The 2012 UKESF Summer School was hosted by Cardiff University from 9-13 July for 40 students from schools across the UK

Summer School 2012

The 2012 UKESF Summer School was hosted by Cardiff University from 9-13 July for 40 students from schools across the UK.

The course was delivered collaboratively by:

From the universities

The students heard from leading academics on their research in areas including:

  • Superconductivity;
  • Nano-photonics and optical meta-materials; and
  • Nanotechnology, carbon nanotubes and graphene.

They also worked on lab projects with university academics, researchers, PhD students and lab technicians to get some hands-on experience in electronics in:

  • Integrated circuits (commonly referred to as “chips” or “microchips”);
  • AM radio receivers; and
  • Music synthesis.

They also heard from undergraduates from Imperial College on the student-led humanitarian project “e.quinox”.

From the sponsors

Electronic engineers joined the participants during the course:

  • To show them how to programme robots using a micro-controller; and
  • To talk about their experiences in the industry.


The students were treated to a day’s visit to its Rutherford Appleton Laboratory to learn how advanced electronics technology is used in major science projects, and were treated to a tour of the Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility which accelerates electrons to near light-speed!

Academic Lectures

Superconductivity:cold materials for cool applications
Presented by Prof Adrian Porch, Cardiff University

Prof Porch demonstrates magnetic levitationProf Porch demonstrates magnetic levitationProf Porch has been involved in front-end research on superconductivity for over 25 years since obtaining his PhD in this field for his work with the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory . In his lecture, he covered different types of superconducting materials from common metals such as lead through to high-temperature (cuprate) superconductors and the more recently discovered superconductors such as magnesium boride. He demonstrated magnetic induction and levitation using a high-temperature superconductor cooled by liquid nitrogen (at 77 K).

The applications of superconductors are vast, so he focused on his own work (in collaboration with Cardiff’s School of Physics) on new types of astronomical detectors, and explained how superconducting magnets are used in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where if all the superconducting filaments making up the magnet windings were to be laid end-to-end their total length would be about 500 million miles!

He concluded his lecture with a wish-list of what will be required of superconducting materials to transform 21st century society and touched on the amazing possibilities offered by graphene. Although not a superconductor, this material has the possibility of transforming everyday electronic devices.

Find out more about Prof Porch’s research with Cardiff University’s Institute of Green Electronic Systems

Nanotechnology, Carbon Nanotubes and Graphene
Presented by Dr David Carey, University of Surrey

Nanotechnology promises faster and cheaper electronic devices, greater functionality and lower power consumption. New types of electronic materials and devices have been developed with an explosion of work on carbon-based materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene. In this talk Dr Carey explored the top-down and bottom-up approaches to nanotechnology and examined examples of the use of nanotubes and graphene electronics. He showed just why these are exciting areas to research.

Find out more about Dr Carey’s Research at the University of Surrey’s Nanoelectronics Centre

Nanophotonics and optical metamaterials: the science of rainbows, butterflies & solar energy
Presented by Prof Darren Bagnall, University of Southampton

Materials patterned at the nanoscale allow us do extraordinary things with light. In this lecture, Prof Bagnall explored the natural world to explain fundamental optical phenomena. He showed that by understanding ocean waves and the formation of rainbows and spectre we can begin to understand how nanoscale patterns in butterfly wings produce incredible iridescence and other colour effects. Prof Bagnall also looked at how these biomimetic photonics can be used to make better solar cells. Finally, he explored the world of plasmonics and optical metamaterials, technologies for new generations of optoelectronics.

Find out more about Prof Bagnall’s work with the University of Southampton’s Nano Research Group

Hearing from undergraduate degrees students

presented by Yuchen Wang & Michael Chung, MEng degree students, Imperial College London

Michael and Yuchen told the students about their involvement in e.quinox, an award winning student-led humanitarian project started at Imperial College in 2009. The project aims to develop and implement a cost-effective off-grid, and stand-alone, photovoltaic system to provide power to rural communities in the developing world to help improve health, education and the general quality of life. E.quinox endeavours to find solutions that are sustainable financially, scalable, replicable and adaptable to the environment. The society organizes two trips to Rwanda every year with project implementation in September and Michael and Yuchen explained how they were looking forward to their first visit.

Experiencing electronics hands-on

The Teaching Chip
Presented by Dr Les Haworth and Dr Stewart Smith, University of Edinburgh

Students investigating the “Teaching Chip”Students investigating the “Teaching Chip”The exercise provided a practical means to demonstrate that, although integrated circuits (ICs) have very complex functionality, they are built on some simple building blocks; The complexity comes from the repeated and hierarchical repetition of these basic blocks.

The students were provided with a special chip fabricated using advanced IC manufacturing technology, but with education as the guiding principle behind it. Key features of the chips are that the devices themselves are large, and the packaging is colourless and transparent enabling the circuitry to be viewed with a standard laboratory microscope.

Set the task of characterising the simplest electronic components, resistors made from silicon and metal, the students were able to see the difference in physical size between them. They also investigated the behaviour of a type of transistor known as a MOSFET. Again they could view the size of the transistor and compare the operation of different sized transistors under different conditions.

Drs Haworth and Smith are members of the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Integrated Micro and Nano Systems.

Building an electronic choir, using voice-style larynx circuit
presented by Prof David Howard, University of York

Prof Howard leads the research in the Audio Laboratory in the University of York’s Department of Electronics and specialises in the analysis and synthesis of singing, speech and music. Key research topics of interest at the moment are intonation in unaccompanied singing, computers and iPads in voice training and natural voice synthesis.

Students building their artificial electronic larynxesStudents building their artificial electronic larynxesProf Howard led a session that explored the sound made by the voice box (larynx) when we speak and sing. Students built a circuit that makes a buzz similar to the buzz made by the larynx in the throat, and then varied its pitch. The group explored how singers make harmony together by tuning their individual devices to notes of chords. David complemented this with a brief demonstration of the vocal mechanism using mechanical and electronic synthesis.

Find out more about Prof Howard’s research in York’s Audio Laboratory

Revival of the AM Matchbox Radio Receiver
Presented by Steve Watts, Cardiff University

Reviving the matchbox radio, but without the matches or the matchbox!

In this laboratory session, the students designed, built and tested their own Amplitude Modulation (AM) radio receivers to take back home. The kit provided for this activity is built around the radio receiver architecture used by Marconi during the world’s first experiment using AM radio broadcasts across water, done in South Wales in the year 1897. In 1975 the hobbyist magazine “Everyday Electronics” published a how to build a matchbox AM radio receiver and this experiment copies the spirit of the article and its desire for people to be able to construct electronic circuits that carry out the functions of everyday electronic “things” such as radio receivers – think mobile phone!

A taste of the industry

The ARM Robot Programming Challenge
Presented by Crispin Semmens, Student Relations Engineer, ARM

Learning to programme the mbed robotLearning to programme the mbed robotThis team challenge, running over two evenings, involved programming two-wheeled battery powered robots, using the mbed rapid prototyping for micro-controllers platform, to navigate a set race track as quickly as possible. For many of the students this was their first introduction to the C programming language and various core programming and problem solving principles, and for all it was a hands-on experience of writing and testing code in a competitive, fun, team-working environment.

Find out how you can get your own mbed microcontroller and programme it.

Meeting the sponsors and their engineers

On the Thursday afternoon, the participants heard from young engineers from CSR, Dialog Semiconductor and Imagination Technologies who talked about the wide ranging and stimulating work that they have been involved in since graduating, as well as the responsibilities they take on. Afterwards they had the opportunity to chat informally to the speakers and to meet more of the sponsors’ engineers during a networking session where they found out about graduate careers with world-leading companies in advanced electronic technologies.

Visiting the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

On the Wednesday, the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) hosted a visit where the students discovered how microelectronics enables fundamental research in astronomy, space science, particle physics, and particle accelerators.

They heard from senior scientists:

  • Nick Waltham, Head of Imaging Systems Division, RALSpace, explained how microelectronics is an enabling technology for the many imaging instruments developed at RAL which have been launched into space on various missions.
  • Norman McCubbin, retired head of Particle Physics, gave an illuminating talk about the role of microelectronics in particle physics, including the detectors at the Large Hadron Collider and recent developments there in the search for the Higgs Boson.
  • Hermine Schnetler, Group Leader in Systems Engineering at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, spoke about the need for electronics and autonomous robots for future telescopes.

The visit concluded with a tour of the Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility. The synchrotron light (xrays) generated by Diamond are used across a wide range of scientific disciplines for imaging the hidden structures of materials, none of which would be possible without the microelectronic engineering expertise used to design and build the instrumentation

What participants had to say

“I enjoyed and found the course very useful in giving a sample of the vast range of material covered in a degree.”

“Definitely a worthwhile course and some inspirational speeches.”

“Excellent to have a five-day intensive course to get a good feel of the degree and the topics covered. It helped me decide that although I am not interested in applying for electronics alone, I am interested in the subject and might do a joint degree with electrical engineering.”