Thursday, 16 April 2015

Swatting the Fly in the Cathedral

I've just finished my visit to UMass Lowell, where the Surrey student on placement is getting on very well.  The group who have kindly paid for him to come out and work with them are pleased with how he is doing, and I was impressed with how far he'd got in understanding how germanium detectors and the corresponding electronics work.  Hell, I still thought germanium detectors detect germanium, and Tom put me straight.  

I gave a seminar to the Physics Department at Lowell today.  I had initially given it a rather pedestrian title – I can't remember what now, but my host suggested I spice it up a bit, and I went for "Swatting the Fly in the Cathedral," referring to the title of a popular science book about nuclear physics, in which the fly in the cathedral is an analogy in terms of size of a nucleus in an atom; i.e. really, an atom is a lot of empty space.

I think the seminar went okay.  Always hard to tell.  There was a a great bunch of Emeritus staff present, including one from the UK who had left for the States long ago, and another who had been at Sussex in years past.  We had a good chat over lunch, talking about mutual acquaintances, and memories of places in common.  That generation of academic – especially in nuclear physics and in the US really takes me back to my time at Oak Ridge, where there were still those who could talk about the early days of nuclear physics. 

Now I'm waiting at Boston airport to fly home.  I leave at 10pm local time here, and arrive at 10am local time in England.  Then I will make my way to be a human in the cathedral in Guildford, where our graduation ceremonies take place.  There'll be two of my recent PhD students there, and I hope to be fully awake through the whole thing.