Dr Bill Proud

Dr Bill Proud is the Director of the Institute of Shock Physics at Imperial College London, and has personally supervised Nuffield students for almost two decades.

Where research placements take place: Imperial College London

Website: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/shockphysics

What type of projects do you run?
Experimental projects using simple experiments to look at everyday phenomena – but phenomena that are on-going and active areas of research. Such projects would be (a) the breaking of a wire under impact loading (b) the flow of sand through a tube (c) the use of microwaves as controlled heating sources for rocks, causing them to weaken. All of these are phenomena which have a range of theories associated with them, all of them are useful in industry, none has an all-encompassing explanation.

What motivated you to supervise a school student through the Nuffield Research Placements scheme?

As a child I was interested in the natural world and phenomena, animals, the environment – living in a town based on heavy-industry but also close to a national park I could see and experience huge differences in the landscape. I read voraciously and I performed small experiments at home. I think it is important to allow people the opportunity to explore their environment and understand how much we do know and how much we do not – even for simple things. Hence my interest in outreach.

What do you feel are the main benefits to your organisation to taking on a Nuffield student?

The students who I have had via Nuffield are intelligent, motivated and sci-tech oriented. I rate them very highly. For my organisation there are a number of tangible and intangible benefits – (a) profile raising (b) involvement in education at all levels (c) showcasing the organisation to potential students but most importantly of all (d) allowing the student to experience a University and also ‘hands-on’ science and see if that is what they really want to do and (e) encouraging independent learning and thought. If an organisation can deliver on all these levels – it is doing a good job.

What do you feel are the main benefits for students from taking part in the scheme?

Exposure to a research environment, interacting with professional scientists, horizon broadening, the realisation that all those science results come from hard work and harder thinking. That sci-tech-eng-medicine make an enormous contribution to the environment, well-being and also are an expression of creativity.

Would you recommend the scheme to others?

I am a strong advocate of this scheme. I sometimes worry I bore other people with my enthusiasm. I would advise anyone to supervise under this scheme, it is refreshing.

What personal skills would you say members of your team gained from supervising a Nuffield student?

An appreciation that there are many talented students out there and also that developing knowledge, confidence and independence are primary outcomes of an educational institution. The more the supervisors develop this in the student – the more they develop in themselves.

Has it helped communicate your area of science to a wider public, and why do you feel this is important?

Yes, it has helped me concentrate on the language, style and content of delivery of public lectures; it has certainly been useful in emphasising that the public has a higher awareness level than much of the media give them credit for. That an informed public is the foundation of a strong society.