Friday, 27 July 2018

Bypassing the paywall, legally

I've recently come across unpaywall, a web browser plug-in that spots when you are looking at the abstract of an academic article on a scholarly journal's website and adds in a link to a free version of the article, if one is available legally somewhere online. 

Many if not all journals which publish academic articles (and charge for them) allow authors to put copies of the articles (perhaps in some pre-publication format) up on their own websites or on institutional repositories.  At the University of Surrey, we have such a repository, and I thought I'd check to see if unpaywall will pick up articles that we've put there.

So, picking not quite at random an article of mine which is available free from our institutional repository here, I go to the Nuclear Physics A page where my article is published

Lo, with the unpaywall plug-in installed, I see a little green unlocked padlock logo on the right of the page, that is not usually there:


If I click on the logo, I get a pdf copy of my paper from the Surrey ePubs website.  This is handy!  For me, it will be most useful while travelling, since in my office I can download the journal articles through my institution's subscription for journals where they have one, which is most of the journals where I publish.  This is automatically detected through my computer's University IP address.  On the road, I have to rely on some sometimes clumsy methods of getting the University subscription recognised on a per-journal basis.   

Of course, it only works if there is a legal and free version of the paper somewhere online, and unpaywall has found it,  but I'll keep it installed.  The only downside I can see is that it doesn't work on the default browser on the Mac, Safari, so I'll have to switch to Firefox or Chrome.  That's a drag, but I'm not a browser zealot.  I save that for Emacs.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The great Google Citation Purge

Our Vice-Provost for Research and Innovation writes a blog to share thoughts, ideas, and announcements.  I thoroughly approve of his communicating via a blog, of course.  I end up reading what he says more than some other communications from the top that get put on e.g. the University's intranet.  It's a shame that the blog does not allow commenting, as that's an integral part of the ethos and culture of blogs, in my opinion, but okay, it's perhaps not surprising from a blog on a corporately-controlled part of the University website.  At least the thing exists.

Recently, he wrote a pretty extensive post about sharing and advertising one's research.  It is aimed at University of Surrey staff, and so is partly dedicated to our own institutional repository, but its chief recommendation is to use Google Scholar.  I do, and I've been using it for many years.  I posted in 2012 about an annoyance of Google Scholar in that it sometimes seems to forget about citations that it previously knew about.   It has just undergone a such a moment of amnesia.

My most cited paper, as previously judged by Google Scholar is this one.  As I write this post, the commercial subscription citation database ISI Web of Knowledge thinks it's been cited 216 times (making it #3 of all the Phys. Rev. C papers from 2012).  It even has a little trophy logo, calling it a "Highly Cited Paper":


Google Scholar was recently completely on board with this, listing it as my most highly cited paper, but I can't show you a screenshot because it now thinks it is more modestly-cited, at a mere 33 citations:


Based on my past experience, Google Scholar usually knows of many more sources of citation than ISI -- from PhD theses, for example, if they have been posted anywhere online, yet suddenly the number of citations has dropped rapidly.

Anyone know why?

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Decisions, decisions

My old office chair has broken.  Part of the process of getting a new one is to pick a colour for the fabric.  I was sent the attached swatch chart





What a dilemma!  I wasn't even aware that some of these were names of colours.  One of my colleagues commented on the existence of the colour Hobbit while another urged Wine upon me.  In the end I went for Trident, being a good nuclear physicist.  I could have gone for Cobalt, it being an element, but it's got an odd atomic number (Z=27), so I tend to avoid it.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Chadwick and Ellis at Ruhleben

Earlier this week I took a book, "Biography of Physics" by George Gamow out of the University Library.  It was published in 1962, costing one guinea.  As far as I can find out, it seems to contain the oldest reference to the work of J A Wheeler on toroidal nuclei, in a passing comment.  This is the reason I wanted to refer to the book.  In reading the section on nuclear physics, though, I learnt something that is presumably fairly well-know, but that I didn't know.

At the start of the First World War in 1914, James Chadwick was working at the University of Berlin, and was interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war, in the Ruhleben camp on the outskirts of Berlin.  Gamow writes "The first year in the camp was dull, since the young and talented physicist could not make any friends among his fellow prisoners, consisting mostly of businessmen, travelling salesman, etc.  Then after a big battle somewhere in France, a new prisoner appeared in the camp.  He was C. D. Ellis, a brilliant officer of His Majesty's Highland Regiment, who had been captured on the field of battle.  The two Britishers became friends and, to kill time, Chadwick started teaching Ellis the facts of nuclear physics.  When the war ended, both returned to England and Ellis enrolled as a graduate student of Cambridge University where Chadwick was a lecturer.  A few years later, Ellis published a paper which represented an important extension of Chadwick's work."

I did not even know that Chadwick had spent the war years interred in Germany, and certainly not that a soldier was converted into a physicist by Chadwick.  Looking up Ellis online, the story told is slightly different, in that Ellis is said to have been holidaying in Germany in the summer of 1914 just after passing out first of his class from the Royal Military Academy.  He was therefore also interned at the beginning of the war.  This information seems to stem from Ellis's entry in the Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society (Sir Kenneth Hutchison, F. R. S., J. A. Gray and Sir Harrie Massey, F. R. S., Biogr. Mems Fell. R. Soc. 1981 27, 199-233 doi:10.1098/rsbm.1981.0009), though in that source they say that they in later life he destroyed all his personal records, papers and letters, and hence there was some difficulty in reconstructing his biography.  They seem, though, to have only given information that they are pretty sure of, so I suspect Gamow's account is not right.  Anyone reading know more to the story?

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Sk8r Boi

On Thursday evenings I have ice-skating lessons.  I've been having them for a little over a year, now. When I started, they put me in a Level 3 group (Level 3 in the NISA scheme), because I could already skate around a bit from going a bit when I was a kid, though never having had any formal lessons.

It's been somewhat slow progress.  I passed Level 3 only a couple of months ago, and then now tonight passed Level 4.  I definitely notice the improvement, and I am more confident when I am on the ice with my kids.  It's a lot of fun, though I'm a bit nervous at the amount of backwards skating that is done at Level 5.  Still, it's nothing that I can't achieve with enough practice and determination. It also helps that I chose to live within walking distance of the nearest ice rink.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Virtual Tour of a Nuclear Accelerator Facility

I've just spent the last couple of hours hosting a series of interviews between some of our Surrey MPhys students and a potential host for their year-long research project.  

The host (Ed Simpson) is actually an ex-Surrey MPhys student himself, now based at ANU in Canberra.  Hopefully they will take a student or two from us.  Hopefully, too, I will be able to go over there to visit the student(s) while they are on placement.  

Meanwhile, I just had a go looking around the virtual tour of their lab that Ed developed.  It's very nice -- take a look if you are interested in how a nuclear physics lab looks and works.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

David Pines, 1924–2018

I have just learnt that the physicist David Pines died last week, aged 93.  He was not a nuclear physicist, and he and I never crossed paths, but his work on quantum many-body physics may just as well have been developed by someone working on nuclear physics as on the correlated electron systems that Pines was working on.

He was one of the key players in the Random Phase Approximation (RPA) which allows one to treat the very complicated system of many particles interacting together under the rules of quantum mechanics as a simpler problem of non-interacting particles.  It is very widely used in nuclear physics.  He also wrote and co-wrote, some very useful textbooks.  I have a couple sitting behind me on my shelf, and they are well-used.  The picture I have included here is a scan from the the back panel of the dust jacket from my copy of his book Quantum Liquids, co-written with Philippe Noizières.  The book dates from 1966, and presumably the picture from around that time.  Certainly no later.  More recent pictures and biographies can be found at the Santa Fe Institute where he latterly worked, and in a more personal reminiscence from Piers Coleman, co-director of the Institute for Complex Matter, which Pines founded.

My closest (albeit non-) encounter with Pines occurred when I was collaborating with Chris Hooley of St Andrew's University.  Chris is a condensed matter physicist, working on strongly-correlated electron systems.  Pines was being invited to St Andrews, perhaps to receive a prize -- I don't remember exactly, but in any case there was to be a formal dinner at which Chris would have to give a speech introducing Pines.  This was to happen shortly after Chris was visiting me in Surrey for some work we were doing together (see here, if interested).  He was wondering what to say in his speech, and I suggested he say something along the lines of "It gives me great pleasure to welcome a physicist whose surname is an anagram of a body part.  I refer, of course, to the spine." 

I expect he didn't use this line, but you never know.