Student Stories

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Manchester, the European City of Science and the academic home to many "giants"

Heng Wei Ann
Kuala Lumpur Studied in University of Manchester Masters in Physics

In one of the first classes I ever took during my degree, I remember a tall, lanky lecturer with a penchant for random passionate bursts about the centripetal force saying: “by being a student in the physics department at Manchester, you are standing on the shoulders of giants”.

By giants, he was referring to the long line of physicists that had come through The University of Manchester (UoM) and made great contributions to the field. The University has a long history of physics dating back to 1874, which includes 12 Nobel laureates and many household names. Manchester was an academic home to many of the fathers of atomic physics; Rutherford discovered the nucleus in the building opposite where I had most of lectures, Neils Bohr discovered the atomic structure, and William Bragg and Moseley conducted studies on X-Ray diffraction. However, Manchester’s involvement in Physics is not just stuck in the 1800s, as staff members Andre Geim and Konstantin Novosolev were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on Graphene in 2010. (Andre Geim is also the only person who owns both a Nobel and an Ig-Noble prize, but we don’t talk about that as much).

UoM is a university well known amongst Malaysian students for its courses such as chemical engineering, law, and economics. Surprisingly, Physics at Manchester is less well known in Malaysia compared to its reputation in the UK as one of the best places to study and conduct research. The physics department was ranked the 9th best Physics department in the world and best in Europe by Academic Ranking of World Universities in 2018. But perhaps more importantly, my academic life was amazing. I was surrounded by fantastically curious classmates and well crafted lectures that brought it’s undergraduate audience on a tour of modern physics – from its classical roots in Newtonian Mechanics to philosophy classes questioning the pursuit of a theory of everything.

I also had a great sense of being involved in a community that was wider than the walls of the classroom. The same people that were giving me lectures were the same ones who were working on cutting-edge research. Many of my lecturers were part of international research projects such as CERN, Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cockroft Institute. Often times while they were teaching theories that were founded in the 50s, they often slipped in contemporary knowledge about current experiments that they were working on and other advancements in the field. Oh, and did I mention? One of my lecturers in first year was Brian Cox (

Manchester is also a great city of science, and it really seeps into the university experience. It has a great museum of science and industry and outreach culture, and loads of interactions with graduate students. When I first moved to Manchester, it was named the European City of Science, which meant that there were events, talks, and hackathons happening at every corner. So, truly, if you are looking for a great department with supportive teaching staff, great connections to a future in cutting edge research in one of the most exciting cities in the UK – Manchester might be for you.

University of Manchester
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