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Courtney has good ear for a sound career in physics

By This is Lincolnshire  |  Posted: April 16, 2009

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A SIXTH form pupil is hoping to make a big bang in the world of physics after scooping a national award.

Courtney Williams (18), from Welton, near Lincoln, was one of three winners of the Crest European Union Contest For Young Scientists for her work analysing underwater sound.

The A-level student from William Farr School undertook a six-week placement in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sheffield.

During the course of her work she located a group of killer whales off the west coast of Scotland.

She worked with a group of scientists researching the detection of neutrino particles using underwater microphones.

"I had two tasks," said Miss Williams.

"The first part of the work was to look at background noise.

"I used various computer software to analyse 100 samples taken from underwater microphones off the west coast of Scotland."

Using the software she was able to discover that many of the sounds were coming from killer whales that live in the area.

"Then the second three weeks I was looking at simulating bi-polar pulses in a giant water tank," she said.

Dr Lee Thompson, a reader in neutrino physics at the University of Sheffield, oversaw Courtney's lab work and felt she could be "a role model for her peers."

"She did an excellent job," he said. "There's no question about it, she's certainly driven and has a very excellent work ethic.

"It's nice to see young people being attracted into physics at that age, particularly a woman.

"Courtney slid into a research environment very easily and showed skills that will help her a great deal in this sort of work.

"She even went a little bit further than we asked her to and began to classify the sounds she analysed as specific mammals."

Having won the award, Miss Williams progresses to represent the UK in the European round of the competition, to be held in Paris in September.

She was able to do the placement after winning a Nuffield scholarship.

Last year only four students received Nuffield bursaries in Lincolnshire out of 1,000 nationwide and the charity is keen to encourage science, technology, engineering or maths students, aged 16 or over, to apply.

Sarah Saunders, a senior administrator of the Nuffield science schemes, said: "It may well be that this is the first physics placement for the region.

"We're always keen to recruit more students to do projects in the physical sciences, as often these are the areas where there is little information available to students about possible future careers."

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