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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Q&A: Physical Natural Sciences

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Part 1 Directors of Studies: Dr Alexander Piotrowski and Dr Sarah Williams

At Murray Edwards College, I am a Director of Studies for the Physical Natural Sciences and also for Earth Sciences. I am also a Graduate Tutor to a group of 30-40 PhD and MPhil students.

I research palaeoclimate in the Department of Earth Sciences, and I am also Course Director for the second-year IB Earth Sciences A course. My research focuses on understanding the ocean-climate link by reconstructing past changes in deep ocean circulation using chemical tracers, primarily neodymium (Nd) isotopes. Ocean circulation is a critical component of the Earth’s climate system, controlling global heat transport and the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the deep ocean. By measuring records in sediment cores we can reconstruct past changes in deep ocean circulation changes relative to major shifts in the climate system, particularly carbon storage in abyssal water masses.

What's special about Physical Natural Sciences at Cambridge? 

My research is actually on the Natural Sciences. I examine how physical, chemical, and biological processes are linked through the Earth's climate system. Important scientific advances can be made across the interfaces between the traditional science subjects; studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge gives you the academic breadth so that you can make these inter-disciplinary connections. 

How does Murray Edwards College support its Physical Natural Sciences students? 

I find it satisfying to guide our students to help them find what they enjoy learning, and what they are good at. We are always rooting for our students to succeed and share the joy of their accomplishments with them. 

What do you enjoy most about working at Murray Edwards College?

I enjoy the modern and bright environment, the beautiful gardens and the friendly people. I also appreciate the way being a young College encourages us to innovate rather than rely on traditions. 


I am a particle physicist, and a member of the ATLAS collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, where my research focuses on using the high energy collisions produced by the LHC to try to understand what Dark Matter might be made of. I have been a Fellow of Murray Edwards since 2016, where I am a Director of Studies for physical Natural Sciences, and a supervisor for Physics and Mathematics. I am also a member of the Institute of Physics’ Women in Physics group and am very interested in widening participation and improving diversity in STEMM subjects.  

What's special about Physical Natural Sciences at Cambridge? 

Natural Sciences offers students a unique opportunity to explore multiple science subjects in their first year (Part IA) before specializing in the later years. This allows students to explore subjects they might not have met at school (such as Materials Science or Earth Sciences) rather than only picking one. For students that study Physics, the first and second years (Parts IA and IB) give you a strong founding in a broad range of topics, some of which you may have studied before (classical mechanics, electromagnetism) along with others that will be relatively new, including quantum mechanics and relativity (the two main ‘pillars’ of quantum physics).  

How does Murray Edwards College support its Physical Natural Sciences students?

The small-group teaching students experience at Cambridge through the supervision system provides a valuable route for students to develop their problem-solving skills with the help of experts in their chosen field. At Murray Edwards we have an experienced team of supervisors across all physical Natural Sciences subjects, and the students benefit from this in their first two years (in third year and fourth year, supervisions are typically organised by the relevant Departments). In parallel to supervisions, we provide additional support in study skills, problem solving and exam technique that equip our students to thrive in the University environment. 

What do you enjoy most about working at Murray Edwards College?

The sense of community. Physics is a field where unfortunately women are under-represented, so I take great pleasure and inspiration working in a College with such an enthusiastic community of female students.