Sixty Symbols ENTHUSEs…

After a number of what must have been close-to-interminable video editing sessions (involving sifting through a quarter of a TB of footage!), earlier this week Sean Riley completed the Sixty Symbols video on the ENTHUSE team’s visit to Ethiopia. The video was uploaded yesterday. Here it is.

I could not be happier with the video — Sean has done a stunning job  of capturing the entire Ethiopia experience, condensing a very packed seven days into an engaging 18 minute film. It’s been very well-received by the Sixty Symbols audience, who have left many kind and affecting comments under the video. (There have also been some gripes about the background music below the line in the comments thread, and one or two rather nasty racist comments, but this is YouTube after all. It’s hardly always a forum for the most erudite discussion one could imagine.  Cue xkcd cartoon…)

For what it’s worth, I love the music in the Sixty Symbols video. It was written by Alan Stewart, an immensely talented musician (and physics teacher) with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work in the past (on this phi- and pi-inspired prog rock instrumental). (I hope that Alan and I can find time to work together again in the future — I learned so much from him.)

We’re starting to gear up for the next visit to Ethiopia, exploring alternative funding options. I’ll provide updates here at Symptoms… over the coming months.

“If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it”

This a guest post from Jeremy Leaf, a third year PhD student in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham and a member of the ENTHUSE project team.


It is one of our first electronics sessions. An Ethiopian teacher is learning how to use a multimeter and breadboard. Having measured the resistance of a number of discrete resistors using a multimeter, I suggest he try to measure them in series using the breadboard. He chooses two resistors and, on paper, calculates what the total resistance should be. He then carefully measures across both resistors in series. The teacher’s face lights up as he breaks into a wide smile. The theory is correct.

The process of learning a physical theory, and then observing it manifest itself in an experiment, is a vital pathway to understanding physics. It allows us to grasp difficult concepts and truly understand their nature. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia, physics education stops at the textbook. The education system has neither the funds nor expertise to employ physical experiments in their schools. Our assignment was to show how experimental physics could be taught using locally available materials. We also employed some more advanced apparatus, such as multimeters and breadboards, in the hope that they would be able to acquire these in time.

Simple apparatus and experimental concepts that we take for granted are often totally new to many physics teachers in Ethiopia.  This project was an exciting opportunity to make a small but meaningful impact on the futures of those who go to school here, as well as forge a link between our two countries. Education is key for this country to develop a generation of young Ethiopians that can think critically and creatively. I feel immensely privileged to have been a part of that process.

We were there, now we’re back again

This is a guest post from Jarrod Lewis, a 2nd year undergraduate Physics MSci student at the University of Nottingham and a member of the ENTHUSE project team.

Right now it is raining, it is cold, and it is quiet.

Shockingly, I am no longer in Addis Ababa.

I am typing this post after returning from Africa on the 9th of April. I am now many thousands of miles away from my former hotel room, back in my hometown in South Wales.

My evening has consisted of many attempts to succinctly explain my ENTHUSE Project experiences which, coupled with a neurological twitch to subtract six hours off the clock when asked what time it is (entirely independent of any time zone difference), reinforces my belief that a Western twenty-something could spend a lifetime in Ethiopia and still be quietly amazed by it.

But if the good Prof could meet his conflict with the local microbes of Ethiopia with such resilience, I suppose I should give this blog thing a go.

If the dream of a fully developed Ethiopian state is to be realised, its people will have to be fed, employed, housed and provided for with new and accessible infrastructure. In short, Ethiopia is going to need a lot of problem solvers. (Read: Physicists)

The ENTHUSE course was our contribution to this effort.


In our course we covered the specific methods for various practical physics demonstrations, the basics of the scientific principle and an introduction to the proper treatment of data obtained from empirical investigation. The beauty of the course was that it is based on scientific experiments, which produce quantitative results that are directly indicative of the learners progress.

We had roughly twenty eight hours of contact time. Our achievements within this still baffle me.

People who had never plotted a graph before could do so perfectly. The basics of experimental design were instilled to such a degree that the teachers could identify potential sources of systematic error and adapt their methodology accordingly without a single raised eyebrow of prompting from yours truly. We covered the basics of circuit building, breadboard function and demonstrated specific classroom demonstrations that used only locally sourced equipment. We even had time to talk about our own areas of interest, and how they are studied about the wider academic world.

We discussed everything and dictated nothing. We covered both experimental theory and the physical limitations of what can be achieved in a lab. Ours was a course that encouraged questioning and skepticism, and for me the most rewarding part was sitting down with these teachers, many of whom had travelled for days on end to reach the venue of this course from far flong corners of their country, and to have a good old fashioned scientific disagreement.

Makbil if you’re reading this, never change.

Our task was to improve the group’s understanding of practical physics so that they could bring this into their own classrooms, ‘enthusing’ themselves and their students and hopefully instilling some grassroot level vigour to the Ethiopian STEM sector.

Our teachers left Adama better problem solvers, more skilled in the evaluation and the analysis of empirical data. They left us bright eyed with smiles on their faces, proud at not only their achievements but their potential to achieve so much more for both their students and their country.

I left Adama a better student, a happier human and with new friends from both home and abroad. It was harder than I ever imagined, but if the chance arose, I would be back in that classroom in a heartbeat. Mosquitoes, chalkdust, blistering heat and all.


If I had to summarize my thoughts on this crazy week, which I suppose would be useful, then it would go a little like this;

Like happiness, we do not diminish our knowledge by sharing it with others. We exhaust nothing but our own need to sit around and talk about a subject that we already live for, yet in doing so we gain for ourselves a greater pool of future colleagues and innovators.

We cannot leave a generation of budding scientists, mathematicians and engineers fumbling in the dark, unable to apply their exemplary theoretical knowledge to practical problems; not when it costs us so little to share what we have already cultivated for ourselves.

I can only hope the triumph of the first ENTHUSE project will inspire others to give their time and abilities to such a vital education program, and in doing so contribute to the global scientific community that is the foundation of our (in my case, future) lives as physicists.

It’s wonderful to be able to give back to the community that has already given me so much, and I loved every minute of it.

As you’re reading Phil Moriarty’s blog; I think you would love it too.



ENTHUSE and include

This is a guest post from Dr. Bill Poole, Institute of Physics coordinator — Ethiopia and a member of the ENTHUSE project team.


I have been coming to Ethiopia for about 8 years as one of the Institute of Physics Co-ordinators to give practical physics training to teachers.

This time it was different because we were joined by Professor Philip Moriarty and 4 students, Jarrod, Emma, Tiago and Jeremy from the University of Nottingham.

We have completed the training of 40 teachers and the University of Nottingham people made an excellent contribution. I think it has been a brilliant experience for them and they have been whole-hearted in their participation. They were a great team to work with and we had some relaxing and enjoyable times mixed in with the hard work.

The students experienced an International collaboration with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, took part in delivering training and interacting with teachers who are used to rote learning. Changes to the training programme and lack of resources also gave experience of “thinking on your feet” for the students and they showed great flexibility and ability in adapting to the conditions. All this took place in a  significantly different culture to our own.

The teachers reacted with great appreciation to the contributions made by the University of Nottingham with the students giving sessions on what enthuses them about Physics, an experiment with equipment that could be made with local materials and delivering a main session.

In a world that is tense with war, poverty and crime it has been really refreshing to be part of a project that has been so positive and inclusive of people across the generations, faiths and cultures.


The bigger picture

This is a guest post by Emma Woods, a 3rd year MSci Physics student at the University of Nottingham and a member of the ENTHUSE project team.


On my second day in Addis Ababa I found myself sitting in my hotel room having closed the door to what I had seen over the past 48 hours and a sense of relief came over me. I was overwhelmed. Before sitting down to write this I spent a good while thinking about how to articulate my experience; how I’m feeling, the sights I’ve seen and how it compares to the world I’m used to.

The first thing to note would be the astounding beauty of the area, Addis sits at the foot of Mount Entoto from which you can see breath taking views of this gorgeous grassland city. Atop this mountain hosts the historical palace built by Emperor Menelik II just 150 years ago and is surrounded by many colourful monasteries leading it to be considered a sacred mountain. A visit to the Entoto museum, led by a wonderfully succinct tour guide, showed just how full the heritage of this country is.


Moving back to the city centre it is clear to see there is rapid development with many high rises in construction in what will be the city’s financial district. There is also an increase in luxury services from shopping malls to spas so that, besides the differences in building materials and blatant disregard for traffic safety, you could almost be forgiven for thinking you were in the west. Yet beyond this mask you can see real hardship. Many seem to have been left behind in the hasty development; the presence of the impoverished being forced to beg left me feeling unsettled. Despite the obvious guilt felt when I have to refuse my help, there is also disappointment in the level of support offered to them here. Whilst projects exist to tackle the housing problem in major cities, it almost seems like a token gesture when the infrastructure needed for sustainability severely lacking (e.g functioning sewage systems). The continued urbanization of Ethiopia is sadly sure to see an increase in disparity between the wealthy and the poor.

This brings me on to what I hope to achieve with my time here. Education is very important to me. I am a firm believer that an education is the most valuable thing a person can receive because it cannot be taken away. ENTHUSE captured my imagination from the beginning as I realised just how much impact it could have. Speaking to Bill and Christine who have both been working on this project for a good number of years, the positive influence is evident, even for simple things like labelled storage for the equipment at the university.

By improving the knowledge and skills of the teachers, and in turn the education of the pupils in Ethiopia, my hope is that we can develop the problem solving skills of the next generation ready to be applied to tackle the problems faced by those around them; now that is the ripple effect in action!

Getachew’s dream

This is a guest post by Tiago Gonçalves, a third year MSci Physics with Theoretical Physics student at the University of Nottingham and a member of the ENTHUSE project team.

While I was busy being born, Getachew was busy finishing his physics degree. Now, Getachew has a dream.

After graduating he became a teacher, but he is not content with the teaching of physics in his homeland – Ethiopia. He would like all children to have access to a good physics education: less textbooks, more hands-on.

He did not keep dreaming, but got cracking. Three years ago, he took part in a physics teachers’ training course (Bill (Poole) and Christine (Cleave) came here at the time). Now, he is himself an Ethiopian National Trainer, working for the Ministry of Education.  The National Trainers instruct Regional Trainers, handing on what they learnt from sessions like those we are delivering this week, in a “cascade” process. (This is interesting wording since we are here thanks to a Cascade Grant, part of the Impact Campaign and the University of Nottingham’s grants programme).

It’s not easy, though. There are many schools in the country, and it just can’t afford to import practical physics equipment for all of them. However, Getachew believes you don’t need to have expensive equipment – physics is all around and you can use locally available materials to build your own equipment. That’s exactly what he is hoping to develop together with the other national trainers and with our help.

A physics enthusiast, twenty years after his first degree Getachew is now specializing in nuclear physics and will be supporting the Ministry of Education for a further six years. He is aware that the cascade process has disadvantages as well as advantages, so he wants to improve the system to make sure all children will have a much better experience with physics.

And after the six years? He is not sure, “God knows”. Something is certain: he will keep striving to build, day by day, a better future for physics, for his country, for his children.

Siletewaweqin dess bilognal, Ethiopia

I’m writing this from a room in the Ras Amba hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia having arrived here on Friday morning for the ENTHUSE (ENhancing THe Understanding of PhySics in Ethiopia (ENTHUSE): Student-led Outreach) project. (Please excuse the rather tortured and tortuous route to a memorable acronym for the project title. I’ve clearly written too many European grant proposals…)

ENTHUSE is a project funded largely by the University of Nottingham’s Cascade campaign but involves close collaboration and support from the Institute of Physics. I’m also very grateful to the School of Physics and Astronomy for contributing not only financially but in many other more indirect, though no-less important, ways.  The key objectives and motivations for ENTHUSE are to connect with the physics teaching community in Ethiopia, to share ideas and experience about teaching experimental physics, and, if I can quote my Head of School, to broaden “the experience for the students, involving the development of new teaching materials and demonstrations, and the delivery of that content in a completely different environment, [providing] a truly life-changing opportunity“.

I’m here in Ethiopia for the next week as a member of a team of eight comprising three undergrads (Emma Woods, Jarrod Lewis, and Tiago Goncalves) and one postgrad (Jeremy Leaf) from Physics & Astronomy at Nottingham; Christine Cleave and Bill Poole who are representing the IOP and who have enthusiastically and tirelessly driven the IOP’s Physics in Ethiopia project for the past seven years; and Sean Riley, a film-maker who works closely with Brady Haran and is responsible for the very popular Computerphile series of videos.

My aim is to provide daily updates on our time in Ethiopia via this blog. (I’ll do my best. Promise.) I also hope to upload guest posts from the students involved with ENTHUSE over the coming week.

Unfortunately, our arrival into Addis Ababa Bole airport yesterday did not initially bode well for the week ahead — Sean’s main camera (and all of its associated multi-faceted widgets) was, in essence, impounded (despite us being weighed down with the appropriate documentation, lists, letters, and visas). Luckily, however, we had a second camera with us, which Sean has ingeniously mod-ed so that the filming can go ahead. (We’re also hoping that Sean’s main camera will be released early next week.)

Today was spent exploring Addis Ababa, before we travel south to Adama tomorrow to prepare for the training course for high school physics teachers we’re running there next week. Addis Ababa is fascinating. Founded less than 150 years ago (by the Emperor Menelik II) it now has an estimated population of nearly 3.5M (although there are claims that the figure is actually closer to 5M) which, according to the Wiki page, is made up of 80 or more different nationalities speaking 80 different languages. Addis, or at least the region of Ethiopia in which its based, can also lay a strong claim to being the “birthplace” of humanity;  the skeleton of Lucy is preserved here at the National Museum of Ethiopia.

Addis is a city of deep contrasts — I was struck by the extent to which areas of relative affluence (shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants) exist practically side-by-side with shanty towns. Walking through the poorer areas of the city put all of my First World problems and concerns right into perspective; it was a humbling and unsettling — and necessarily unsettling  — experience.

We visited Entoto, a village in the suburbs of Addis Ababa close to the summit of Mount Entoto, passing by countless heavily-laden donkeys on the way there. Ethiopia has one of the highest donkey populations in the world and they are used to carry a wide range of commodities.  As discussed by Gebreab and colleagues, in Ethiopia donkeys make a major contribution to transport, and thus are a key contributor to the local economy.

An information-packed guided tour around the Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu Memorial Museum at Entoto was followed by a visit to the Maryam Church, an octagonal construction (to represent the seven archangels + their god).

We then returned to Addis and met up with a number of the teachers who will be involved with the training programme. I’ll not tell you too much about the training programme itself for the moment, as it’ll be the focus of not only future blog posts but also a Sixty Symbols video (or two).

At this point we were all keen for a coffee break. The coffee plant originates in Ethiopia and so coffee is very much part of the culture here.  As someone with a long-standing interest in all things caffeine-related (including the deep links between coffee and quantum physics), I was particularly keen to have a coffee in the birthplace of the drink. We stopped off at a traditional Ethiopian coffee shop and sampled the local ‘brew’. Let’s just say we were not disappointed…

The day finished off with a meal at the Yod Abysinnia restaurant. As a vegetarian I was a little concerned as to the variety of food that would be available — raw meat is very popular in Ethiopia — but I needn’t have been concerned. There were plenty of vegetarian options (as part of the fasting menu). Even better than the food, however, was the traditional Ethiopian music and dance; the performances were stunning. I’ll leave you with a short clip.

Another update tomorrow, internet connection willing, when we reach Adama.