About the Journal
The Journal of Physics Special Topics forms a 10-credit module in the final year of the four-year MPhys degree.
The module provides scope for creativity, for group work in a realistic context, and for the opportunity to revise some basic physics. It also gives the students an important insight into the formal process of submission, peer review and publishing.
Split into small research groups, the students are asked to come up with ideas for, research, and write, short papers of no more than two pages, properly presented with formulae, diagrams, references etc.
The groups referee each other’s work and sift out any ‘low quality’ papers containing mistakes or invalid conclusions in a process overseen by a student editorial board.
The end result is the annual edition of the Journal of Physics Special Topics.
Dr. Mervyn Roy, course leader
Thinking outside of the box
It's important for a research physicist - in academia or in industry - to be creative. To think outside the box. If you are facing a new and challenging problem you usually need to apply some imagination to develop a solution or to find a way to approach the problem from a new perspective.
In PST the students exercise their imagination in choosing the problems they research and the approximations they use to make the problems tractable. The papers are not meant to contain ground breaking new physics. Instead, the goal is for the students to apply some of the physics they already know in different areas, or in a completely different context.
A rigorous peer review process
Of course, even in the most off-the-wall topics, the physics must be correct and the approximations appropriate. Every paper that is submitted to the journal is refereed by at least two other students. As part of this peer review process, the physics is checked, approximations are challenged, and errors are exposed. Not every paper submitted to PST is published.
The world of scientific publishing
Research physicists spend a significant proportion of their professional lives on scientific publishing: writing and submitting papers, and writing and responding to referee reports. Because PST is run exactly like a professional journal, the students practice and develop all the skills they will need when dealing with high profile journals like Nature or Science later on in their careers.
The journal also provides the opportunity for students to further develop soft skills that are useful in every walk of life - they need to present often quite complex information clearly and concisely; they need to both give and accept professional criticism. Every student also takes a turn serving on the student editorial board that oversees the journal.
History of the Journal
The concept of the Journal of Physics Special Topics was developed by Professor Derek Raine who introduced the Journal onto our MPhys course in 1996. In 2006 Professor Raine was awarded the Institute of Physics Bragg medal for 'his work on the teaching of physics in universities.'
Dr Mervyn Roy took over as module leader in 2009 and facilitated the process of moving the Journal fully on-line (including submission of articles, review requests and submissions, editorial decisions and publishing). The Journal is now available world-wide.