Professor Michael Allen
I am currently Chair of the Institute of Physics Liquids and Complex Fluids Group.
In 2011/2012 I was Chair of the Physics Department Teaching Committee. I have recently taught several modules in Physics, listed below, as well as supervising final year BSc and MPhys projects and holding tutorials for first- and second-year Maths-Physics students. I am an external examiner for Physics at the University of Bath, and was recently external examiner at the University of Leeds.
In the last few years, I have employed a new delivery method for my lectures using the Livescribe Pulse Pen, which records what I say and what I write, for later playback by students. The intention was to improve the student experience in mathematically-heavy modules (here PX366 Statistical Physics and PX261 Mathematical Methods II), especially when they come to revise the material. Student feedback from both modules has been very positive, and students have encouraged me to share my experiences with other lecturers. The approach is not perfect, and others may advocate alternatives (e.g. tablet computers), but for me the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. See my Blog for comments on how this went.
In previous years I have taught
- PX261 Mathematical Methods for Physicists II
- PX366 Statistical Physics
- PX428 MPhys Laboratory (simulation experiments)
- PX442 Laboratory for Maths-Physics Students (simulation experiments)
Inspired by my cheesy pun "How do you solve a problem like Fourier" in the Maths Methods module, two of our students, Benjamin T. Milnes and Angharad le Duc, have written the lyrics and performed this wonderful song on the subject!
My group carries out computer simulations of condensed matter systems at the molecular level, with most current activity focused on liquids and liquid crystals. The theme of the research is the understanding of the link between molecular structure and the properties of materials. Here is a videolecture taken at a conference in 2010 describing some of this work.
Computer simulations act as a bridge between experiment and theory. In order to understand complex fluid behaviour, we need an accurate theory; but the theoretical predictions also depend on how accurately we model the molecular interactions.
Computer simulation helps to test the theory independently of the precise molecular model, making the results more reliable and more generally applicable. We begin by feeding in details of the molecular interactions. The computer is then used to simulate a system of molecules: sometimes just a few hundred, sometimes as many as a million, to calculate bulk properties, structure, and dynamics at the microscopic level.
We use a wide range of simulation techniques, from straightforward solution of Newton's equations of motion, molecular dynamics, to more specialised statistical mechanical sampling methods, usually termed Monte Carlo. The process can be thought of as a kind of "virtual reality", familiar from computer games and the design of buildings, but on the molecular scale.
In a way, we are theoreticians performing particular kinds of experiments. The computer is our experimental apparatus. Some of these calculations can be performed on laboratory workstations, or even PCs. Others require the most powerful supercomputers in the country, in which hundreds of processors work on the problem in parallel. The group has been closely involved in the development of new computer programs to take advantage of these facilities in the most efficient way possible. The group interacts with many others around the University, especially in the Chemistry and Engineering departments.
Department of Physics, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL
m dot p dot allen at warwick dot ac dot uk