Professor Paul Nolan

Professor of Nuclear Physics, Department of Physics, University of Liverpool

How do you select suitable projects?

We have been offering placements for the Nuffield Research Placements scheme for over 10 years, a relationship that began when I was Head of Department. Initially we provided two or three placements a year but now we offer around 25 each year.

We manage this high number of placements by assigning a small group of students to each supervisor; each group then works on a similar project area, with the students then splitting into individual sub-projects towards the end. The supervisors come up with a few project ideas each and allow the students to pick which one they would like to do.

What motivates you to provide placements?

The department is always looking for ways to make links with local schools, and the Nuffield scheme is a great way of doing this. The diverse range of students that the scheme targets also fits into the university’s widening participation agenda. Personally, I have a passion to expand young people’s interest in the subject of physics. I am particularly keen to promote ‘Liverpool Physics’ and the work we do here, to encourage local young and talented physicists to study locally and retain their talent in the area.   

What benefits do you get from supporting the scheme?

This scheme is a great way to raise the profile of the Department of Physics within schools, and hopefully give the students a greater idea of the work we do here. We are also helping to make the physical sciences more accessible to local students, which will hopefully lead to more people choosing our department as their destination for higher education.

The projects carried out by Nuffield students contribute to the wider work of the department by helping us to try out new ideas. These ideas may then be developed by final year undergraduate students or postgraduate students. Personally, I enjoy teaching the students and expanding their interest in physics as well as seeing them to get something out of the experience.

What do the students get from the placement experience?

For the students the Nuffield Research Placement gives them a chance to see what physics research is really like. They get to experience the sometimes routine work that is involved and realise what is behind the ‘headline grabbing’ research. The students learn about and understand the different processes involved in research, from literature reviews to the repetition of experiments, and interpreting the results of these experiments. Essentially, they learn about the fundamentals of research, something they don’t get to learn in school. They also gain experience of using new equipment and learn new skills associated with this.

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