Friday, 27 September 2013

Here comes semester

It seems that friends, family and colleagues at many universities are already back in the rhythm of semester time.  Here, however, today is that last day of "week minus one", the week that comes before freshers' week when the new students arrive and settle in, which is itself before teaching starts in earnest in the following week.  It's going to be an interesting time in the Physics Department.  We have a record intake of around 120 new starters, which is going to make things busier than before, but having a lot of people wanting to come here to study Physics is a good problem to have.  I'm sure there are lots of reasons why more people want to study physics, and more people want to come and study here.  It's certainly been a good year for the Uni in terms of league tables, and as much as I am equivocal about league tables, given they exist it is mainly a good thing to do well in them.

The transition to semester time will mean that I will spend a lot more time teaching undergraduate courses;  this semester I'm teaching courses in special relativity, some basic computer programming for first year students, and some more advanced computational techniques for final year students.  I do like teaching, and I like interacting with the students, but the change in tempo is quite daunting, and the responsibilities of research and administration do not alter when semester starts. 

The last weeks have featured a lot of grant preparation, some course validation document-writing, research collaborations, including finishing writing up one paper which I started writing a couple of years ago (thanks to the prompting from a visit from my old postdoc who has been here this week), writing up another paper on quantum biology (which I should be finishing up, rather than posting this), and contributing to a third substantial one which documents a code we have been using for some years and are preparing to publish.  

Aside from semester-time activities, I'm hopefully going to Italy in a few weeks to take part in a workshop organised by my colleague Arnau.  I say hopefully, because it depends a bit on the impending birth of my daughter.  Then in the not-very-much-longer term, I will (also hopefully) be running the 10 miles of the Great South Run in Portsmouth.  I had been slacking in the training for that, but yesterday morning hoiked myself out of bed early, and ran for about five miles.  The graphic associated with this post shows my run, and you should be able to see it in more detail by clicking on it.  I am also planning to raise some money, through sponsorship for the run, for the mental health charity MIND.  I'll make a separate (begging) post about that in due course.

Still, looking on an even shorter term than Monday of freshers' week, is this weekend.  As well as the day job, I am a warden on campus, meaning that I live here and provide a combination of pastoral care and disciplinary action within the campus residence.  It also means I'll be very busy greeting people arriving this weekend, helping to welcome our new arrivals no matter what course they are studying.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Visit to Virginia

I've been in Virginia for the last couple of days, visiting one of our MPhys students, who is spending his Research Year at Jefferson Lab, in Newport News, Virginia, in the US. 

The picture on the left shows the student, Alex, left, and his local supervisor on the project, Jerry, right.  The picture is obviously posed, in that I asked them both to pose for the picture, but it is  also perhaps misleadingly staged, in that I took it when Jerry took me and Alex on a tour of the experimental facilities.  JLab is undergoing an upgrade, so there are not experiments going on at the moment, and Alex is working on the development of software that will be used in analysing the forthcoming experiments.   It seemed a bit less mundane, though, to take the picture of him underground in the accelerator tunnel.  

Behind Alex and Jerry is the long straight part of the tunnel where electrons are accelerated as they go round in a kind of racetrack path, with the two straight accelerating sections joined by arcs at either end through which the electrons are bent. 

I walked round much of the tunnel, and into one of the experimental halls, known as Hall B (surprisingly situated between Hall A and Hall C).  It was possible to go into the hall because no experiment was running, and instead of a beam of high energy electrons going into the hall, there was a stream of highly skilled technicians, working on the upgrade of the detector.  The central part of the Hall was empty, though it would normally be filled with a vast detector, and it is the new version of that detector that Alex is working on the software for.  

The picture on the right shows part of the old detector, which will stay in place to be augmented by a more sophisticated detector.  If you click on the picture, you should be able to see an enlarged version, but even without enlarging, you might be able to see the guy standing on the floor to the left of the detector.  It gives a sense of the scale.  The thing is huge.  I took some more pictures, which you can see here.  At least I hope you can.  Social networks have made it harder to share URLs and know that you will see what I intend you to...

It's quite a flying visit to the US.  I arrived late on Sunday, landing at Richmond Airport at 23:45 local time on Sunday.  I spent yesterday visiting Alex and Jerry, and am flying back today.  Perhaps fortunately for me, though, is that the flight back doesn't leave until the afternoon, so I've spent some of the day at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art.  If you want to see the pictures I took of that, you can look at this facebook photo album.  I've made it publicly viewable, but who knows if that means "public-who-have-facebook-accounts" or not. 

I'll be home tomorrow morning, no doubt refreshed by my overnight flight in economy, ready for a full day of work, and then hosting this event in the evening.  Come along, if you're free and you've read until the end of the post.

Monday, 2 September 2013

But the days grow short when you reach September

Well, it's September already.  I've just got returned from a holiday to the Maghreb, and now it's solidly back to work.  It feels like summer's over, and indeed my daughter returns from our holiday to find school about to start up again.  

For me, it's not quite like that;  Undergraduate students don't come for another month yet, so it's still the summer for me at work.  I've got a busy month ahead, including, amongst other things, writing exam papers, visiting a student on placement in Virginia, finishing up a paper based on the work of a PhD student who left a couple of years ago, writing up proceedings from my conference in Bulgaria earlier in the summer, prepare for teaching in the forthcoming semester, supervising my postdoc and PhD student and hosting a visit from my ex-postdoc, who is now a visiting fellow here.  Oh, and depending on timing, maybe taking some paternity leave, though that may well fall in the first part of October. 

Still, coffee first.