Physics by the Lake is a national summer school on theoretical condensed matter physics organised by the Institute of Physics (IOP) Theory of Condensed Matter group. It consists of two weeks of high-quality lecture courses by experts in the field, as well as tutorials to give thorough training in solving real problems. There is also a series of after-dinner seminars.

When is it?

After a successful return to an in-person event in 2022, the next Physics by the Lake summer school will run from August 14th-25th 2023.

Where is it?

The School will take place at the unique venue of The University of Stirling. So technically it is now Physics by the Loch. Previously it has been held in Windsor, the Lake District and on the Cumbrian coast.

Who should come to it?

It is primarily aimed at Ph.D. students in theoretical condensed matter physics typically at the end of their first year. Theoretically-inclined experimental condensed matter physics students are also strongly encouraged to take part.

What will happen during the school?

The lectures fall into two sets, core subjects and applications. The first set contains four courses each of which comprises six lectures and two tutorials. The second set is varied in length, style and subject matter.

In 2022, the core lectures were:

  • Electrons in Solids (ELS) - A quantitative understanding of bonding in condensed matter systems demands a solution of the many electron problem. This course shows how the this can be mapped onto single electron problems in both approximate and formally exact ways.
  • Statistical Mechanics (STM) - Statistical Mechanics aims to provide a macroscopic description of a physical system starting from knowledge of its microscopic properties. This course revisits the equilibrium properties of matter from the perspective of dynamics before moving on to successively further-from-equilibrium systems.
  • Strongly Correlated Quantum Systems (SCQ) - This course deals mainly with the influence of interactions on the electrons in materials. We review second quantisation, the Fermi gas theory of metals and the notion of quasiparticles, then progress to the Fermi liquid, Mott insulators and spin waves.

Applications lectures were:

  • Cold Quantum Fluids (CQF) - Quantum fluids are those many-particle systems in whose behaviour the effects of both the quantum mechanics and quantum statistics are important.
  • Density Functional Theory (DFT) - to density functional theory (DFT).
  • Mesoscopic Physics (MES) - Mesoscopic physics is the name given to electronic behaviour in solid state nanostructures that are so small that their size is similar to relevant characteristic length scales.
  • Quantum Information for Quantum Matter (QIM) - This lecture series will introduce the use of quantum information techniques for the study of correlated problems in quantum matter.
  • Topological Phases of Matter (TOP) - This short course focuses on non-interacting band theory, and introduces topological invariants, boundary states, and the bulk-boundary correspondence necessary to understand the modern topic of topological insulators.

You can see the full list for 2022 here. The 2023 school will have a similar programme, although some of the applications courses may be a little different, to reflect the ever-changing nature of contemporary research.

How much does it cost?

The full fee for attending the school in 2023 is £1000 (but see below). This fee covers full board for two weeks and lodging in comfortable single-room accommodation and internet access as well as the full academic programme (lectures, tutorials, seminars and a full set of printed notes).

Physics by the Lake was previously funded directly by EPSRC, but that funding is now routed through Universities. If your Ph.D. is funded by the EPSRC you should be able to get the fee paid by your University from their EPSRC training budget. We are happy to receive feedback about whether this system is working.

We have received backing from many parts of the UK and EU Theory of Condensed Matter community which has enabled us to cut costs well below last years.

If you are a member of the IoP and its Theory of Condensed Matter group, you can apply for a bursary of up to £300, through the IoP Research Student Conference Fund.

We ask for partial payment of £500 at the time of registration, with the balance to be paid by July 1 2023. We advise students to set aside the full fee for the school, but in many cases we hope that the funding we have secured may allow us to reduce the fee. This partial payment will be refunded if we do not accept your application to participate in the school.

How do I apply?

Applications to the school take place online. The application period is provisionally scheduled as January 12 2023 to June 7 2023 but these dates are subject to change. Note that in previous years the school has been over-subscribed and we have had to allocate places on a first-come first-served basis (see next question).

Applications and payments will be made through a secure site hosted by the University of Edinburgh, UK. This is accessed via the Apply page on this website.

It is possible to pre-register for the school by emailing sopa.events@ed.ac.uk. You will be contacted when registration is open.

What happens if the school is over-subscribed?

For a number of years, the school was over-subscribed and we have unfortunately had to turn away applications from well-qualified students. Whilst we may give priority to applications from students in their first year of a predominantly theoretical Condensed Matter Ph.D., we have generally allocated on a first-come first-served basis. You are therefore encouraged to get your application in as soon as you can.

This year some places are earmarked for CM-CDT students in return for financial support that has been instrumental in allowing the school to take place this year. Similar arrangements may apply to other groups of students where organisations make a similar financial commitment.

How should I prepare for the poster sessions?

We will be holding two poster sessions during the school so that students can find out a bit about each other’s research. Please bring a poster up to a maximum of A0 portrait size (84cm wide and 119cm tall). You will be informed at the school which of the two sessions you will present at: you will have an opportunity to give a one-minute verbal introduction to the whole group, so come prepared to say a few words about who you are and what you do.

What did previous students think?

Students who attended the school reported that the following were the best things about the school:

  • It gave me a good understanding in a wide range of topics and was very interesting.
  • The chance to hear about interesting physics outside my area of research.
  • There are many motivated and well prepared lecturers (and seminar speakers) which helped me to get excited and inspired about our field of research and think about problems from alternative perspectives and become aware of new questions.
  • It was great to get the opportunity to meet other people at a similar point in their PhDs.
  • The poster sessions were very very good – and the short introductory talks as well.
  • Accommodation and food were both good.

There will almost certainly be someone in your research group or department – another student, or possibly even some of the lecturers – who attended a previous Physics by the Lake / Physics by the Sea Summer School. Why not ask them what they got out of it?

Are lecture notes available?

A full set of lecture notes and solutions to problems will be handed out to you at the school. Lecture notes from previous schools are available to former participants on the Resources page. If you are a Ph.D. student in Condensed Matter Theory and would like to get access to these resources, please follow the instructions there.

Why is it called Physics by the Lake?

The very first EPSRC / IOP school in Condensed Matter Theory (in the late 90s) was held at the Charlotte Mason college in Ambleside, which at that time was part of Lancaster University. The presence of Windermere in the proximity of the college lent the school its distinctive moniker. The school was held each year until 2010 at the same venue, despite two name changes (to the University of Cumbria via St Martin’s College) in the intervening period.

In 2010, the University of Cumbria decided to close the college, and since then, the Condensed Matter Theory school has led a nomadic existence, first of all camping out at St Bees school in Cumbria for two years, before making the trek down to Chicheley Hall in rural Buckinghamshire in 2014 and Royal Berkshire in 2015. In 2016 and 2018 we were at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park.

Wherever you shall find us, there will always be a lake or a loch. Stirling features Airthrey Loch and Airthrey Castle and the rugged mountain beauty of Dumyat and the Ochils.

Who are the current organisers?

  • Dr Sam Carr, University of Kent.
  • Prof Richard Blythe, University of Edinburgh.

I have a question that’s not answered here!

If you have a general enquiry about the school, please contact sopa.events@ed.ac.uk.

If you encounter difficulties with this website, you may get a faster answer from richard-b@physicsbythelake.org.