Physics and Astronomy

Elaine P Snowden Astronomy School

The Elaine P. Snowden Astronomy School is an annual five-day astronomy camp for Year 13 students from throughout New Zealand. It is an inspiring experience for the 20 successful applicants. The camp takes place in April at UC's Ilam campus in Christchurch and the Mt John Observatory in Tekapo. There is no charge for the camp (excluding travel costs).

Young Physicists Tournament

UC Science hosts the regional Young Physicists Tournament every year (as well as the nationals in 2017 and 2018).

Physics workshops

To support Year 12 students studying atomic and nuclear physics, UC collaborates with Rutherford's Den to provide a curriculum-linked set of activities. The package normally comprises:

  • 1 hour 30 min session with the team at Rutherford's Den, at The Arts Centre, learning about Ernest Rutherford, his gold foil experiment and the progression of scientific ideas on the structure of the atom. $5 per student.
  • 1 hour 45 min session in the laboratories in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, using radioactive sources and Geiger counters to investigate the absorption of beta and gamma radiation by biological materials, along with a second activity measuring the half-life of a short-lived copper isotope.
  • A 30-minute tour of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, highlighting pathways into careers and opportunity to look around the campus.

Many teachers use the day to prepare for or to assess the NCEA standard 91172: Demonstrate understanding of atomic and nuclear physics.

Students enjoy the day and get much more out of the experience if they have already covered much of the material in class. These sessions are not to be used as an introduction to the topic. Students need an understanding of the Models of the Atom and The Geiger–Marsden/Rutherford’s Gold Foil Experiment.

Please note: 

  • The second session of the day that UC has run in recent years - studying personal radiation dose - will no longer form part of the activities on campus but will remain in the booklet so schools can teach it at school if desired. The maps required can be generated at this website, Japan Radiation Map.
  • Class sizes up to 30 can stay as one group but larger groups (up to 60) will be divided into two groups.


To book, hod-secretary@phys.canterbury.ac.nz or telephone 03 369 4324.

Rutherford DVD

UC is fortunate to have Dr John Campbell, retired physicist, who has driven the production of three one-hour documentaries on the life of Ernest Rutherford and the work which earned him the Nobel Prize in 1908.

These resources are linked to clips in the DVD and are aimed at Year 12 students in particular.

For a copy of the DVD please contact Dr Campbell.

Other Physics resources

Rutherford Science activities years 7-10