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IOP Lecture hosted by The Open University

X-rays, waves and particles seeing from a distance ... in the OpenSTEM Labs

Prof Nick Braithwaite
This event took place on 9th February 2021 at 7:30pm (19:30 GMT)
Berrill Lecture Theatre, The Open University, Walton Hall Campus, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom

The OpenSTEM Labs have been developed for doing many of the things that have previously required face-to-face interactions in labs and at field locations.

The concept is based on the principle of engaging learners with the authentic gathering and analysis of real data. Over the years the OU has deployed various means of engaging students in such experiential learning ("hands on" and reflective) that copes with the basic constraints of distance learning, like sending out home experiment kits or specifying kitchen-sink activities. There's not much room there for experiments using X-rays, bright lasers and other potentially hazardous components. Where sophisticated apparatus is required we've had to resort to residential schools using traditional lab and field locations.

Now our OpenSTEM Labs connect students to technical instruments and technical scenarios, via the internet. This enables a range of practical activities without the need to send out robust apparatus or requiring travel to specific locations.

The talk will demonstrate three of the approaches we have taken - (i) enquirer-led interactions with authentic experimental data through realistic interfaces (ii) interactive livestream demonstrations, with every student in the best seat and (iii) remotely configured and controlled instruments from mountain-top telescopes to bench-top X-ray experiments.

In particular, the talk will feature experiments that show the relativistic particle collisions of X-rays photons with electrons (due to A.H. Compton) and also the diffraction of the same X-rays as waves from planes of atoms in a crystal (due to W.H. and W.L. Bragg). These are just two of the remote experiments we have been offering to our physics students.

Socially-distanced laboratory classes have been particularly challenging over the last year, yet the OpenSTEM Labs delivered 120,000 student-hours of uninterrupted service, as scheduled.

If you have any questions before or during the lecture please email them to and they will be read out to the speaker after the lecture if time allows.

We have organised a small sample of Open Science Laboratory experiments to be publicly accessible at this link: Please feel free to explore at your leisure, the link will contain a sample of physics experiments, accessible after free registration, for the next week.

Here is a Youtube playlist which includes talks given by many of the people present or mentioned in the context of today’s talk:

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The webcast was open to 3000 users

(80 minutes)