La Palma

Field trips

At Sheffield we find ways to bring your learning experiences to life. Through our network of global partners, you'll have opportunities to visit leading institutions like CERN, Boulby and the Canary Islands Observatory. This gives you the chance to experience the workings of a major research centre first-hand – talking to physicists at work or using state-of-the-art equipment.

Newton Group of Telescopes, La Palma, Canary Islands

Students studying for an MPhys in Physics and Astrophysics have the option to spend year four of their degree working at the Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) in La Palma, Canary Islands. This is an international facility with a number of research grade telescopes situated nearly 8000 ft above sea level. This high altitude provides generally excellent observing conditions.

Our student Liam Hardy, featured in the video, was based at the ING and used the facilities to study exoplanets - planets orbiting nearby stars. By observing the slight decrease in light from these stars as a planet passes in front of the star it is possible to both detect and study the properties of these planets. Studies of exoplanets provide information on the formation of planetary systems and in the future will allow direct signs of life to be observed.

Our most popular dual degree is Physics with Astrophysics. Students have access to two state-of-the art telescopes on the roof of the physics building, one of which can be accessed remotely via the web. Each year up to 10 astronomy students have the opportunity to join a subsidised field trip to La Palma to use our pt5m telescope. Here they also benefit from tours of the 4m William Herschel Telescope (WHT) and the 10m Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC). At 2,400m above sea level, these telescopes are situated in a near ideal environment for astronomy.

Isabelle GesseyOur student's La Palma experience: Isabelle Gessey

"The island itself is beautiful, and you don't spend all your time working. Some days we went for a hike across the peaks, you're well above the cloud level and so the views are spectacular! It was also really impressive seeing all the telescopes across the summit because there were so many and they all were different. It was really interesting being able to use a professional telescope and learn about all the functions and commands, and once all groups had finished their work we got to use the eye piece and look at Saturn (which was amazing) and other planets."

Gillian Finnerty

Our student's La Palma experience: Gillian Finnerty

"Having the opportunity to go to La Palma for our year 3 astronomy projects was definitely one of the reasons why I chose Sheffield University. It was a great reward for doing well in years 1 and 2, and I really enjoyed it. To experience what it's like to be a professional astronomer and visit all the telescopes they have at the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes was absolutely amazing. The trip to the beach and the rocky bay, the scenic walks, sunsets, stargazing and staying in a four star hotel was brilliant too. I'm now more determined than ever to do well in my masters year so that I can get a PhD, and become a professional astronomer. This trip is one of the highlights of my time at university and I'm so grateful to the department that I was able to go."

Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) in La Palma, Canary Islands

The photo on the far right shows a group of our students outside the largest optical telescope in the world!

Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Switzerland

Our department's particle physics group has been actively involved in developing the ATLAS detector – one of three particle physics detectors at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. They are now using this detector to look for the Higgs Particle and new particles beyond the standard model of particle physics. Through our links with CERN, students have the chance to see this major international facility in operation and talk to physicists working on the LHC.


Our student's CERN experience: Sheffield Physics and Philosophy student Katherine Chapman spent the summer of 2012 working at the CERN particle physics facility in Geneva

"When I started my undergraduate in Physics and Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, I would not have believed that I would be working at CERN at the time of one of the most significant announcements for science in the century; the discovery of the Higgs-like-Boson. However, this is exactly where I have found myself this summer after completing two of my three years, I am spending 4 months over the summer working as Science Communication student in the EU projects group at CERN. I have had the opportunity to organise an event at CERN; the first ever CERN Tweetup, write published articles, make a presentation in the CERN auditorium and met many interesting and important people.

My supervisor, also a University of Sheffield Physics and Philosophy graduate, has helped me to visit a huge number of the experiments at CERN including three of the underground detectors, several accelerators and control rooms and the anti-hydrogen decelerator. I have been able to meet and talk to the people that run these different pieces of equipment and get an insight into how it all works. I have met 6 astronauts that took the AMS detector into space and shaken the hand of the Nobel prise winning physicist Professor Ting. However, what has been the most exciting part about being at CERN is how inspiring it is to become a physicist. It is amazing the power physics has to unify a huge range of nationalities and produce some amazing results. Working in such a diverse and challenging environment is a real thrill and makes you feel that you could achieve anything here."

Boulby Underground Laboratory, UK

The Boulby Underground Laboratory is helping to answer the big questions about what the Universe is made of and if there is life on other planets, what it could be like.

Scientists from our particle physics group work at the Boulby Underground Laboratory. The laboratory lies 1,100m below ground in a working potash mine in Northern England. It provides a low radiation background environment where physicists run high sensitivity detectors aiming to discover dark matter and study the effects of cosmic rays on cloud formation.

Boulby Mine

Boulby is the 2nd deepest mine in Europe. Students start their journey to the laboratory with a descent of 1,100m as they travel down the mine shaft, followed by a walk along a network of tunnels cut into a salt bed over 200 million years old.

The salty environment in Boulby is similar to the salt on the surface of Mars, or the salty ocean beneath the icy crust of Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter. The mine is not only home to the search for dark matter, the salty tunnels are also home to tiny organisms called extremophiles which astrobiologists are studying to see if they can tell us whether life could cope in similar environments elsewhere in the Universe. One day we might find advanced extraterrestrial life but the chances are that any alien species could be more like the simple organisms living in Boulby mine.

Find out more on the Boulby website