Top Astrophysicist Visits Shropshire College

Doctor Charles Cunningham, from the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada, took time out from his recent visit to the Integration Centre in the Rutherford Lab in Oxfordshire, to talk to physics students at Walford and North Shropshire College.

Shropshire, United Kingdom, April 25, 2012 --( In preparation for their visit to CERN he talked to the A and AS Level students about his research and his experiences. The Herzberg Institute is a branch of the National Research Council of Canada where, amongst other things, Doctor Cunningham has headed the team of engineers who designed and built the receiving electronics for the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA); a telescope which captures ultra-high frequency radio waves from space.

He explains “With this technology it is possible to look at a broad variety of astronomical problems. The size and sensitivity of ALMA makes it possible to actually image planets orbiting nearby stars – something that current telescopes cannot do. In addition ALMA can detect emission from molecules such as water – a vital precursor for life. ALMA allows us to look at every stage of the life of a star, from the mysterious birth to the violent death. At the other end of the size spectrum ALMA allows us to look at the chemical evolution of the early universe; how the molecules came together to form galaxies and why life on earth is the way it is.”

This inspirational man is a testament to what people can do when they put their minds to it. He left school with a single “O level” in Music before deciding to look into what was available at his local Further Education College. A few years and a lot of hard work later he obtained a PhD in Astrophysics from London University and joined the Rutherford Appleton Lab in Oxfordshire where he developed superconducting radio receivers. He later joined the Herzberg Institute in Canada where he is now a Principal Research Scientist.

Of the students here at the Oswestry Campus he says, “They were remarkably attentive and came up with a few very good questions. It was clear that there was a good progression in learning between the first and second years. They all seemed very personable and are looking forward to their forthcoming trip to CERN.”

A Level physics Lecturer Colin Taylor from the Oswestry Campus commented, “Inspirational truly is the word to describe Doctor Cunningham and the talk he gave. He explained where we are and where we’re going. Physics is investigation and the search for truth and that’s exactly the way he presented it. Unlike the way it is often presented in the media, as something that is done or dead, physics is very much a work in progress, it is constantly growing and expanding and it always will be. One objective of physics is that each new generation knows very much more than the last, that they take the knowledge and experience gained from their teachers, question it, test it and use it as the basis for new and more fascinating discoveries. The best thing anyone can do for a physicist is to show him he’s wrong. Armed with that knowledge he will go and investigate further until eventually, he finds out what the truth is. That’s what Doctor Cunningham is doing and that’s what CERN is all about.”

A Level student Beth Hopwood expressed similar feelings in describing her experience of Doctor Cunningham’s visit, “It was a really inspiring insight into the possibilities open to physics students. It demonstrated the amazing extremes that have to be overcome in order to develop new science.”

For more information about physics and other A Levels at Walford and North Shropshire College please visit their website at or telephone 01691 688000.
Walford & North Shropshire College
Lucy Evans
01691 688039