UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Physics & Astronomy

Research case study: bringing the Higgs to life

The switch-on of the Large Hadron Collider and the discovery of a Higgs boson have stimulated interest in science and engineering, and in physics in particular on a scale unprecedented by any other single experiment. UCL Physics and Astronomy has been at the heart of both the scientific discovery, and of the public’s engagement with it.
Prof Jon Butterworth, head of department and a leading participant in CERN’s research, has had an increasingly high media profile thanks to this.

Many media requests have directly related to the LHC work, but the impact on physics education is broader. 

While the evidence is not complete, it seems very likely that this has been a significant factor in the healthy level of applications to study physics at levels from GCSE to undergraduate degree.

Since 2009, Butterworth has also written a blog for the Guardian’s science section, bringing particle physics to life for a general audience. 

Research case study: First noble gas molecule discovered in space

A team led by Prof Mike Barlow (head of the astrophysics group in UCL Physics & Astronomy) has identified the first noble gas molecule in space. Noble gases do not normally form molecules, but in electrically charged environments they can. It was discovered in the form of argon hydride, and is located in the Crab Nebula.

This is a surprising location, because the nebula is the remnant of a supernova explosion, and such a compound wouldn't be expected in a harsh environment like this.