On the 27th February the School of Mathematics and Physics hosted a ‘Newton Academy’ day for local schoolgirls aged 11 to 13. The day was held in collaboration with the Athena Swan Charter which encourages young women to study towards a career in ‘STEM’ subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
The physics activity involved using a CD as the diffraction grating in a home-made spectrometer. Coincidentally, a version of this experiment was first performed by Isaac Newton himself in the 1670s with a simple prism instead of a CD! The girls each made their own instrument and used them to look at the range of colours that make up the ‘white’ light from different types of light bulb.
The maths activity involved the shortest-network problem. It consists in interconnecting a given set of points in the plane by a network of minimal length. Despite the simple nature of the question it is one of the most challenging optimization problems. After a short presentation, the girls were asked to work together to discover shortest networks for several configurations of points, and eventually investigate the analogies and the differences among the solutions.