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Junior Physics Odyssey

Junior Physics Odyssey

Author: Gay Ellyett
Author Role: Coordinator: Exceptional Scientists' Program

During the holidays, I was lucky enough to attend a physics camp held at The University of Queensland. This camp, called the Junior Physics Odyssey (JPhO for short), involved me commuting into UQ every day, and participating in physics workshops and lectures, sometimes for twelve hours.

One of the workshops I participated in was to do with lasers. It was a single-slit experiment where we measured the distances between dark spots in a beam of light to tell us about the frequency of the light. Another experiment had to do with asteroids and measuring the trails they leave on long-exposure photographs in order to find their orbit times and distances. Another involved low-level radiation, and experimenting with different shielding techniques to find out what stopped the highest amount of each of the three levels of radiation. I also participated in an experiment on circuits and voltage and current, and designed and built a rocket of a plastic bottle and carboard to be launched into the air by air pressure. My team’s rocket was the highest flying in my group, which was quite exciting.

Aside from all of these hands-on experiments, I also watched some explosive science in action with a demo troupe that came and showed us various experiments- from the strength of air pressure to producing lightning inside a room. These were incredibly awesome to witness, and a reminder of the huge scope of physics.

I also listened to several lectures, primarily from UQ lecturers. These focused on the basic skills and understanding of physics, including optics, gravity-related problems, and heat engines. I certainly learnt a lot, and while at the beginning of each lecture it felt like my head was underwater, by the end of them I had a fair grasp of each concept that had been presented to us. Other lectures were presented by external people, such as a talk from a physicist on how science takes complex things and makes them simpler, and in the process makes discoveries. His examples for this were assembling the elements into the periodic table, and then using this to discover sub-atomic particles, and then using all of these to discover even smaller sub-atomic particles. The other lecture like this was on astrophysics, and where it had taken the physicist who was talking to us.

An advantage of being on the UQ campus was the opportunity to visit labs. I visited a lab experimenting with optical tweezers, where beams of light are used like tweezers to manipulate tiny particles, and another lab with a near absolute-zero freezer where they tested quantum resonance.

Perhaps one of the best things about JPhO was the people. My group was filled with like-minded students, all of us keen to learn as much as possible and enjoy our time there. They came from all around Queensland, and I have no doubt that I will see some of them again. Each group was accompanied by mentors, who had the job of moving us from lab to lecture to lunch and so forth, and also making sure we were comfortable with the material and enjoying ourselves. The vast majority of mentors were previous JPhO students, and I hope to one day return as a mentor. They were all wonderful to talk to, most being able to provide a snapshot into life at uni or life as a physics student. They ranged from high school students to PhD students, and it was wonderful to meet so many focused, physics-minded people.

Before JPhO, I wasn’t overly certain that I wanted to pursue physics all the way through high school, but I knew I had an interest in it. Now, I have a burning wish to continue physics, and return to the camp as a mentor one year, to further connect with the wonderful community that has grown around JPhO.

Rebecca Leonard, Year 10

During the holidays Rebecca Leonard and I participated in the Junior Physics Odyssey program at The University of Queensland. There were about 70 enthusiastic Year 10 students from across Queensland meaning we were able to make friends with like-minded people throughout the program. It was a five-day program which included lectures, tutorials, lab tours, panel discussions with PhD students, and practical work which gave us insight into what it is like to be at university. We learned many areas of physics, including optics and radioactivity, with the content even including some university level questions. University lecturers exposed us to intriguing university-level concepts in a way we could all understand, and then we applied this knowledge in questions and practical work. We also were able to see some of the concepts applied in state of the art quantum physics labs which was amazing. In addition to coming away with a greater understanding of physics, we met many friendly people including professors, undergraduates, and even students who have attended the camp in the past came back to help. This program provided me with an insight into where science can go and gave me the opportunity to make friends with like-minded individuals.

Matthew Sloman, Year 10