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Christmas Lecture: The Physics of a Youth Hostel

Speaker:  Richard Hollins

In my volunteer role as manager of a youth hostel in remote Welsh mountainous terrain, I’ve needed to apply physics to provide the services expected by today’s visitors. There’s no mains water, no landline phone, and no mobile phone signal. Our organisation also has a second hostel which has no mains electricity. The hostels are looked after by a different volunteer warden each week, while I’m 200 miles away in Wiltshire. Everything must be sufficiently reliable to function under those challenging conditions.

I’ve learned things I never planned to learn about the physics, chemistry, and biology of water supplies, and about how to make them safe. I’ve introduced a combination of active ultraviolet purification and passive engineering measures, and I’ve performed studies to understand the geology of the mountain spring that provides the water. Ultraviolet water purification techniques are developing rapidly, and we use both established lamp-based technology and one of the latest UV-LED filters. I’ll explain the complementary nature of these two technologies in terms of the underlying physics.

Physics has also played a role in several other aspects of our hostels. After 50 years with no telecommunications, a satellite communications link now provides a valuable lifeline. Our off-grid hostel uses a variety of other technologies to provide essential services. In each case, I’ve applied the techniques I learned in a career as a physicist: understand the problem through measurement and simple physical models, apply technology and engineering to solve it, and continue to make measurements to confirm performance and understanding. It isn’t rocket science, but I’ve enjoyed solving problems in these beautiful, remote surroundings.


The physics of a youth hostel, Richard Hollins, Lateral Thoughts article, Physics World February 2019.
Elenydd Wilderness Hostels, registered charity No 1115946,

Venue information:
       * Wheelchair access
       * Free Car park available either in the college grounds or, after 6 pm, in the parking spaces marked with an 'S' adjacent to the cathedral green.
       * Coffee and Tea from 19:00

Image: ©  Richard Hollins

Local Contact: David Webb

This event is free to attend and there is no need to register.

Organised By
IOP South West Branch
17 Dec 2019 19:30 to 21:00
Sarum College
United Kingdom
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