Frontiers of Physics –Annual IOPI Teachers of Physics Conference

7 October 2011

The 11th Frontiers of Physics conference was held, for the first time, in the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology at the end of September.

Prof Phillip Walton

The popularity of this event was evident by the fact that almost 100 delegates attended and they had travelled from as far afield as Cork and Derry. 

A number of delegates had travelled on Friday and stayed in the Carlton Hotel across the road. Surprisingly, they looked much more tired than those of us who drove down to Galway at the crack of dawn. 

Apparently this was due a discussion on the previous day’s announcement that neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light. This went on late into the night!

Barry Fitgerald NCE-MSTL, Anna Walshe NCCA Chris Warrick JET Culham, Paul Nugent IOPI

After the introductions the morning session started with two presentations on nuclear power. 

The first was given by Prof Philip Walton, the son of Earnest Walton, Ireland’s only science Nobel laureate. 

In his talk prof Walton argued that nuclear power is something that Ireland should consider as a solution to our energy needs and as a contribution to alleviating the effects of global warming. He outlined the levels of exposure to radiation to different groups and the actual risks associated with these levels.

He went on to discuss some of the possible designs of future nuclear power stations and to compare them to alternative methods of power generation. Prof Walton is a member of BENE, Better Environment with Nuclear Energy, a group who believe that the debate on nuclear energy in Ireland is biased and who put forward arguments for nuclear power in Ireland. 

More information can be found on their website. Unfortunately, there was no time for questions at the end as I’m sure that there would have been a lively and interesting debate.

Next, Chris Warrick from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy gave a presentation called “Fusion Power – within our grasp?”.

Chris gave a very clear account of how the European JET tokomak works in producing fusion and the problems in trying to achieve a sustainable fusion reaction. 

In order to achieve this construction on ITER, a bigger tokomak, began last year in Cadarache in France. This could produce power in about 30 years. Though as Chris himself said people have been predicting fusion power in 30 years for a long time.

After coffee we had a number of presentations on promoting science to young people, careers in physics and tips for teaching physics. Alison Hackett, the IOP Ireland representative has collected a great range of tips for teachers, these included some great video clips, a few of which she showed.

After lunch Anna Walsh of the NCCA gave a presentation on the proposed changes to the LC syllabus, in particular the second component assessment. Anna very ably answered the wide ranging questions put to her. Whether the new syllabus (and exam papers) will meet the high ideals put forward we will have to wait and see.

The presentations given by teachers from this year’s Science on Stage in Copenhagen were particularly popular. There were lots of demonstrations, using simple equipment, that will excite and interest students. Catherine Tattersall won an award for her “Gel Beads” demonstrations. See for more information.

Rory Geoghegan, Science on Stage

The European Space Agency was present with a generous bag of goodies for everyone. 

This included videos, booklets and posters. Dr Barry Fitzgerald from NCE-MSTL, Limerick gave a talk on how ESERO (the European Space Education Resource Office) has mapped its resources to the curriculum in Ireland. Several other organisations had stands and were also giving away freebies. 

The IOP desk had a wide range of publications. The most popular were the interactive posters which change by reacting to UV, warmth or touch.

The conference is a must for all physics teachers with lots of good resources just visit and join the Frontiers group where you can see videos of this year’s presentations and download the PowerPoint’s as PDFs. 

Next year Frontiers is in Dublin on the 22nd September to coincide with “Dublin City of Science Year” and the venue will be shared between TCD and The Science Gallery, definitely a date for your diary if you teach junior cert science or leaving cert physics.