Time is a funny thing. As physics students, we learn that our most basic assumption of time is, in fact, true: its silent immutability, that cold, heartless pace of the clock, is a lie. Of course, time doesn’t actually run slower in a queue, when one minute feels like five, or run faster in an exam, when the last five minutes feel like one; spacetime is warped by inertia, not boredom. But even if this agreement between perception and reality is coincidental, the subject makes for some thinking.
I’m writing this from home, 14 days and 500 miles away from Imperial, and though there is much to celebrate about being back – not having to cook every meal, or being around people who actually know how to iron, or simply just being able to get up at noon without feeling guilty – there is equally a curious feeling of trying to peddle back lost time.
Firstly, a disclaimer. I am in no way trying to slander Imperial College London and the Physics department. They are being very supportive and understanding of my newly developed situation. This is more of a personal account of what’s been happening in life, because answering the question ‘Hey, you’ve not been around…what’s going on?’ gets tedious a hundred iterations in.
Around June, I had my last two exams of first year postponed to the September re-take period. I spent a healthy chunk of the summer revising and felt on track to do just well enough to be ready for second year.
Before my interview, I called anyone I knew who had anything to do with Imperial and read every student blog that even mentioned the word. If that’s why you’re here, hey. Hopefully an extra insight will prove useful.
Outline of the day
This can obviously change between subjects and years, but the general outline is likely to stay the same.
The general idea is that you get a tour of the university from a student, along with a lunch, before meeting the human that decides your fate interviewer. This is the opportunity to ask questions about student life, stresses, work load and living in London, which may be more helpful answered by someone freshly going though it all.
PhysSoc is a free society, which you automatically become a member of by studying physics. It organises many a thing, such tours for students. Many of them are proper trips, which cost the moneys, but a free one came up and I wanted to look at a TOKOMAK.
JET is the Joint European Torus and the largest plasma confinement experiment in the world. It is the predecessor of ITER and DEMO, which should be efficient enough to not only break even, but keep up a self-sustaining fusion reaction (as long as you keep feeding the plasma.)
The idea of creating fusion in our humble non-sun environment has been around for a long time and many of us probably learned about the poor unfortunate who was certain he had achieved cold fusion, although he was measuring background radiation.
Having finally finished the lab cycles, I can talk about them in a much less bitter manner. They are split into three sections and there is a lab guide flying around the internet if you wish to see what actually goes on, but I’ll just go over them briefly through the filter of my opinions.
Measurement and Uncertainty
This isn’t really a lab cycle, just an introduction to the pain of error propagation. It’s an unfortunately useful pain and actually clears up some confusion from A-level. I always asked why we calculated errors in one certain way, when more than one appeared to make sense and heard “because they are all valid, but OCR only accepts this one”.
Now that I’m a chunk into term 2, I finally understand enough of term 1 to talk about it. This is due to my own stupidity and laziness, not the difficulty of the course, so don’t be put off much. Here’s an overview of what happens in the first bit of 1st year Physics. I’ll include the not-particularly-physicsy bits and everything to do with the year in Europe and Theoretical courses too. If you are reading this because you want to study this stuff, do remember that you may have different lecturers and some of the aspects may change.
The first term contains five lecture course, none of which span the term, though I believe mechanics comes close.