Maths & Physics at Lincoln: EDT Headstart residential course

Charlotte Scott Centre for Algebra

The University of Lincoln has hosted a EDT Headstart  residential, where thirty students in Year 12 from all over the country have stayed from 8th to 11th July to get an introduction to university life at Lincoln, to visit the facilities of our campus, but especially to experience several lectures and workshops in Mathematics and Physics. Two afternoon sessions devoted to academic tasters were held by the School of Mathematics and Physics, and coordinated by Dr Sandro Mattarei. On 9th and 10th July the students enjoyed the following sessions:

  • Group Theory: algebra of transformations – A lecture given by Dr Simon SmithSimon
  • Pascal’s triangle and modular arithmetic – A lecture given by Dr Sandro MattareiSandro
  • followed by a computer demonstration led by Dr Bart VorselaarsBart
  • Patterns in nature: mathematical views of the natural world – A lecture given by Dr Danilo Roccatano
  • What is Chaos? – A lecture given by Dr…

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New paper published on Saturn’s rings

A new paper has been published in MNRAS (Monthly Notices of the Astronomical Society) by Dr Phil Sutton titled On the tidal environment of an outwardly migrating F ring“. 

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The paper used computer models of Saturn’s unique narrow ring, the F ring, to investigate interactions with nearby moon Prometheus. Below is an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft of Prometheus as it creates structures (streamer-channels) in the F ring by gravitational perturbations.


Planetary rings, like Saturn’s, are know to be astronomically short lived. In time the rings accrete into moons and disappear. Since the F ring liess at the edge of the main rings and close the Roche limit (the distance at which an object can exist to a planet before gravitational tides completely pull it apart) it is important for the formation of moons. Planetary rings are also known to spread outwards. If the F ring does migrate outwards the gravitational tides from Saturn reduce which can have impact on Prometheus induced density fluctuations, which were proved to drive the formation of smaller moonlets. Computer models looked at the structures formed by Prometheus as the F ring is moed outwards into lower tidal environments.

F ring paper

It was discovered that the F ring became more favourable to forming clumps and moonlets as it moved outwards. Prometheus also had a more significant effect on the ring and structures (streamer-channels) increased in size.

Astrobiology news: A link between terrestrial extinctions and the Milkyway galaxy?

A new paper has been published by Dr Michael Gillman (University of Lincoln, School of Life Sciences), Dr Hilary Erenler (University of Northampton, Faculty of Arts, Science and Technology) and Dr Phil Sutton (University of Lincoln, School of Mathematics and Physics) in the International Journal of Astrobiology.  The paper “Mapping the location of terrestrial impacts and extinctions onto the spiral arm structure of the Milky Way” looks at data from asteroid impacts, as well as other significant historic changes in the climate of Earth, and the location of the Solar System in the Milkyway galaxy. It was found that asteroid impacts, relating to mass extinction events on Earth, were clustered around the passages through the higher density regions of the spiral arms. As stars orbit the centre of galaxies they pass through the dense spiral arms (caused by density waves). Stars that move closer to one another can gravitationally disrupt one another’s planetary systems. Objects from the outer parts of the Solar System can then be pushed onto orbits that take them into the inner Solar System and collide with planets. In extreme cases the close passes of stars can ejected planets from the system completely. Any gas orbiting around the galaxy is compressed as it moves into the spiral arms, which accelerates star formation. Typically star formation is observed to occur more rapidly in spiral arms of galaxies. This also poses other threats to life as large stars do not live very long after formation (in astronomical terms). They actually go supernovae before they have passed out of the spiral they formed in. Nearby supernovae explosions are also thought to have a significant impact on any life.


Above is an image of spiral galaxy NGC 3344 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The dense spiral arms and clearly be seen, which are similar to our Milkyway.  The red regions centred around the spiral arms are ionised hydrogen gas and areas of active star formation.

The movement of the Sun and the Solar System in the Milkyway galaxy is on very long timescales, but is it something we should be thinking about in the future?


High-density regions within the spiral arms are expected to have profound effects on passing stars. Understanding of the potential effects on the Earth and our Solar System is dependent on a robust model of arm passage dynamics. Using a novel combination of data, we derive a model of the timings of the Solar System through the spiral arms and the relationship to arm tracers such as methanol masers. This reveals that asteroid/comet impacts are significantly clustered near the spiral arms and within specific locations of an average arm structure. The end-Permian and end-Cretaceous extinctions emerge as being located within a small star-formation region in two different arms. The start of the Solar System, greater than 4.5 Ga, occurs in the same region in a third arm. The model complements geo-chemical data in determining the relative importance of extra-Solar events in the diversification and extinction of life on Earth.

Physics of snooker on BBC radio 4

Dr Phil Sutton

Today I will be on the BBC radio 4 programme Inside Science  at 16:30, repeated also at 21:00.  We briefly discuss some aspects of the physics involved in snooker from simple newtonian mechanics to non-trivial differential equations that can only be solved by computer simulations. No matter how much we as can understand the game as scientists it unfortunately does not carry over to being a proficient player. In there are so many variables that professional players perfect their skills through practice instead of relying on the science.

The episode can also be listened to here after today.

More details about some of the physics in snooker can be found from my previous work at Loughborough University with the following link: Snooker Physics


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Inaugural physics cafe at The Kings School Grantham

Dr Phil Sutton

Today I visited The Kings School in Grantham to talk about my current and future research interests with students. This was the first of their physics cafes where lecturers are invited to talk to the students in an informal setting and current topics in physics.


I briefly talk about Saturn’s rings and my own interests in the narrow F ring (illustrated below with the two nearby moons Prometheus and Pandora. Then we moved on to other topics like gravitational waves and how the Earth’s climate might be altered by the movement of the Sun in the Milkyway.


We finished with some cake and the students asking questions on various areas of astrophysics from pulsars to exoplanet detection methods.

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