Throughout July the department once again opened its doors to prospective students, offering taster lectures, talks on how the natural sciences course is designed, and displaying a host of material made by undergraduates over the years. As well as the seemingly endless biscuits, it’s always great to hear the aspirations of A-level students, and from a potential student’s perspective I think it can be pretty valuable to hear from those already doing a degree. Similar questions often come up at open days, and you can find my views on some of them here. Another common topic is the fieldwork in Kenya course available in the second year, which I wrote about here.
Last week also saw the beginning of the SURE programme, where students embark on a 6-week project in research groups spanning the Physics and Astronomy department. My project is largely computational, and involves simulating the neural networks that make up the brain. We started by modelling a Hopfield Network, which is illustrative of several aspects of associative memory. Here even patterns with significant noise converge to the learnt pattern providing other known patterns are not too similar. What’s interesting about this model is how patterns/memories are stored. Rather than storing the pattern itself, the strength of the connections between neurons dictates if neurons will fire, resulting in the system converging to a local energy minimum once neurons start firing at random. A disadvantage of this network is the limited storage capacity, which we are now attempting to improve upon through incorporating principles of quantum mechanics, though this may have looked simpler on paper…
At the end of the programme each student is set to give a presentation on their work to the group, along with a report on what you’ve achieved. Each week students are also given a seminar showcasing the research going on in the department, which is great from an undergraduate perspective in learning more about the postgraduate world! So far it’s been pretty exciting jumping into a new project after finishing third year, and it’ll be interesting to see how far I can take it throughout the summer.