University physicists make Quite Interesting guest appearances

Physicists from our University recently brought the aurora borealis to the studio of the popular BBC panel show QI.

Dr Gabby Provan and Dr Ian Whittaker of the Department of Physics and Astronomy assisted in this week's episode, loosely themed around the Nordic region, which aired on the 27 October hosted by Sandi Toksvig and featuring comedians Lucy Beaumont, Jason Manford, Rhod Gilbert and Alan Davies.

In Scandinavia the night skies can often be lit up by the beautiful northern lights, also called the aurora borealis. The researchers explained the formation of the northern lights to the audience, and showcased the Department’s very own northern lights experiment. The experiment, called the Planeterrella, is a vacuum experiment whereby northern lights are created around the two poles of a magnetic sphere – in much the same way that the northern lights can be seen in the northern and southern polar regions.

The experiment, which the researchers make available for demonstrations in schools, shows how charged particles within solar winds coming from our Sun collide with atoms in the Earth's atmosphere to create a natural light display.

You can watch Dr Provan and Dr Whittaker's appearances in the XL version of the show, which is available on iPlayer for the next 27 days.

Watch a video with Dr Gabby Provan on the University's Planeterella: