Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The old stomping ground

I am at the Nuclear Structure 2016  conference in Knoxville, TN for this week.  This is part of a series of conferences that moves around the US, organised by a different National Laboratory each time.  This time is the turn of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).  A previous time that it was organised by ORNL was one of the first conferences I went to as a young researcher.  The conference website this time gives a history of the biannual conference back to 2008.  A quick search (for the conference proceedings) reveals that I was at the 1998 conference in Gatlinburg, which is a nearby resort town in the Smoky Mountains.  Back then I lived here in East Tennessee.

I usual consider the part of nuclear physics I do to be nuclear structure (the properties of individual nuclei), as opposed to nuclear reactions (how they interact with each other).  So this conference series is sort of my main area, but actually I've increasingly moved to the border between structure and reactions, and I never feel like I am completely at home at most conferences any more.  Not that there is anything wrong with being away from home.  

Well, one of the pictures attached to the post shows a slide from a talk given by Jolie Cizewski from Rutgers University.  I took a picture of it because of the prominent featuring of a list of University of Surrey collaborators, most of whom are our MPhys students, which Prof. Cizewski has been kind enough to host during their research years.  The other picture shows I run I went on at around 6 am this morning.  There's a bit of a heatwave here this week, but running before dawn was pretty acceptable (and there were a few of us out).  After a long time of not doing too much running, I'm trying to get back into doing more of it to improve physical and mental health.  This was not a terribly long run on the scale of things (1.5km) but it's a start.  If my jet lag keeps me getting up early, hopefully I'll be going a bit further while I am here.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Ghost Rider

I don't think I can construe this as a nuclear physics post, but I notice that Alan Vega, of the bad Suicide died this week, and so I present a Suicide song, covered by REM:

Monday, 4 July 2016

2016 Rutherford Medal

It was announced at the end of last week that the 2016 Rutherford Medal of the Institute of Physics was awarded to Professor John Simpson, of Daresbury Laboratory.  The award cites his contributions to the understanding of atomic nuclei, particularly in the high-angular-momentum regime, and through his leadership in associated detector development.  

The picture attached to the post features John, though if you don't know what he looks like, you're hardly going to find him in it.  It's a picture take from before my time in nuclear physics, at Daresbury Laboratory, before nuclear accelerator facility was closed down.  John is wearing a white top, to the left of the centre of the detector, as the camera is looking at it.

Congratulations, John!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Mid–year book post

Around the new year, I made a post pointing out that I had discovered a list, from 2006, of all the books I had read that year.  Back then, for various reasons, I used to read a lot more than I have come to in recent years.  I used to never be without a book about my person so that if I got a chance to read (on a train journey, say) I'd always have my latest read to hand.  There have been times lately when I have found myself on a journey only to realise that I don't have a book with me.  That never used to happen, and this year I've been trying to find the time to keep up a better reading rate.

As a half-year status report, I list the books that I've read so far this year.  I don't have any mini-reviews prepared, but I might try to retrospectively fit some in.  If you are desperate to know what I think of any of them, feel free to ask in comments and I will take your interest as a prompt to write something.  Anyway, for the record -- and I'll report back at year end -- here is what I have read thus far:

Seymour, an Introduction – J. D. Salinger
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Raffles – E. W. Hornung
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave
Night Blind (still reading) РRagnar Jónasson

Friday, 17 June 2016

Nuclear Spot-the-difference #8

I wonder if readers have previously noticed the similarity in appearance between Ayatollah Ali Khameni, and emeritus nuclear physics professor Bill Gelletly of the University of Surrey?


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Why I'm voting "In"

There is a lot of commentary out there at the moment on whether voters in the UK should elect to leave the EU ("Brexit") or stay in it.  Here's my contribution.

Brexit, science & the economy

Part of the remit of this blog is to do with the environment under which scientific research takes place, and many scientists have been vocal in supporting the UK staying in the EU.  Here, for example, is a letter from 13 nobel science laureates.  It's no wonder that us academics are by and large in favour of staying in.  We tend to be fairly international in our outlook.  Our profession is about education and research and borders are only a hindrance to those things.  The government's anti-immigration rhetoric and policies usually have a detrimental effect on higher education, irrespective of the current EU referendum.  Much of the science-related debate regarding the EU has been about funding.  The UK wins a lot of EU research grants, and this source of funding would be thrown into doubt by us leaving the EU.  The small group of pro-Brexit scientists that are campaigning on a "scientists for Britain" platform have tried to argue that we would probably still be able to apply for EU funding in the sciences.  That's not what happened to Switzerland, though, when they tried to limit immigration and freedom of movement.  They lost the right to bid for EU science funding, and to participate in the Erasmus+ scheme for student and staff mobility.  Eventually -- yesterday -- the Leave campaign said they would match funding for science if any were lost by us leaving the EU.  Not that they are in the position to make such promises, but it was a strong admissions that leaving would be, on the face of it, bad for science, that the needed to make such a promise.  The small group of pro-Brexiters that self-identify as scientists only go to show that turkeys sometimes vote for Christmas, and that they don't prioritise science too highly in their reasons for wanting to leave.

The left-wing case for leaving the EU

There is a left-wing case for leaving the EU.  It's summed-up in the beginning of this article.  Much of the population of Greece might understand very well that the EU promotes the interests of capital and those that control it over the interests of people in general.  Not only that, but the choice we are facing in this referendum is between the pissy half-in membership of the EU that our government has negotiated and being completely out.  But the version of completely-out that we are being offered is one on the terms of the likes of Farage, Gove, and Johnson.  An out vote will be a vote for a right-wing future.  A one based on fear of foreigners and a distaste for a communal approach to things like human rights.  There is no left-wing exit option on the table this time.  Left-wingers who promote voting "leave" at this referendum are only useful idiots.  The rest of the article I link to at the top of this paragraph goes over the arguments, as does this one

"I want my country back"

The economic arguments regarding the leave–stay campaign have been won by the remain campaign, it seems.  But okay -- I think most Brexiters' primary concerns are to do with ideas of democracy and being able to have democratic control over the country (particularly borders).  I think the same arguments apply here as they do in the left-wing argument.  Since Thatcher, and possibly earlier, we have handed over control of our country to the controllers of capital, rather than in favour of the populace.  What exactly would  we be getting "back"?   A neoliberal Utopia is not really getting our country back, I don't think.  Are Brexiters hoping that we will somehow get a 1950s version of England?  Complete with child abuse and the ability to make racial or homophobic slurs with impunity?  I don't think there is any prospect of getting anything "back" that people asking for getting our country back want.  (Oh, and if you want to read actual evidence on what immigration does for us, look here).

Ironically, those looking to make this a kind of united United Kingdom against the rest of the EU seem likely to find themselves having facilitated the break-up of the UK.  What is for sure if we leave the EU battle is that we will have revealed that the population of the UK is not at all united in how it sees its relation with Europe -- indeed, that has already been shown.  Of course, the majority can impose its views on the rest -- that is how democracy works.  What they can't do is claim that we have somehow returned to the natural unit of concordant nationality.  They will have disproved all their arguments, and they can contemplate that if a newly independent Scotland re-joins their fellow Europeans.  I wouldn't blame them if they did.