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). Learn more.

Young Physicists Tournament

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


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 comprises:

  • 1 hour 45 min session, in the brand new laboratories in the RRSIC run by the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences at UC, 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.
  • 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. These sessions are not to be used as an introduction to the topic as the activities demand quite a depth of understanding. Students need an understanding of the Models of the Atom and The Geiger–Marsden/Rutherford’s Gold Foil Experiment.
  • A tour of the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, 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. A maximum group size is 30 so we would split you into 2 groups per day if you have 30-60 students coming.

Group timetable examples

Lab session at UC

Science at UC/Tour

Lunch Break at UC

Travel to Rutherford's Den

Rutherford's Den at Arts Centre







Rutherford's Den at Arts Centre

Travel to University of Canterbury (UC)

Lunch Break at UC

Lab session at UC

Science at UC/Tour






Dates we are running the workshops in 2019

  • Friday 8 February – Thursday 14 February 2019
  • Monday 8 April – Friday 12 April 2019
  • Monday 3 June – Friday 21 June 2019
  • Monday 1 July – Friday 5 July 2019
  • Monday 26 August – Friday 6 September 2019

Please note: Class sizes up to 30 can stay as one group but larger groups (up to 60) will be divided into two groups.

To book, email 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