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Professor Bill Chaplin

I have been an academic at Birmingham for more than 20 years, and it is a huge privilege to have recently taken over as Head of School. This year has been challenging for everyone, but we’re incredibly proud of how our community has come together and continued the incredible education and research that our School is known for. 

My own research is in the study of stars (including the Sun), using the novel technique of observing stellar oscillations – the field of asteroseismology. I’ve had the pleasure of using not only data collected by our own global network of automated telescopes (the Birmingham Solar-Oscillations Network, BiSON), but also from the likes of the NASA Kepler and TESS space telescopes, with most of this work has been conducted as part of large international research collaborations. My colleagues and I are also working on preparations for the upcoming European Space Agency PLATO Mission.

Over the past year, our student rep system has been crucial to our response to pandemic. These reps regularly gathered feedback from their peers anonymously and reported back to the staff at weekly meetings. The area of teaching most impacted by the pandemic was laboratories. Social distancing meant that in the autumn of 2020, labs were running continuously five days a week to ensure a small class size. For students who were shielding or for other reasons could not come onto campus we ran virtualised experiments – including staff carrying out the experiments with remote suggestions. And for the first year, we also provided home experiments in optics and electronics. Following the return to lockdown in the new year, all laboratories were virtualized and run online.

Lectures were run with recorded sessions and interactive live in-person (socially distanced) examples sessions in the Autumn, and live Zoom sessions in the new year. This coming year, national restrictions permitting, we will be back to in-person teaching. 

Our staff have also been continuing their research work alongside their teaching during the pandemic. The breadth of research undertaken at Birmingham is very wide and covers all length scales from galaxies to particle physics. Our staff have been recognised for this incredible work with several high-profile awards over the past year, including national prizes from the Institute of Physics, and the Royal Astronomical Society for work on gravitational waves, stellar oscillations, exoplanets, particle physics, and quantum and nanoscale physics.

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you those of you who have kindly volunteered with the School over the past academic year. This includes mentors, providing careers advice and professional expertise, writing articles on your careers or University memories, and helping with admissions. Thank you, you've made a real impact here. If you'd like to get involved too, please get in touch with our Alumni Relations Manager, Grace Surman on eps-community@contacts.bham.ac.uk.

With best wishes,

Professor Bill Chaplin
Head of School, Physics and Astronomy

Read the 2021 Physics and Astronomy Alumni Newsletter here.