Monday, 31 December 2018

Books of 2018

Since signing up with Goodreads, it has become easier to present a list of the books I have read during a year.  I seem to have missed posting this the last couple of years (since 2015).  Thanks, too, to Goodreads, I seem to be able to copy and paste a list of the books, with little pictures, hyperlinks, and the date I finished the book.  For many of them, I've written a review on Goodreads, which you might be able to find if you follow the book title link

Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey, #6)

Dec 30, 2018 

Relativity and Common Sense: A New Approach to Einstein

Dec 24, 2018 

Home Fire

Dec 14, 2018 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Nov 20, 2018 


Nov 04, 2018 

A Legacy of Spies

Oct 27, 2018 

Finding April

Oct 24, 2018 

The Shortest History of Germany

Oct 11, 2018 

Lincoln in the Bardo

Sep 21, 2018 

A Matter of Choices: Memoirs of a Female Physicist

Sep 16, 2018 

Home: A Time Traveller's Tales from Britain's Prehistory

Sep 10, 2018 

Kent Dialect

Aug 31, 2018 

Don Camillo And The Devil

Aug 30, 2018 

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Aug 21, 2018 


Aug 09, 2018 

The Last Wild

Aug 08, 2018 

Learn German with Stories: Karneval in K�ln - 10 Short Stories for Beginners

Jul 31, 2018 

Radiation Diaries: Cancer, Memory and Fragments of a Life in Words

Jul 23, 2018 

The Young Atheist's Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life Without God

Jul 03, 2018 

The Old Curiosity Shop

Jun 08, 2018 


May 17, 2018 

Peter Pan & Wendy

May 09, 2018 


May 03, 2018 

The Book of Wonders

Apr 23, 2018 

Walks with Walser

Apr 18, 2018 


Mar 27, 2018 

Girl in a Band: A Memoir

Mar 16, 2018 

What's Next?: Even Scientists Can’t Predict the Future – or Can They?

Mar 09, 2018 

How Not To Be a Boy

Feb 15, 2018 

The Story of the Lost Child (The Neapolitan Novels, #4)

Feb 14, 2018 

Black Sheep

Feb 13, 2018 

In the Heart of the Sea: The Epic True Story That Inspired Moby-Dick

Jan 31, 2018 


Jan 27, 2018 

The Epic of Lofoten

Jan 25, 2018 

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Roy Glauber 1925–2018

I saw (initially from Peter Woit's blog) that Roy Glauber died a few days ago.  Glauber's name is known to nuclear physicists for his approximate treatment of scattering theory which can be applied to nuclear collisions at high energies.  It was an ingredient in some of the seminal work from the nuclear theory group in Surrey when we became the go-to people for the reaction theory needed to understand the reaction of halo nuclei, and the extraction of their sizes. I say "we" – this was slightly before my time at the group.  Here is a paper by Jim Al-Khalili and Jeff Tostevin from 1996 on the subject of nuclear sizes, making use of Glauber theory. 

Nuclear Physics was a relatively small part of Glauber's work.  His biggest thing, at least the thing that got him the Nobel Prize, was his foundational work on quantum optics.  The picture attached to this post is Glauber at the Nobel Prize Ceremony in 2005, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Friday, 28 December 2018

2019 Nuclear Physics Meetings

There was a spate of emails leading up to Christmas from conference and workshop organisers sending reminders or announcements about their conferences.  I thought I would assemble the details, along with some other relevant meetings coming up in low-energy nuclear physics here.  It will help me decide which I might attend.  I'll add more 2019 meetings as I hear about them.

25/02–27/02: ENSAR2 NUSPRASEN Workshop, GSI, Germany
Very much a workshop by the sounds of it, with an aim to stimulate cooperation between laboratories working on superheavy element synthesis research.  The blurb says "It is the opportunity to dwell on topics which are not usually treated in regular conferences or collaboration meetings" [website]

25/03–26/03: Workshop AGATA@LNL for stable beams, Padua, Italy
The first of two meetings in Padua on this list.  This one primarily for those interested in undertaking gamma ray spectroscopy experiments in Legnaro.  If I go to any meetings on this date, it'll be the next one in the list.  [website]

25/03–27/03: 54th ASRC International Workshop "Nuclear Fission and Structure of Exotic Nuclei", Tokai, Japan
From the website: "The meeting will mainly be devoted to new experimental and theoretical achievements in fission, super-heavy nuclei, nuclear reaction and structure of exotic nuclei. Especially, our group is driving a dedicated program using the rare target material, einsteinium-254, for which new results and new proposals will be discussed."  I've set some calculations with einsteinium–254 going to see whether I might find anything interesting enough to talk about.  If so, I'll tell the organisers and see if they'd like to hear my talk.  [website]

19/05–24/05: PLATAN 2019, Mainz, Germany
I didn't put the whole title of this one in the bold header line, because its name is "Merger of the Poznan Meeting on Lasers and Trapping Devices in Atomic Nuclei Research and the International Conference on Laser Probing".  I've been tangentially involved in work related to laser trapping and excitation of nuclei in the form of calculations of isotope shifts, but it's not something I've done much of lately, and I don't expect to attend this one.  [website]

27/05–31/05: 7th Workshop on Level Density and Gamma Ray Strength, Oslo, Norway
I've been to one of these before, in 2015.  The lab in Oslo have a technique (named after them) to measure the quantities used to name this workshop.  I can calculate them, or at least closely related things, and it's not crazy to think of going.  And Oslo is lovely.  [website]

20/05–21/05: TNP19 Theoretical Nuclear Physics in Padova, Padua, Italy
The subtitle is "a meeting in honor of Prof. Andrea Vitturi" and the meeting is organised due to his retirement.  I suppose the attendees will be largely drawn from his collaborators, and those whose research overlaps strongly.  Vitturi has done a lot of work on giant resonances (among many other things), which is relevant to me.  [website]

23/06–29/06: International Workshop on Nuclear Theory #38, Rila Mountains, Bulgaria
The annual workshop organised by the theoretical nuclear physics group in Sofia.  I've been to this a few times and always like to come.  I had to stop when I took over running the MPhys Research Year programme at Surrey, as this meeting is always during our exam board meeting and my attendance became more or less compulsory.   [website]

01/07–05/07: ANPC African Nuclear Physics Conference, Kruger National Park, South Africa
I heard about this when attending COMEX6 in Cape Town in October.  It's a broad conference of fundamental and applied nuclear physics which I'm sure I'd enjoy, and it's in a lovely location.  I've used their website photo on this post above.  I can't really justify going, though.  [website]

29/07–02/08: INPC2019, Glasgow, Scotland
As the conference flyer says, "INPC is the biggest conference in the world for fundamental nuclear physics".  And it's in the UK this year, so the chances of me going are very high.  And it's in one of the UK nicest cities, so that helps too.  I like INPC, with its very broad coverage of nuclear physics areas.  I end up going to a combination of sessions which are right up my street, and others which broaden my horizons.  [website]

25/08–30/08: 6th International Conference on the Chemistry and Physics of the Transactinide Elements (TAN 19), Wilhelmshaven, Germany
I haven't been to editions 1-5 in this series.  I don't expect I an add this to my list of conferences to attend, though fusion reactions (leading to superheavy nuclei) is one thing I work on.  [website]

01/09–07/09:  XXXVI Mazurian Lakes Conference, Piaski, Poland
Every year there is a large nuclear physics conference in Poland – either the Zakopane conference or the Mazurian lakes conference.  I've never been to either.  Maybe one year, but not this, since it clashes with the next conference, which I am co-organising.  [website]

02/09–06/09: 24th European conference on few-body problems in physics, Guildford, UK
Well, I'm a local organiser of this, so I will definitely attend, though more for the scientific interest than because I am any kind of expert with few-body systems.  Mostly I deal with nuclei made of many (rather than few) particles which means particular kinds of approximation in theoretical study, while "few-body" implies a different method of solution.  [website]

09/09–13/09: HIAS2019 Heavy Ion Accelerator Symposium, Canberra, Australia
A long way away from me, in Canberra, but this annual meeting all about heavy-ion reactions of the sort that can be performed at the Canberra accelerator is very relevant to me through my time-dependent Hartree-Fock work.  This year, I (as coordinator of the Surrey MPhys Research Year) have placed two students for research work in Canberra, and I will have to visit them roughly at that time of year, so it wouldn't be crazy to make my visit coincide with the symposium.

15/09–20/09: Nuclear Physics in Astrophysics IX, Frankfurt, Germany
I've been involved with work on nuclear physics for neutron stars, actually going back to my PhD a long time ago which included calculating properties of predicted neutron stars from a particular form of the nuclear interaction.  While I've also done follow-up things more recently, I don't think I will be able to present anything sufficiently interesting and on-topic here.  Of course, attending conferences is more about learning new things than telling everyone else your latest results, but without the latter, it's harder to justify attending.  [website]

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Pictures and Slides from COMEX6

The organisers of the COMEX6 conference which I attended earlier this year have just sent me an email with a link to the slides of presentations, and the photo gallery from the official conference photographer

I pass on a direct link to my slides if you should want them, and I post the nicest picture of me (on the right, with my colleague Bastian Schuetrumpf from GSI on the left)

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Blogger and Google+ comments

Back when I started this blog the main two choices of platform were Blogger or WordPress.  I probably chose the wrong option in going for Blogger, but okay.  

Then Blogger, owned by google, had the option of having its comments managed by Google+.  I'd had a few issues with comments so I thought "why not?".  Again, probably the wrong choice.  Now Google+ is about to be retired, and I am wondering about turning off the "manage comments with google+" option on the blog.  Presumably this will be turned off by force in a few months.  That means all the comments made in the last 6 years or so will be lost, which would be a bit of a disaster.  

Do any readers know of plans to migrate Google+ comments to Blogger comments?  I haven't been able to find anything out by searching with any well-known search engines.

edit: Having tried to search for more information about this, I realise that the way I'd had it set up meant that only users of Google+ were able to leave comments on the blog.  Oh.  That's not what I wanted these last 6 years.  I've just switched off the Google+ link.  Comment away, non-Google+ folk.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Look at the number two in figure number one

In case any readers of this blog missed it (as I did) from when it did the rounds on twitter, I point you at this post in the retraction watch blog.  It points out a figure in a Nature group journal article published in January  which features a piece of shit.  If one zooms in on the aforementioned piece of shit, you see that it bears a likeness of Donald Trump.  Fancy!

From Chiou & Bergey, Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 1975 (2018)
doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-20427-9

Monday, 3 December 2018

Google vs ISI

Following occasional posts in the past (here, here, here) about the functioning of different publication citation databases,  I thought I'd look at the latest state of play by comparing Google Scholar with ISI.  I didn't want to be overwhelmed with a unwieldy data set, so I restricted my analysis to set of papers with a modest citation profile (i.e. those co-authored by me).  The graph below shows my papers, indexed in order according to decreasing number of citations as judged by ISI:
Looking at the most cited papers, it doesn't look like there's a terribly strong correlation between the two databases, though the general trend across the whole slew of publications looks more reasonable with a few notable inconsistencies.  

As researchers and Universities get ready for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (sic), they will be forced to play a game in which citation databases will party inform the panels.  Two possible database options seem to disagree with each other quite radically.  I don't know if the Physics sub-panel will count citations.  The published draft guidelines say:

and that 
which is quite soon.  Still, despite (probably) making use of citation data in deciding what universities' research to fund, they add, for clarity:

update: I can't help playing around a bit with the data.  If I group the publications by journal, then it looks like PRC (Physical Review C) is measured most erratically between the two databases, with data from JPG (Journal of Physics G) also showing quite a few difference of opposite sign. In the plot, the thick black bars show the difference between the two databases for each paper.  Journal name abbreviations are shown where there are at least two papers in that journal.

update 2: I see from the REF website that ISI is to be the chosen database of REF2021

Friday, 23 November 2018

Dear Prudence

I notice that it was 50 years ago yesterday that the Beatles White Album was released, so here is one of my favourite tracks from it:

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Croydon's pneumatic railway

I had some time to kill in Croydon the other day, and went into Croydon Musuem, which contains artefacts and exhibits spanning the last couple of hundred years of Croydon's history.  One interesting technological exhibit is a pipe from Croydon's atmospheric railway. Rather than pull (or push) the train carriages by a locomotive engine, an atmospheric railway uses a pipe which is partially evacuated to suck the train along using pneumatic force.  Some atmospheric railways feature large pipes inside which the whole carriage is placed.  This is the design of the hyperloop system being developed in the USA right now, and was used for non-passenger mail-rail systems in London in the past.  Croydon's used a smaller pipe in which a slug, attached to the carriage, is propelled.  The railway in Croydon never worked very well, as mentioned in the exhibit, pictured here, and the line was converted to a conventional rail line with locomotive engines used on it. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Scientists in da house

The internet is awash with commentary on the car crash that is American politics right now, thanks to its embarrassing and dangerous clown-president.  There have just been mid-term elections there, and I saw some election news at least relevant to this blog;  that there are eight new scientists elected to the US Congress.  One, Elaine Luria, is a nuclear engineer, having majored in Physics and History at the US Naval Academy.  That's her picture, taken from her official campaign website, at the top of the post.

The US congressman–scientist closest, though, to nuclear physics (as opposed to nuclear engineering) is probably Bill Foster, whose 1983 PhD from Harvard was on the experimental limit of proton decay via the reaction p →e+0.  He then went on to a career at Fermilab where, among other things, he was a member of one of the experimental collaborations which observed the top quark and is a coauthor of the discovery paper.

I don't think scientists necessarily make better politicians than those of any other particular background, but having a good range of different sensible backgrounds in any parliament seems like a good idea to me.  I don't know if there's an up-to-date list of scientists in the UK House of Commons, but I do recall a few years ago some clamour at the lack of those with science backgrounds in parliament compared with those with a background in other fields.  Here is one commentary by Mark Henderson suggesting that there was only really one scientist (who had worked in science as opposed to having a degree in science and going into some other career) in parliament in 2012.  This may be an extreme way of measuring, but even counting those with science degrees puts them at a much smaller proportion in parliament than in the graduate population at large.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Lise Meitner at 140

Just over a week ago I missed commenting on the 50th anniversary of the death of Lise Meitner.  She died on 27th October 1968.  Fortunately, I've not missed commemorating her 140th birthday, which is today, 7th Nov 2018.

Lise Meitner, along with Otto Hahn and Otto Frisch, identified the process of nuclear fission in 1939.  This was a major breakthrough in understanding in physics, and of course had a momentous impact in world affairs, as the discovery rapidly led to the atomic bomb only a few years later, thanks to the exigencies of the wartime economy.

Famously, Lise Meitner was not awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery;  that went to Hahn alone.  That aside she had the usual difficulties of doing science in a man's world, such as the lack of access to university education for which she had to fight and get special dispensation.  She was the first female full professor of physics in Germany, in 1926.  The UK, by contrast, first promoted a woman to a professorship only in 1971 (Daphe Jackson at the University of Surrey).

Meitner spent her retirement in the UK, and is buried not too far from Guildford; about 25 miles away in the village of Bramley, next to the family members she came to the UK to spend the final years of her life with.  Here is a picture (from Wikipedia) of her gravestone at Bramley.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Lewis Carroll in Guildford

I was at a 5-year-old's birthday party on Sunday (along with my own 5-year-old, of course) up a street in Guildford called The Mount.  It's a steep residential street that I have never felt inclined to walk up before but, being there, I figured I'd go into the cemetery that is half way up and see Lewis Carroll's grave.  

Lewis Carroll has geographical links with a few places that I have been to because of my career in nuclear physics:  Oxford, where I did my PhD and where he taught mathematics.  The village of Daresbury in Cheshire, where there used to be a world-leading radioactive ion beam facility for nuclear structure research, and there is still a prominent tower that once housed the accelerator, is where Carroll was born.  Guildford is the home of the University of Surrey which has a large nuclear physics group, which is old enough to date back before the University was in Guildford, but was in Battersea.  Lewis Carroll spent quite a bit of time in Guildford after he installed his sisters in a house in the town.  He used to come and spend Christmases with them, and it was during one of these visits that he was taken ill and died.  

The University of Surrey has recently decided to name their building after people (previously they were named in a grid-reference style: AB, BA, BB, etc).  Lewis Carroll is one of the people so chosen, as shown in the picture below.

The other thing which links Lewis Carroll with physics is that many physicists seem to particularly enjoy Lewis Carroll's writing.  This is why they end up as physicists, and not as literary critics.