National Physical Laboratory

NPL Academy 2018

NPL is one of the UK's leading science facilities and research centres. It is a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate standards, science and technology available. Each year, a number of vacancies are offered to students aged between 15 and 16 who wish to participate in a week of work experience at the UK's National Measurement Institute. We also offer a number of projects that are suitable for over 16s.

The list of opportunities on offer for 2018 NPL Academy vacancies can be found below. Some vacancies accommodate more than one student.

  • NPL welcomes applications from both state and independent schools.

  • NPL does not charge (or pay) students attending the NPL Academy.

  • Please note that travel and accommodation arrangements are the responsibility of the applicant – NPL cannot provide assistance with either.

  • Although we aim to place successful candidates in chosen roles, this cannot always be guaranteed, so supplying further choices (i.e. ticking more than one box on the application form) is advisable.


Ref Area Description Special requirements
01 Medical Radiation Physics and Science

Characterisation of Micro Silica Bead Thermoluminescent Detectors in HDR brachytherapy dosimetry
Thermoluminescent glass beads for HDR brachytherapy dosimetry
The Medical Radiation Physics and Science groups offer dosimetry traceable to primary standards of air kerma and absorbed dose. Accurate delivery of dose is essential for the successful treatment of patients suffering from cancer, destroying the pathogenic cells, while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue and organs at risk.
The participating students will familiarise themselves with the basic principles of High Dose Rate (HDR) brachytherapy dosimetry and Thermoluminescence Dosimetry. Reference will be given to the formalism used for the dose calculation applicable to brachytherapy sources, accompanied by an introduction to the expected uncertainties from this experimental work. The student will participate in a series of measurements for the characterisation of TL micro silica (glass) beads as potential dosimeters in HDR brachytherapy that will complement previous studies already performed at different energy levels. These will include an investigation for linearity of dose response using the Ir-192 HDR source from the Flexitron afterloading system at NPL. Additionally, the relative dose distribution around the source will be acquired and compared to published tabulated data. Specially-designed templates for the accurate positioning of the TL silica beads will be used for the experiment.

Due to radiation protection regulations, the students involved in the project should be over 16 years of age. Furthermore, they need to be comfortable with the use of computers and MS office Excel software.
02 Electromagnetic Technologies

Biometric Recognition
Real life problems around Biometric recognition
The student will get an opportunity to work with previously collected biometric image datasets, biometric systems and algorithms. The student will be encouraged to experiment with different settings to understand the key technical parameters and the real life issues in using biometrics and how these relate to the performance measures.

Lots of self-motivation, interest and enthusiasm!
03 Electromagnetic Technologies

Construct and test an electricity meter
How accurate is your home electricity meter and can you build a more accurate one
One part of research that electromagnetic technologies does is related to electrical grids and the measuring of mains electrical power. This project is to design, build and tests an electricity meter.This can be then tested against standards at NPL to work out the accuracy of the device. The engineering project comprises three components: 1) Theory (a) What is electrical power? (b) How are voltages and currents measured? (c) How is everything combined? 2) Making (a) What tools can we use? (b) What is the easiest/safest/most fit for purpose design? (c) What are the limitations of the design? 3) Testing (a) Does it work? (b) How accurate is it? (c) How can it be improved? There will hopefully time to iterate these steps a couple of times to make mistakes, learn, have fun and end up with a working tool.

More suitable for A-Level students with a bit of understanding of AC power.
04 Finance

Support to the Finance team

This is a great opportunity to glimpse what goes on in a finance team and have an involved and varied week
The Finance department performs all the management accounting, financial reporting and accounts payable andreceivable activities within NPL. The role involves working alongside members of the Corporate Finance team, learning about what the Finance department does, as well as basic finance principles and processes. Students will be given access to NPL's accounting system and will perform tasks using Microsoft Excel, which will give a broad overview of the activities that go on within the Finance team. This opportunity will let students advance and expand their knowledge of the Excel programme, and benefit them in learning how spreadsheets are used within a business, as well as provide them with valuable skills to use in their future studies and in the workplace.

Key attributes are enthusiasm and a willingness to get stuck in. Excel experience would be useful but not essential. Laptops will be provided.
05 Quantum Detection Low-temperature characterisation of single-electron pump devices
NPL is developing a new type of electronic devices that could revolutionise future measurement, information-processing, and communication technologies. Rather than working with 'classical' electrical quantities, such as voltage, current, or resistance, we are directly controlling individual electrons. By doing so, we will be able to exploit their indistinguishability (e.g. all electrons have exactly the same charge) and their quantumness (coherence and entanglement) for future quantum technology applications (e.g. to enhance measurement accuracy or computation speed).
At the heart of this work are single-electron-pump devices. These are semiconductor devices that are designed to emit one electron at a time. This is difficult to do at room temperature, so NPL has cryogenic facilities that can cool devices down to as low as 10 mK (-273.14°C). In this Academy project, you will do what NPL scientists do first when new devices have been made, the characterisation tests of single-electron pumps at liquid-helium temperature (4.2 K or -269°C), to check if the devices can emit electrons one by one. You will learn cryogenic experimental techniques and the underlying physics that governs the operation of single-electron pumps.
06 Materials Characterisation Educational Inductive Gravimeter
Build your own Inductive Gravimeter to take back and demonstrate to your school
The first day is spent building the precision instrument using a plastic pipe and copper wire. This is a painstaking task in which attention must be paid to detail (don't choose this project if you like rushing things!). The task involves rulers, Blu Tack, superglue and soldering (instructions on soldering will be given).
The remaining days will be spent dropping magnets through the tube and analysing the induced voltage signals produced. With sufficient attention it is possible to calculate the acceleration due to gravity.
The experiment is open-ended; you will be exploring different ways to modify the experiment in order to reduce errors as much as possible.

You will need to bring your own laptop operating in Windows (not MAC). The custom software used only operates on Windows computers. You must also be familiar with any spreadsheet package with which you can re-arrange data, plot graphs, add lines of best fit, and find the equation of the line.

Note: No Windows laptop – no project!
This project will suit A-level students or gifted (patient and meticulous) GCSE students.
Students should be familiar with the equations of motion relating distance, velocity, acceleration and time ('SUVAT equations').

07 Materials Characterisation

Measuring Young's using a microphone
Measure the ringing frequency of metal bars
Deduce a relationship with the length of the bar, and use it to calculate the Modulus

You will be largely working un-supervised, making dimensional and mass measurements and recording then in spreadsheets. Additionally you will receive instructions on how to measure the resonant frequency of aluminium bars using a simple microphone and custom software.You will be trying to find the relationship between the measurements you have made and plotting graphs to demonstrate the relationships. Finally, you will use your graphs to find the Elasticity (Young's) Modulus of the metal.

You will need to bring your own laptop with a spreadsheet package and be familiar with it so that you can re-arrange data, plot graphs, add lines of best fit, and find the equation of the line (some instruction on this can be given, but you need to have the spreadsheet programme – preferably Excel – on your computer).

Note: No laptop – no project!
This project would suit both GCSE and A-level students who are able to work on their own.

08 Surface Technology

Detecting a monolayer of organic molecules using tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy
Visualising chemistry beyond diffraction limit
We specialise in combining the atomic resolution of atomic force microscopy (AFM) and chemical sensitivity of Raman spectroscopy into a highly-sensitive technique called 'tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy' (TERS), which is capable of chemical imaging of a surface with a nanoscale resolution.
In this project, the student will have the opportunity to observe and learn the following:

  1. Fundamental principles of AFM, Raman spectroscopy and TERS
  2. Conducting TERS measurements on a self assembled monolayer of organic molecules on a gold surface
  3. Analysing the spectroscopic data and making inferences based on the analysis

Suitable for A-level students (preferably A2-level) with Physics and Chemistry subjects only.


Please note that the information will not be divulged to third parties, or used without your permission