Millimeter-Waves: The Vision for the Future - From Electrons to Volcanoes

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


How can the same sort of light be used to interact with objects as different in size and scale as an electronand a volcano? What can you tell by looking at electrons anyway? How can nuclear fusion solve the 21stcentury energy crisis? How do state of the art security scanners work and what can they see? How do youobserve how a volcano is changing underneath cloud or smoke? What technology is used to build car radarfor cruise control or collision avoidance? How can we see how stars form in the outer reaches of the galaxyor understand what the Universe looked like after the Big Bang?Millimetre wave technology, a significant but little known area of Physics research, lies at the heart of ourability to do all of this and more. This project aims to convey the incredible range of imaging and sensingprovided by mm-wave technology to as wide a cross section of the public as possible, targeting audiencesthat would not normally be associated with science outreach. Our proposal seeks to deliver a high impactmajor public education program on technologies and applications associated with these very high frequencymicrowaves - in the mm-wave and sub-mm-wave regime. This area of the electromagnetic spectrum hasseen substantial funding from the research councils and is central to many topical areas of science andsociety. The program will build on a previous highly rated PPE project where a substantial amount oflecture material, demonstration equipment, video footage, teaching material, interactive exhibits and schoolworkshops were developed and enhanced over a 2 year period.There are three principal aims to this project: (1) a fresh remit to reach non 'self-selecting' audiences usingstate of the art research imagery and live demonstrations of mm-wave radar; (2) introduce the majorscience research topic and industrial application of magnetic resonance; (3) deliver a stand-alone interactiveexhibition of all this material to achieve long term sustainability in our outreach mission.

Planned Impact

It was clear from the previous PPE that there was a lot of interest in security imaging and concerns over safety (of the imaging), privacy and cost versus the benefits of the enhanced security. In discussions, audiences' views were often highly polarised. With the recent controversies associated with mm-wave and X-ray backscatter imaging equipment being installed in UK and European airports this is a topic that will attract a great deal more attention, where an informed public debate is likely to be helpful. There is a great deal more scope to increase the number of talks and debates in this area with a substantial body of video imagery collected. A number of teachers also felt this topic (and associated imagery) was entirely suitable for their classes. But the range of mm-wave applications mean talks and demonstrations can be adapted to cover a large range of topics relevant to society ranging from climate change (measuring ozone), future energy resource (fusion) , transport (car radar), understanding new materials and biomolecules (magnetic resonance) or health (MRI). It was also clear both from internal and external evaluation that the workshops were being enthusiastically received by schools and playing a positive role in encouraging young people to think positively about science, particularly as they were being delivered by real scientists. IMPACT ON OUTREACH IN MM-WAVES AND MAGNETIC RESONANCE As part of our initial evaluation process we took some of our exhibits to the International MM-Wave and Infrared and THz conference held in Cardiff in 2007 and showcased in the main Exhibition Hall along with professional stands from commercial companies. This is the major international conference in mm-waves and was the first time the conference had been held in the UK for 10 years. All quotes in this section are taken from 23 interviews of random visitors to our stand conducted by our independent evaluator when we were not present. There were no negative comments: The link between science and ethical considerations are brilliantly made and relevant to everyone. It is unique to have such a professional set-up that is not selling a product. I expect most people underestimate the resources that go into something like this. It looks wonderful. Imagine how impressed potential industrial sponsors would be! Indeed, in relation to the last comment, the imaging radar developed for the program and showcased at the conference subsequently allowed a number of proof of principle experiments to be demonstrated, which led to a 1.5M contract from DSTL in collaboration leading UK Electronics group (ERA Technology). Scientific peers are particularly well placed to appreciate new methods, new applications and new demonstrations of physical phenomena. IMPACT ON OUTREACH IN ST ANDREWS AND LOCAL AREA The previous project also had a very effective role in providing outreach training not only to David Macfarlane but also to the entire mm-wave group (6 PDRAs and 3 PhD students) as well as Honours students undertaking summer projects or Final Year Honours projects within the group. In this project, outreach training will be available through collaboration between the University of St Andrews and Dundee Science Centre. Indeed the previous PPE grants allowed outreach projects to be established as acceptable Final Year Honours projects for the first time, despite some initial concerns from colleagues. These have proven to be an outstanding success and students have gone on to be teachers or popular science educators. One student described her project as the most enjoyable and best thing she had ever done at University . Our new project aims to capture some of this enthusiasm for such projects and see if we can use this as a mechanism to sustain the activity over long periods after the grant has finished.


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Description There is a large demand from schools for talks and workshops on interesting, accessible and fun material to inspire children (at all levels) to take a greater interest or choose a career in science.
It is important to relate that science to everyday experience and provide role models. In many cases the scientist is as important as the science.
Exploitation Route There is considerable demand from schools for workshops and talks on science topics, but high quality and interactive material requires significant time and effort.

One of the key aims in public talks was assessing peoples views on mm-wave security imaging after they understood a little about the technology, safety aspects and level of detail available in images. Surprisingly there was an extremely broad spectrum of opinion.
Sectors Education,Security and Diplomacy

Description This outreach project sought to convey the many applications of millimetre-waves (high frequency microwaves) across multiple scientific areas to the general public and to schools. The aim was to inform about the societal impact of this technology, inspire children to take-up careers in science and outline the scientific impact of EPSRC funded research in this area. Applications of mm-waves include: car radar, security imaging at airports, plasma heating for nuclear fusion, astronomy, spectroscopy and imaging of volcanos (through cloud). The outreach was delivered in the form of talks, workshops and exhibitions which featured numerous interactive exhibits developed in collaboration with a local science exhibition firm. From the start of the project, 206 workshops and talks delivered to 70 schools, and 31 public lectures (directly reaching almost 8000 people). The Exhibition was presented at 18 different sites including extensive periods at Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen Science centres and viewed by over 250,000 people. School talks continue to be given. Feedback from events has been excellent Sample comments from schools and exhibitions include: "Of the the 3rd years that saw the talk a large proportion have continued to choose higher physics, 60 out of a school roll of 900 which compares to 41 out of 900 the previous year. There were also more female pupils choosing physics. We also had 18 out of 900 pupils choosing to study advanced higher physics compared to 13 the year before. A lot of these pupils will carry on to do advanced higher physics to then carry on to University to pursue careers in science and engineering. They had their appetites whetted through seeing the real world applications of Physics, i.e. that there are applications 'outside of the lab'" - Kinross High School, Fife "VFTF presented the electromagnetic spectrum and its applications, plus also showed the link between Physics and cross-curricular subjects. This was discussed for months, afterwards. We have occasionally referred to the workshop. Some pupils in 3rd year remember topics discussed from when they were in 1st year" " - Kinross High School, Fife Exhibition reviews: Interactive, informative and fun!" - Female, 32 "Opens eyes to different uses of scanning." - Female, 26 "Hand scanner is really awesome. I've used it a hundred times!!" - Female, 6 "Good fun, very informative." - Male, 40 "The Doppler effect was fun to play with." - Male, 8 "MRI was epic!" - Female, 11 "Educational, fun and engaging." - Male, 21 "I simply found it fascinating. It made the science accessible and simplified some complicated ideas." - Male, 47
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description FIFEX 
Organisation FifeX
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution FIFEX is University spin out company manufacturing products for spinout companies. We suggested designs of what we would like to build and FIFEX built bespoke solutions.
Collaborator Contribution FIFEX built bespoke demonstrators for Science Exhibitions
Impact 16 major science festivals / air shows and multi-month exhibitions at major Science centres (Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen 70 School Workshops reaching 6647 school pupils
Start Year 2008
Description 16 major exhibition events at major Science Fairs and Airshows including multi month exhibitions at Dundee, Glasgow and Aberdeen Science Centers (Exhibition numbers ~ 250,000) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In collaboration with a local spin out company specialising in outreach exhibits (and advice from external professional outreach experts) we manufactured multiple interactive exhibits including radar systems, which were presented at 16 major Science Events/Centres/Festivals (including Edinburgh, Chelmsford, and York) and Leuchars Air Show and in extended (multi-month) exhibitions at Dundee, Glasgow, and Aberdeen Science Centers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012
Description 31 Public Lectures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 31 Talks and Lectures to the General Public reaching over 1000 people
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012
Description Over 100 school class talks reaching ~ 3200 pupils in over 35 schools 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We gave over 100 separate talks and interactive workshops at 35 schools (spread over Scotland). Some of these were assessed by professional external outreach experts and we also had excellent feedback from teachers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2010,2011