Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Edinburgh

Well, to follow up the last post, I did go to the hat shop, and now have a nice grey trilby and a black bowler. I also did attend Jim Al-Khalili's talk, where he pointed out some of the sexy things about nuclear physics - the things that excite people - like the fact that looking up at the night sky means looking at nuclear reactions. He also said that no matter what you do in nuclear physics, you should be able to talk passionately and with enthusiasm about what you do.

I think that's right. You don't have to be creating new elements or looking at stellar nuclear reactions - if you're doing it, it should have a purpose that you should be able to enthuse people about. And of course, this goes for all scientists, generally. I wonder how many scientists would be able to do that to any member of the public. I like to think that I'm a little more practiced at it, but my recent encounter on I'm a scientist reminds me that it's not always so easy. Must make more effort to try - otherwise, why am I doing it?

In other conference news, I chaired a session earlier today featuring talks by current PhD students, and I am happy to report that they all gave decent talks and were clearly interested in what they are doing. Probably the best was the talk about laser spectroscopy, in which some pretty clever experiments were described which used atomic transitions to understand the properties of nuclei. Electrons in atoms get slightly affected by the fact that different nuclei have different sizes and shapes, and one can actually measure nuclei by looking at atomic (electron) transitions. A very nice talk by Frances Charlwood of Manchester showed how her group have been figuring out the size and shape changes in manganese isotopes, and showing how the sizes show distinctive changes when you reach the N=28 (28 neutrons) magic (extra-stable) number, yet the nuclear mass does not. It's a bit of a puzzle, and must be telling us something about nuclear structure - just trying to think what it is...