Monday, 31 December 2012

My nuclear year

Well, it's New Year's Eve and I've yet to post a suitably festive seasonal post to Blog of the Isotopes.  This is not because I switch off from blogging mode over the holidays, but more because I foolishly left both my phone and computer behind when I went to stay with my family over the holidays.  There was much jesty mocking at my expense about my ability to withstand such a trial.  I'm back at home now, ferrying clothes back and forth to the campus launderette since my washing machine seems to have packed up,  and I'm currently sitting in my office.  I figure now is a good time for a holiday post, and to review my 2012 as far as things nuclear physics goes.

I've always enjoyed all, or at least most, aspects of the academic life;  both the teaching and the research, and to some extent the administration (I liked being admissions tutor), but this year I tried to make a real effort to push the research side, hopefully not at the expense of anything else.  By and large, I think I've been successful.  If not on a global scale that will get my poached by Harvard then at least it has been a good year as far as I am concerned and my judgement of how far my own abilities will take me.  My list of publications in 2012 include four papers in Physical Review.  One of them is the (joint) second most cited paper in Phys. Rev. C in 2012.  It also led to a trip to Brazil - my first time south of the equator, and to a new collaboration, so that's all to the good.  The two current PhD students for which I am principal supervisor have had joint papers with me accepted for publication, both of which should appear in January, and so I am very pleased for them, as well as me.  I had an enjoyable conference trip to Bulgaria, with a small holiday in Plovdiv attached on the end, and made a visit to my old stomping ground of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which I always enjoy, being able to catch up with old friends.  That trip was to visit a Surrey MPhys student who was on placement there.  Too bad we aren't sending a student there next year for me to visit.

The biggest news of the year for me, though, was some sad news, that I didn't post about at the time.  My PhD was co-supervised by two people;  Jirina Stone from Oxford, where I was based, and Michael Strayer from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where I spent about half of my overall time while studying for my PhD.  Like many PhD-supervisor relationships, as with many general research collaborations, the working partnerships are friendships, too, and so it was with Mike.  While I lived in Tennessee I spent a lot of time around his house hanging out, and became friends with his family, too.  After my PhD, he employed me for a year as a postdoc, and was very helpful and sympathetic when I had to partially complete it in the UK following the serious illness of my then-wife.  For the next few years, I would go back and spend time working in Oak Ridge with him, until he moved to a position at the US Department of Energy in Washington.  At that point we more or less lost touch (I am really bad at keeping in touch with people, as school and university friends will surely attest).  It was thus with great sadness that I learned that Mike committed suicide this year.  At the time of his suicide, he was under indictment by the US government for potential misuse of government funds in the publication of a trade magazine for whom his wife worked.  I can only speculate on the mental state that led Mike to that dreadful solution, and how bleak he must have felt.  I feel only sadness that it came to this.  Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the case against him, there was some irony to me, in a year in which much attention has been paid to the fact that the scientific publishing business has taxpayer-funder scientists writing articles for free for privately-owned journals only to be sold back to the taxpayer, that some part of the scandal involving Mike seemed to involve the fact that scientists were being asked to write for free, but that the staff working for the publisher would benefit financially.  It seemed to me, too, that the explicit mention of the "foreign" publisher of the magazine (being the UK's Institute of Physics) was rather prejudicing things, but I cannot claim to know all the details in this case.  Sorry I didn't keep in touch with you, Mike, and sorry it came to this.