14 May 2021

Abingdon Science Partnership’s Royal Society Partnership Grant project entitled ‘How small a measurement can you make with light?’ has suddenly become a reality for the team of lower sixth physicists taking on the initial stages of the challenge. Working with research partners Dr Anna Marchant of RAL Space and Thomas Hird, a D.Phil student at Oxford University’s Physics Department, the team finally got their hands on a Michelson interferometer for the first time this week.

Anna and Tom have been working on developing remote resources and testing the kit for the participating schools to use, while the Abingdon team have been investigating the theory behind interferometry and working on articles to explain it for the Young Scientists Journal. However, nothing theoretical is quite as exciting as finally getting your hands on a piece of kit worth several thousand pounds and not usually seen in a school lab! During this week’s session, members of the team were able to connect via Zoom with Anna and Tom, who had kindly given up time to engage with them and answer questions about the technicalities of getting the equipment set up and aligned. This was not easily done remotely but the researchers were admirably patient and encouraging and some very clear interference patterns were being produced by the end of the session.

Further testing will now take place and then the Abingdon team’s challenge will be to measure the spacing of the well known sodium spectral D-lines which are only a fraction of a nanometer apart. On completion of the Abingdon team’s challenge, the interferometer will be passed on to another local school to complete a different challenge, with all the teams hoping to meet for a workshop to present their results next year.

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