Physics Accessible Tour

Physics Atrium

A long, brightly-lit room with a collection of tables, chairs, and sofas situated along the middle of it. On one side are doors to various labs, on the other, glass windows looking into a lab and a staircase leading to the Upstairs Atrium.

Welcome to the Department of Physics! The Atrium is the hub, providing a space for study and collaboration, or socialising between lectures.

Upstairs Atrium

A smaller room with bright yellow walls and ceiling. There are sofas and stools located around the room, and cupboard containing board games in one corner.

Like the main Atrium, the upstairs atrium functions as a social and study space for our physics students. It even has a cupboard with board games for our students to use!

Particle Physics Lab

A large lab with rows of desks, each with different pieces of equipment relating to particle physics, such as annihilation detectors and cosmic ray telescopes. There is a voltage supply in the centre of the room powering the equipment.

The Particle Physics Lab is a state-of-the art laboratory used for hands-on practical work in nuclear and particle physics. The lab is kitted out with a range of different particle detectors, using the same technologies that form the basis of modern research in experimental particle physics. Our students are able to study the fundamental properties of cosmic-ray particles, observe matter-antimatter annihilation, and analyse trace radiation from everyday objects. The Particle Physics Lab is used for a number of practical courses, in particular specialised practicals and projects that form port of the Particle Physics and Cosmology degrees.

Annihilation detectors

An annihilation detector, mounted on a piece of wood.

Our annihilation experiment uses a pair of detectors to study the gamma-ray radiation that is emitted when positrons from a radioactive beta source annihilate with electrons.

Cosmic-Ray Telescopes

A pair of cosmic-ray telescopes, enclosed within a metal frame.

The Earth is constantly bombarded by a stream of cosmic-ray particles. Our cosmic-ray telescopes allow us to detect these particles, measure their fundamental properties, and study the distortions in space and time that are predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Gamma Ray Spectroscopy

A gamma-ray radiation detector.

The Particle Physics Lab is equipped with an array of radiation detectors that can be used to study the physics of gamma-ray emission and detection. We can use these detectors to identify radioisotopes by their characteristic radiation signatures, a procedure known as spectroscopy.

Super Lab

A large, H-shaped room, containing rows of desks with computer monitors on shelves above, and various pieces of experimental physics equipment on the desks below.

The Super Lab is where our core first year and second year practical physics modules are taught. The lab is fully equipped for performing experiments that cover a range of topics including waves, optics, magnetism, radiation, spectroscopy, thermodynamics and electronic circuits. In first year practical lab modules, students undertake a series of short experiments that teach experimental skills, such as making measurements, collecting data, and data analysis whilst reinforcing the fundamentals of physics learned in lecture modules. In year 2 and beyond, the experiments are longer and more in-depth experiments, offering students an opportunity to enhance experimental skills gained in year 1.

This is a typical set up for a 1st year practical laboratory. Students will work in pairs on each experiment. The equipment varies depending on its nature, and over the course of their studies, students will use bench instrumentation such as oscilloscopes, function generators, and programmable power supplies. Specialist equipment like spectral lamps, solar cells, radiation detectors, and cosmic ray detectors are also used. Some experiments will also involve Virtual Instrumentation using National Instrument’s ELVIS prototyping boards and LabVIEW.

Industrial Projects Room

A large lab with fume cupboards affixed to one wall, with banks of desks and computers in the centre. At the far end of the room are more fume cupboards, with experimental equipment stored on shelves.

The Industrial Projects room is where students undertake their Year 3 industrial group project. Together with a team of fellow physicists, students work alongside a business to solve a real problem. This can range from looking at non-woven fabrics, to the magnetic treatment of limescale.

Astronomy Lab

A small computer lab with computers lined against the walls and a further bank of PCs in the middle. There are two telescopes pointing out of the windows and a collection of other telescopes in the far corner.

The Astrophysics Laboratory provides students with an opportunity to obtain hands-on experience with the data and techniques used by researchers in astrophysics, and solar and planetary physics. The experiments focus on the evolution of stars and galaxies, the observational evidence for dark energy and dark matter, celestial mechanics, and solar-terrestrial physics and space weather.

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw Observatory

A large white dome-shaped building situated on the roof outside of the Astronomy Lab

Outside of this window, you can see the Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw Observatory, which has recently been refurbished with new equipment. There is a 14" reflecting telescope housed within the dome, that can be used by students through the student astronomy society, LUAstro.

The Dome (Exterior)

Outside on the Physics Building roof, a large, white, dome-shaped building housing an observatory stands in one corner.

The rooftop Observatory is named after Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, who donated the original Celestron 11" telescope. The main facility of the observatory is now a pier mounted Celestron CGE1400 XLT 14" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

The Dome (Interior)

The inside of the Dome, housing a large, pier-mounted telescope.

The Observatory, comprising the telescope, dome and the adjacent laboratory, is named after Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw who donated the original Celestron 11" telescope. The main facility of the observatory is now a pier mounted Celestron CGE1400 XLT 14" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

Helium Liquefier

A double-heighted room containing a variety of large canisters containing liquid helium. A large yellow bag of helium gas sits on a platform above. A helium liquefier with a variety of pipes coming out of the top sits in the middle of the room.

The helium liquefier plant cools and condenses helium from room temperature to 4.2K, just a few degrees above absolute zero. It is then transferred to transport dewars (specialised vacuum flasks) designed to keep it cold while transporting it. From here, the helium can be used as a coolant for experiments, or a subject for research in its own right. At these low temperatures, quantum mechanical effects become noticeable. After use the liquid helium evaporates, and the gas is collected and recycled back to the liquefier for future use.

Helium gas bag

A large yellow bag containing helium gas.

The recycled helium gas is collected in this big yellow bag which starts to float when it gets full. Helium is a non-renewable resource that is found in natural gas deposits. However, it was first discovered in the solar spectrum by the astronomer Norman Lockyer, so he and Edward Frankland named it after the Greek word for the sun, Helios. Frankland was born in Catterall in 1825, just down the road from Lancaster and one of our lecture theatres is named after him.

Ultra-Low Temperature Lab

A busy-looking lab filled with experimental equipment. The back wall is filled with copper pipes and dials making up the control panel for the ULT fridges. A door with the number 6 emblazoned on it has a red “Do Not Enter” sign lit above it. Trays of equipment are stored on a large shelf against another wall.

The Ultralow Temperature Laboratory (ULT) is famous for its world-leading experimental research on physical phenomena arising at the lowest limit of achievable temperatures. In particular, we are interested in studying the behaviour of superfluids, which prove to be excellent laboratory test systems. We apply our knowledge of the physics of superfluids to elucidate physical phenomena ranging from particle physics to cosmology.

The Control Panel

The back wall of the lab, covered in pipes and dials controlling the ULT fridge,

Modern commercial dilution refrigerators are controlled by a press of a button, not allowing the user to actively learn the workings of cooling to low temperatures. The controls of the refrigerators in ULT are laid bare in a ‘steam-punk’ style, giving an opportunity to visualise the processes required in refrigeration. This enables the operators to quickly gain a deep understanding of the functional logic of the machines.

The LEGO Experiment

A small LEGO figurine dressed as a “cryonaut”.

We feel passionate about education in ultralow temperature physics. In a recent experiment, we have demonstrated that here on Earth a popular toy can be cooled down to a temperature many times lower than the temperature of the Deep Space. And not only that, the locking principle of LEGO bricks enables uniquely low thermal conduction, a material property highly sought for in cryogenic applications.

Our interviews about the coolest LEGO set in the Universe given to CNN, The Times, The New York Post, etc. have caused a wave of worldwide attention from Stephen Fry to the Indian Ministry of Defence.

The ULT Fridge

The door leading to one of the ULT fridges housed within the Department.

This is one of the Lab’s four adiabatic demagnetisation refrigerators, which holds the world record for reaching temperatures below two millikelvins, more than twice lower compared to the best commercial fridges. We built the fridges with maximal isolation from the environment as the corner stone of its design principles. The temperature obtained with the dilution fridge is a starting point for the adiabatic demagnetisation stage of cooling. The fridge can cool an experimental volume to microkelvin temperatures, which gives us access to a wide range of research opportunities.

The IsoLab

A small, glass-fronted building situated out of the back of the main Physics Building. It contains a number of pods where sensitive experiments are conducted. A display about the “Art of Isolation” sits by the entrance of the building, showcasing a number of experiments conducted within the lab.

The IsoLab is designed to provide advanced environments for studying quantum systems in controlled conditions. It houses a suite of three laboratories where vibration, noise and electromagnetic disturbances have been drastically reduced, creating "ultra-clean" environments experiments.

Nano Imaging Pod

The door to the Nano Imaging Pod.

For centuries, traditional microscopes have been used to study and understand matter beyond the ability of the naked eye. This pod uses a different type of microscopy, one not limited by the properties of light, where an atomically sharp probe interacts with the surface of the sample. These “scanning probes” allow us to study objects at the level of individual atoms and molecules – producing ultra-high resolution pictures of their surface and shape as well as their chemical, electrical, and thermal properties.

Quantum Optics Pod

The door to the Quantum Optics Pod.

This pod is currently used to explore and exploit how light interacts with optical devices, materials and components at quantum level. This research focuses on the applications of quantum physics to problems in information security, including random numbers (essential prerequisites for secure computer systems), identification and secure communications. We have developed a simple device to produce random numbers without bias, and a system for uniquely identifying tagged objects using imperfections at the atomic scale, which potentially offers 100% secure password-free devices."