON DARIUS PRIZE (Postgraduate Research, Astronomy)




Congratulations and thanks must also go to the staff (academic, technical, administrative) who have unerringly helped these students achieve their goals.


Looking at the photo from left to right: Professor Jonathan Tennyson, Professor Mike Barlow, Professor David Price, Mrs Sally Darius

10 October 2007

IoP 2008 Awards and Medals

The Institute of Physics has announced its 2008 awards and medals:

Gabriel Aeppli has been awarded the Mott Medal for distinguished research in condensed matter or materials physics, 'For his pioneering and highly influential work on the magnetic properties of novel materials using neutron scattering'.

Sougato Bose has been awarded the Maxwell Medal for distinguished research in theoretical, mathematical or computational physics, 'For his work on the characterisation and exploitation of entanglement in quantum systems, in particular for his work on the propagation of information in spin chains'.

Doreen Stoneham (Marshall's wife) has been awarded the Gabor Medal for distinguished work in the application of physics in an industrial, commercial or business context 'For her successful establishment of a world-leading company that authenticates ceramics for the art world'.

Also at the College:

Helen Fielding (UCL Chemistry) has been awarded the Moseley Medal for distinguished research in experimental physics, 'For her unique work on
the coherent control of electronic and molecular dynamics using ultra-fast lasers'.

David Delpy (UCL Medical Physics, just starting as Chief Executive of EPSRC) has been awarded the Franklin Medal for distinguished research in
physics applied to the life sciences, 'For his pioneering development of a range of novel techniques and instruments to monitor the health of
patients in intensive-care units and to image tissue physiology and metabolism'.

Congratulations to all these winners!

20 August 2007

STFC/Royal Society fellowships

We are keen to support a limited number of strong candidates in applying for STFC and Royal Society Fellowships. If your profile and interests match our activities, we would be very interested to hear from you. The best initial approach is to contact either the Head of Astrophysics Ofer Lahav (lahav AT star.ucl.ac.uk), or an academic staff member in your area of interest, informally. We will require drafts of the applications, and the names of two referees, to be submitted to the group at least one month before the closing date. In this way we can ensure that it is appropriate that the proposed research be carried out in the group, and we can offer advice that may increase the application's chance of success. Please note that in some cases the department may only put forward a limited number of candidates, and in such cases it will be necessary for us to pre-select the best applicants. For the Science and Technology Facilities Council postdoctoral and advanced fellowships the closing date for applications is 11 October 2007, and our internal deadline for pre-selection is 11 September 2007.
The information can be found on the STFC website:

Changes to EPSRC Fellowships


EPSRC are introducing two new research fellowship schemes this year: career acceleration fellowships and leadership fellowships. There will be no more calls for advanced research fellowships and senior research fellowships. Postdoctoral fellowships will continue this year in selected research areas.

--- Career Acceleration Fellowships: These fellowships provide up to five years' funding for talented researchers at an early stage of their research career. To apply, you must have a PhD or similar qualification and between 3 and 10 years of postdoctoral, industrial or equivalent experience. Time out of research for family reasons will be taken into account.

Closing date: 4pm, Wednesday 24 October 2007 - Internal deadline (24th September)

--- Leadership Fellowships: These fellowships provide up to five years' funding for researchers with the most potential to develop into the UK's international research leaders of tomorrow. To apply, you must hold a permanent academic post at a UK higher education institution. We expect institutions to give the fellow the maximum opportunity to develop into a research leader of international standing.

Closing date: 4pm, Tuesday 9 October 2007 - Internal deadline (9th September)

The closing date for 2008 Royal Society University Research Fellowships and Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships will probably be around November 2007.

12 July 2007

First water found on extra-solar planet




UCL astrophysicists have discovered signs of water on a planet outside our solar system for the first time.

The findings, published in the 12 July 2007 issue of ‘Nature’ magazine, describe the planet – called HD 189733B – orbiting a star in the constellation of ‘Vulpecula the Fox’, which is 64 light years from our sun.

The research team, led by Dr Giovanna Tinetti (UCL Physics & Astronomy and European Space Agency), found that as the planet passes in front of its sun, it absorbs starlight in a way that can only be explained by the presence of water vapour in its atmosphere.

The discovery was made using NASA’s Spitzer Earth-orbiting telescope, taking measurements at a number of key wavelengths in the infrared region of the spectrum that pick out the crucial signature of water.

The water detection relied not only on Dr Tinetti’s painstaking analysis, but also on the calculation of highly accurate water absorption parameters by Dr Bob Barber and Professor Jonathan Tennyson (UCL Physics & Astronomy).

Dr Barber said: “The absorption parameters were calculated from our Barber-Tennyson list of water vapour spectral lines. This includes over 500 million individual absorption features, each like fingerprints, giving us vital clues to the amount of water present and the temperature of the atmosphere.”

Professor Tennyson, Head of UCL Physics & Astronomy, explained: “Parts of the atmosphere of the planet are very hot – around 2,000 °C. You need the millions of lines we calculated to simulate this, putting in absorption accurately where it should be and – just as accurately – giving gaps for the light to get through the atmosphere, where it can.”

HD 189733b’s star is very much like our own sun, although a little cooler. However, the planet is not like Earth. HD 189733b is a gas giant planet, about 15 per cent bigger than Jupiter and more than 30 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun – explaining why it is so hot, and crucially, unlikely to support life in such an inhospitable atmosphere.

Water in its liquid form – vital for life on this planet – only exists in a narrow band of temperature and pressure. The discovery of a planet in a similar temperature and pressure range as the Earth has still proved elusive.

Dr Tinetti added: “The ‘holy grail’ for today’s planet hunters is to find an Earth-like planet that also has water in its atmosphere. When it happens, that discovery will provide real evidence that planets outside our solar system might harbour life. Finding the existence of water on an extra-solar gas giant is a vital milestone along that road of discovery.”

To find out more, use the links at the top of this article.

Image: Artist's impresssion of HD 189733B (Credit: ESA - C. Carreau)

19 April 2007

Searching for life on other worlds

Submitted to Scientific Blogging by Douglas Blane.

Giovanna Tinetti is an expert on detecting signs of life across interstellar space. She has worked at JPL, Caltech and the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, and has just won an Aurora Fellowship to pursue her research on biosignatures at University College, London. We caught up with her as she made an exploratory visit to the city that will be her home for the next three years. [Read more here]

2 March 2007

The 22nd International Conference of Physics Students at UCL, 10th – 16th August 2007


Every year since 1986 the International Conference of Physics Students (ICPS) is held in a different European city and attracts several hundred physics students from all over the world, both undergraduate and postgraduate. The conference is organised by a local member committee of the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS) and two years ago, Nexus, the student wing of the Institute of Physics, submitted a bid to host ICPS in the UK for the first time. Tough opposition from Poland and Greece was overcome to win the vote and thus ICPS 2007 will be held in London at UCL this coming August.

Up to 400 delegates are expected for an intense week featuring both academic and social highlights. Participants are invited to give 15-20 min lectures on either their research topics or indeed on any topic in physics or astronomy that interests them. Up to five guest lecturers will also be invited, again speaking on a variety of topics. One of these will be Prof. Andrew Fisher from UCL (London Centre of Nanotechnology).

There are also a number of academic excursions planned to various sites of scientific interest in the UK and we are hoping to run a number of interactive workshops or discussion sessions. If possible, participants will also be shown around some of the research facilities at UCL and the LCN.

The busy academic schedule is balanced out by a number of social events to promote interaction between students from different countries. On the opening day there will be an extensive tour of London and a large welcome party. On other nights such classics as the costume party or the national party will be held. During the latter each delegation is expected to bring or prepare on location some typical dishes from their country or region and, if brave enough, to stage a performance, usually a song or dance. We are also hoping to have a sports tournament and a barbecue, weather permitting.