Professor Giles Hammond of the University of Glasgow, was a student at Cadbury College from 1990-1992 and studied A-Levels in physics, chemistry and mathematics. He is a leading figure in his field of gravitational research, having developed techniques and sensors for advanced gravitational wave detectors.
He says: “I’m from Birmingham and my parents still live there, so Cadbury was the local college for me. It had a good reputation for science and maths and was a couple of bus rides away from my home in Bournville
When I was studying for GCSE’s I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I always had an interest in astronomy and science, and I was always keen to understand more so it was a good combination of A-Levels.
Education 20 years ago was very much you look and you listen, but even then Cadbury was pushing the boundariers of teaching and really provided a learning environment where you could have an inquisitive mind and that’s probably the most helpful thing as a practising scientist.
There were always opportunities to listen to talks and to give talks about your work. I remember one of the phsyics teachers would run a lunch time class if you wanted to do more and work through problems. That was totally different from my experience at school and it’s that kind of support which was extremely helpful.
Being an academic does not mean you have to stand at a board and solve equations, but you need to think a lot and have ideas and a way of working. The A-Level system and set up at Cadbury made a close tie between your lectures and experimental work and that really helps you in that journey of understanding and
asking questions. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best idea, but you need to have the thought, as science is all about making a hypothesis, testing it out and measuring it, and that way of thinking started at college. It was quite interactive teaching and I still try to ask questions to my students in my own lectures.
All my tutors at Cadbury were really enthusiastic and inspirational and it’s so important to have people with a passion for their subject. One of them had a doctorate and explained how it helped him with his career, this made me realise what could be beyond being an undergraduate at university.
From Cadbury I went to the University of Birmingham (1992-1995) where I did my undergraduate physics with astrophysics degree. I stayed to do a PhD, from 1995-1999, in gravitational physics and became more and more specialised. I was building detectors to measure gravity and went to the US for a couple of years to the University of Colorado where they were doing research into gravitational waves.
I returned to Birmingham from 2001-2007, at which point I go a faculty position at the University of Glasgow. I now work on building the mirror suspensions for the advanced LIGO detectors in the US. Last year, the LIGO detectors made the first detection of a gravitational wave signature from a pair of binary black holes, which was announced on the BBC, so we’re in really exciting times and are pushing the boundaries of precision measurement. More recently, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration announced the merger of a pair of neutron stars, and the electromagnetic signature was picked up by many astronomical observatories, heralding the birth of multi-messenger atsronomy. It is remarkable that the signals from this astrophysical system have been travelling for 130 million years, and the gravity and light signal arrived within 1.7s. This is the most precise test so far on the “speed of gravity” being equal to the speed of light.
I also lead a research group here in Glasgow which has led to a spin-off technology, with direct benefit to the UK economy. We are developing high precision gravity sensors, similar to what is found in your mobile phone, but around 1000 times more sensitive. These devices can be deployed wihtin the oil & gas sectors and for environmental monitoring of volcanoes.
The great thing about a sceintific career is not everyone will become an academic but what you’re learning about isn’t just science, it’s also about problem solving, programing, numeracy and drawing conclusions from data which sets you up with the key skills needed industry.
A science A-Level doesn’t mean you have to work in a university, as if you want to be an airline pilot, a meterologist, a Rolly Royce engineer or a nuclear scientist you need science. If you want to work in the financial sector do a science degree, because it will teach you about numeracy, forecasting, making predictions, computing, programing –science opens up a wealth of possibilities.”
Cadbury College is still accepting last minute applications. For more information or for a Meet the Principal College Tour call: 0121 458 3898 or email: [email protected]