Thursday, 18 December 2014

REF for Surrey Physics

As everyone in the UK University world is aware, today is the day that the results of the REF – the "Research Excellence Framework" come out.  The results are used to determine how a hefty pot of University funding is distributed, the so-called QR or Quality-Related funding (as opposed to funding won through specific research grants).  Doing well in the REF is therefore very important if you want to have time funded to spend on research.

At Surrey, Physics did creditably.  25% of our submitted research (in the form of papers, and other evidence of impact of research) was considered 4* or "world-leading", 59% was 3* or "internationally excellent" and 16% was 2* "internationally recognised" with nothing falling into 1* ("nationally recognised") or unclassified.  How this will be turned into funding is not yet clear, but I think that's a good result for us, and a steady improvement on last time.  

I should give due credit to my colleagues who did a vast amount of work preparing the case.  Thanks all.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

MPhys student placement prize

At Surrey, we send our MPhys students away for a year of their studies to perform a research project at an external institution.  This is a bit different to most UK MPhys programmes, and derives from Surrey's history of always sending out its students on traditional sandwich years.

Thanks to the nature of the Physics Department's research strengths and our external research links, quite a proportion of our students go on placements in nuclear physics.  One such student, Tom Dyer, is on placement right now at AWE (the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment) and got to present his work at a conference (SPIE Security + Defence Conference, Sep 2014).  This is already a great thing for an undergraduate student to be able to do as part of their studies.  That wasn't enough for Tom, though -- he also had to go ahead and win the prize for the best student paper in the "Electro-Optical and Infra-red Systems: Technology and Applications" section.  His work is on using fibre-optic cables to make tamper-indicating enclosures for use in nuclear arms control.  The full paper is available here (though you might need to access it from a IP address inside a subscribing institution - I'm not entirely sure).

Well done, Tom!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Gruesome extracurricular activities

In the past I've reported on some of the successes of Surrey physics students in their academic endeavours.  This time it's the turn of one of our final year undergraduates, George, who won, along with the rest of the band he's in, Joanna Gruesome, this year's Welsh Music Prize, for their first LP, Weird Sister.  They were up against some stiff competition, including the Manic Street Preachers, and ex-Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys.  

Well done George and the rest of the band.  See you in relativity class tomorrow...

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Clashing events

I received an email from the Institute of Physics Nuclear Industry Group about an interesting talk they are organising on 20th November at 7pm.  It's on the topic of the closure of the last nuclear civil research reactor in the UK; Imperial College's CONSORT reactor, in Ascot, Surrey.

It may come as a surprise that Universities used to have their own nuclear reactors for research.  These are much smaller reactors than commercial power station reactors, and were used for all sorts of research into nuclear reactors themselves and related materials and engineering problems, along with applications of the neutrons to research into solid state physics, neutron physics itself, and applications of radiochemistry.  What's more well-known is that the first nuclear reactor was a University–based research reactor, known as Chicago Pile-1, built under a sports field on the University of Chicago campus.

I expect the organisers of the talk will not mind me giving them some free advertising to readers of a specialist nuclear physics blog, and details can be found on the IoP Nuclear Industry Group's published newsletter, for those interested.  

I'd go to the talk, except for the fact that my colleagues Jim Al–Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden have invited me to the launch party for their new book "Life on the Edge" – a scholarly tome about microfauna inhabiting U2's guitarist a popular exposition of the role of quantum mechanics in biology.  The launch party clashes with the nuclear physics talk, alas, and I've already said yes to the party.  Such is life.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Crossword prize!

On most weekends I attempt to buy the newspaper (The Independent, or Independent on Sunday) and then attempt to read some of it, and do the prize crossword.  More often than not, I succeed in some measure in doing these things, though I often don't end up buying the paper until late on in the day, if at all.  This weekend, I've managed to buy the newspaper both days, and read a good amount of them.  I've done the crossword from yesterday, but not started today's yet.  Still, I was alerted via Twitter this morning that I won the crossword prize for last week's Sunday prize crossword.  How exciting!  I shall gratefully receive the dictionaries that come as the prize, though perhaps like most people that solve crosswords, I do happen already to own a reasonably good set of crosswords.  Perhaps they ought to start offering as prizes the sort of things crossword solvers would be rather unlikely to own.  I'm not sure what that would be, exactly.  Any ideas?

Friday, 24 October 2014

Visiting Oak Ridge

My last post was about a visit to UMass, Lowell, to see a student on placement as part of the MPhys research year as a University of Surrey student.  After a tedious day of delayed and cancelled flights, I made it form Manchester (New Hampshire) Airport to Knoxville (Tennessee) Airport, and on from there to Oak Ridge, where the University travel agents had booked me in the Quality Inn.  One might assume that anywhere that feels the need to put such positive words in their establishment's name must feel it has something to prove.  In common with most standard US motels, it was perfectly decent, if not distinguished in its quality.  An Acceptable Inn, perhaps it should have been called.

I spent yesterday visiting Sarah, who has spent her year in the wild recesses of a part of Tennessee once considered sufficiently remote from civilisation to have a secret city for the Manhattan project built there.  As expected, Sarah is getting on famously there, and the visit was more of a formality and an excuse to thank the hosts for looking after her with dinner in the brilliantly–named Chez Guevara restaurant.  Not only does it have a good name, but it was better Mexican food that you could reasonably expect in Tennessee.

Now I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina, hoping to be on a plane back to London, but sitting in the departure area because the plane has "maintenance issues".  At least it gives me a chance to write a little post about my visit to Sarah in Oak Ridge.  Unlike with Bobby in UMass, I didn't go around the lab and get a good picture for this post.  Instead, here's a snap from the oldest part of Oak Ridge – the slowly decaying area with sidewalks where people used to be seen out and about, before cars and strip malls became synonymous with the outdoors.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Visiting Lowell

One of the things that makes our MPhys programmes at Surrey different to other places, is that our students spend a year away from their home institution on a research placement.  It could be at another university, or at a private or government laboratory, and it could be close to home, or far away.  Wherever it is, our students get a unique experience of physics research.  

When our students are out on placement, they get visited by us – the Surrey academics – to make sure things are going okay, and to provide a bit of contact between the home and host institutions.  Today was my turn to visit one of our students, Bobby, on placement at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.  I've never been to Lowell before, or met the group here, so it was a real pleasure for me to come and see them, and the University here.  Lowell is an old industrial mill town in the Northern part of Massachusetts, near the border with New Hampshire.  Very different from the parts of the US that I know well, such as Tennessee, where I used to live.  I'm pleased to say that Bobby is getting on very well here.  He's enjoyed his time greatly, and there has been a lot of mutual benefit between him and the group with his being here, working on radiation detectors.  

The picture shows Bobby (left) with the two professors here that he's been working with – Partha Chowdhury and Kim Lister.  They are standing next to the main beam line of the accelerator facility housed at the UMass campus.

Tomorrow I head to my old stomping ground of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to see Sarah, who is on placement there. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

I was in France

As promised, last week I attended a workshop in France, at GANIL (pictured) in Caen.  I talked about the work of Phil, my recently–completed PhD student who, and whose work, has featured much in recent posts.  My talk seemed to go down well, and some good comments inspired some useful concepts to bring up in the paper that I am (supposed to be) writing up.  I shall have to acknowledge the commenters in the paper.

I was glad I went to the meeting, though it was a little bit of a flying visit.  I spent more time travelling than attending the meeting, and had little time to see the sights.  As ever in France, I made an attempt to talk to people in French.  Mostly they responded to me in English, which certainly aided my understanding of them.  

France now seems like a long time ago.  I'm now in the USA, to visit some of our (University of Surrey's) MPhys students on their research placements.  All this travelling and waiting round at airports means that I should have plenty of time to get on with things.  I have a to-do list for my trip and have been getting through the tasks.  Writing this blog post isn't on it, but getting on with my edit of the papers coming out of Phil's thesis is (along with preparing course material, commenting on student reports, my annual appraisal, preparing some slides for a colleague who is on his way to a partner university, chasing up some placement student possibilities for next year, and writing some BSc project proposals).  I will try to knock one of those things of the list now, before I head out for the evening.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

We stop-start, shoogled aboot in our seats

I spent today in a meeting in Edinburgh talking about the activity in UK nuclear theory to the committee of NuPECC - a Europe-wide body that oversees nuclear physics research activity.  I had the prescience to book a flight up yesterday that was due to leave around 5:30pm.  Prescient because all flights from Heathrow seemed delayed by around two hours because of the weather.  Rather than getting to my hotel at around 8:30pm, I was there more like 10:30pm.  But okay - I certainly came off better than my poor colleague who were booked on flights due to leave around 8pm.  I think she got to bed around 2am.

The hotel was a cheap one I found on  It started off a bit badly when the night porter tried to let me in and managed instead to lock us both out, asking if I had a phone so he could get us back in.  Poor guy - I think it was one of his first nights on the job.   The hotel was nice, and I slept just fine, and walked over to the part of campus of the University of Edinburgh where the science stuff is.  Of course, it is a rule of old Universities that arts subjects happen in the old buildings in the centre of town, and science subjects in new buildings further away.  

The meeting went just fine.  There were a bunch of talks by different members of the UK community - an overview, then talks from different physics areas.  I covered, or tried to, all the physics areas where theorists contribute.  I think people generally listened to my talk, and there were certainly a few questions at the end.  

Following lunch, I can say that the University of Edinburgh mass catering department is quite good.  The sandwiches were reasonable, and they had these nice empanada things with hot sauce, which I ate perhaps too many of.  In fact, straight after lunch I shared a taxi with some STFC brethren (including sororial brethren) to the airport, sitting in one of the fold-down seats that face backwards in black cabs and soon developed quite some travel sickness.   I have no idea if the over-consumption of these empanadas was a cause. To be fair, the cab was jolting about quite a lot, and I guess it was nice in some ways that the driver mounted the pavement to get us to the airport sooner.  Boy, I felt sick though.  Elizabeth gallantly swapped seats with me, which helped, but it wasn't until around the time I got on the flight that I really felt much better.  Weird - I don't often get travel sick these days, though I did when I was a kid. 

The taxi ride inspired the title of this post, from this poem by Stephanie Green 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

I wanna be nuclear theory

I'm heading to Edinburgh later today in readiness for a meeting tomorrow morning.  The meeting is a NUPECC (Nuclear Physics European Collaboration Committee) meeting in which various members of the UK nuclear physics community are being asked to present talks to the committee to give them an overview of what goes on in the UK in nuclear physics research.  

I've been asked to give a talk entitled "Nuclear Theory in the U.K."  Hopefully all the committee members will understand the provenance of my title slide, shown in the picture attached to this post.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Doogy Lev

A few weeks ago, as I was enjoying the nut roast on a Sunday lunchtime in the White House pub in Guildford, I caught a snippet from a travel advice program on the TV on the wall of the pub, talking about Bulgaria.  It was the usually reliable Simon Calder, and I thought I heard him say that the currency in Bulgaria was the Euro.  That seemed like bad travel advice, since the currency there is the Lev, though I dare say Euros are accepted in hotels and so on.  

Anyway, I made a comment to my companions about it, and one of them said that I should send then a Tweet, so I did.  Lo and behold, some weeks later (today), I had a notification on Twitter that the BBC travel show wanted to use my comment on the show, and could I send a picture taken by someone who would give permission for them to use it.  

Well, my wife# suggested I send the picture taken by her friend Roger a few years ago (it's the one attached to this post), since she thought it was nice.  I thought I ought to therefore ask him if it was okay for me to do that, and he said that it was.  I feel it only fair to suggest that anyone looking to buy  detectors for their Synchrotron facility should look no further than Quantum Detectors, whose CEO is said Roger.  As you can see from the picture, he has a fine eye for detecting photons.

# Not really my wife - we're not married, but I'm too old to refer to her as my girlfriend.  

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

It's semester time again

Well, there is no doubt that we are back into semester time.  The campus is thronging with students, not least in the residence blocks, where I -- as a campus warden -- reside alongside them.  In the Physics Department itself, I've yet to see the students, as the central University organ increasingly organises campus-wide induction events for them, and I will miss the Departmental undergraduate reception we throw tomorrow.  On the other hand, I have actually met some physics students, when going round my residence area last night to chat to the new arrivals.  So, I guess that is summer gone - with its three-month window for getting lots of things done.  I certainly did things - perhaps even the right things - but of course my to-do list still has quite a few aspirations on it.  Never mind!  I'll get through them, and enjoy moving back into the time of year when I interact more with the UG students.  Special Relativity and introductory computing for me this semester...

The picture is from the halls of residence where I live, showing that over the summer, the University refurbish the rooms.  This photo was taken on chair-replacement day.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Well done Dr Goddard

Yesterday, for the first time since May last year, I found myself sitting in a room while my PhD student underwent his viva voce examination.  I'm pleased to say he did a great job, but with an external examiner who was very impressed with the thesis, it was always going to be a fairly painless event -- which is not to say that the student in question, Phil, was not a bit nervous beforehand.  

Now I am down to a single student, of whom I'm the lowly second supervisor (with Jim Al-Khalili).  He is planning to submit his thesis very shortly, and I'll be down to none.  Sad face.

Phil's thesis was on fission, using a microscopic quantum theory to undertake the most extensive study at such a level of fundamental theory.  Now he has left, and has a job, and it is up to me, and Phil's co-supervisor to make sure we publish the work coming out of his thesis.  Past experience tells me that when a student leaves their PhD to take up a job in another field, I need to get a paper written up quickly, if it is to ever appear.  For someone who has just finished a PhD, Phil already has a good publication record.  He'll get another couple of papers to add to the tally, but alas for nuclear physics, he's taken a look at the job prospects and the typical life of a post-doc, and got a proper job.

The plot at the top is from Phil's thesis and shows a few snapshots of a simulation of the fission of an isotope of plutonium.  Phil also put a couple of genuine "movies" in his thesis, in the form of flip-book animations in the corners.  I wonder if this is a first?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Biographical Songs

This is very tangential for a blog about nuclear physics, but it comes from the fact that a singer I like is coming to Guildford -- home of my august research institution -- in a few weeks, and I shall be going to see her.  One of my favourite songs from her most recent album is a paean to another musician.  Called That Alice, it's about Alice Coltrane, a jazz harpist and pianist, whose surname she took up her marriage to musician John Coltrane.

I remember finding it strange and disappointing when I was a kid to have films come on which were set actually in Hollywood, and were about aspiring actors trying to make it in the film industry.  It seemed a bit of a lazy trick -- but my family liked watching them (which was true of films in general, in a way I wasn't, really) and I would end up seeing them.  I no longer have the same antipathy, but somehow I never even developed one to the musical analogue.  I think I was just always a whole lot more into music than films.

I'm not aware of too many examples of this sub-genre, but I post three here, which are all songs about other musicians, and that I all like very much.  I'll go in age order -- oldest first -- with the Animals' Story of Bo Diddley

Next is Pavement singing about R.E.M. in Unseen Power of the Picket Fence

and finally Laura Veirs with That Alice.  I hope she plays it on 15th

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Old Durham Town

Yesterday I went to Durham to give a talk in the DiRAC day - a symposium dedicated to scientific and technical results from the use of the STFC's supercomputing facilities. I gave a talk representing the work of the theoretical nuclear physics group at Surrey - mostly mine and Carlo's work actually. 

I arrived at Durham station at 10am, which gave me plenty of time for a walk along the river to the University.  I'd never been to Durham before, except passing through on the train.  It's a very pretty place, and it was a perfect autumnal morning to see the castle and cathedral through a little mist, with university boat crews training on the Wear in the foreground.

Although some of the University is in the old part of town, naturally the sciences are hived off in modern buildings a little further away.  Still, that part of campus seemed pretty nice.  I walked past  a Bill Bryson Library, though didn't find a Leslie Grantham House.  I picked up my badge from the registration desk and tried to book a taxi for the afternoon to take me back to the station. "Oh, we can't get a taxi for the afternoon," they said, "not at that time -- not with all the schools, you see?"

The first session consisted of a series of longer talks from a range of different collaborations that use the DiRAC computer - a combination of QCD and astro/cosmology projects.  The the lunch break was announced with a "lunch is in the upstairs meeting room.  Vegetarians should make sure they get there quickly."  I hadn't heard that at a conference for ten years or so.  Fortunately there was no problem and I got some (rather nice) lunch.  

I gave my talk after lunch.  Hopefully people enjoyed it.  No-one asked any questions, though they didn't in any of the talks in that session, which were in diverse ranges of science.   The chair stepped-up admirably to the mark, though, with a question for me (about future plans - always a good stand-by)

I couldn't write a post about Durham, without including Roger Whittaker singing one of his signature tunes.  Enjoy!

Friday, 19 September 2014

The New York Post

In pretty big news for theoretical nuclear physics in the UK, the University of York have just announced that they have two new posts up for grabs in nuclear theory - a professorship and a lectureship.  On the scale of things, a job opening might not sound so very newsworthy, but given that theoretical nuclear physics has dwindled so much in Britain to such an extent that the press release above cites only Manchester and Surrey as other places doing theory# - having a new group start is quite a big deal.  Now, I wonder who might apply...

It seemed sort of obvious to make some kind of "New York" pun in the title of the blog post.  In picking an accompanying graphic/video, I've gone for a much more tangential thing - a song which is purely about New York City.  If you don't like the first three minutes, try to plough past that, because that's where the best bits are.

# This is not exactly what the press release says, but it's reasonably uncontroversial to say that Manchester and Surrey have the only two nuclear theory groups in the UK - with a total headcount in single figures.  However, one could argue that the collaboration spread out over a few Universities (Kent, Cambridge, Durham) that works on Skyrmions, and at least some of the Lattice QCD people could be called nuclear theorists.  Part of the reason that one often doesn't is that they don't go via the STFC Nuclear Physics funding schemes, and don't habitually get involved in IoP Nuclear Physics Group (or its annual conference) so they self-identify as Mathematical Physics and Particle Physics respectively.  

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Job opening at Surrey

Guildford Cathedral + a play park 
Following the recent STFC Nuclear Physics Consolidated Grant round, and the award of a grant to our group at Surrey, we have an opening for a Research Fellow in theoretical nuclear physics.  The job advert is here -- closing date 21st November.  Tell your friends to apply (if your friends are theoretical nuclear physicists looking for a post-doctoral position).  

The nuclear group - and indeed the whole physics department - at the University of Surrey is a nice place to work.  We're a friendly bunch, and there is a capacious desk waiting for the successful applicant in our post-doc office.  

Guildford itself is a popular place to live, mostly because it is easy to leave, via the train to London.  Still - it has much to offer over many other commuter towns in the South-East.  It's in a pretty location in the middle of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It's also the nearest big town for quite a large local area, with all the amenities that come with it.  Bizarrely, though, for a town of its middle class credentials, it doesn't have a branch of Waitrose, but fear not, because one is due to open next year.  Besides which, there's a shop just off North Street that sells quinoa.  Also, Guildford occasionally returns an MP who is not Conservative, though never one who is not conservative.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Conferences galore

It seems to be the week for announcement of conferences and workshops.  I guess once one person sends round an email fixing dates in peoples calendar, everyone else planning an event has to get their dates in the collective consciousness, too.   So, an interesting-looking conference is taking place in Slovakia next May, and another in Finnish lapland in April (with no website yet, but the graphic from the flyer is attached to this post.  This adds to a Slovenian conference in June that was announced a while back.  Then there's COMEX5 in Poland in September.  I mentioned this before since the organisers were so kind as to invite me onto the international organising committee.

For those interested in travelling to Eastern Europe, nuclear physics is a really good thing to be studying.  Largely this is a relic of cold war days, when each country wanted to be seen to be active in basic nuclear physics, alongside other applied nuclear activities.  The legacy continues with research activity today.  A much more comprehensive list of conferences is kept by NuPECC - the European nuclear physics umbrella body.  It demonstrates that there are other parts of the world where nuclear physics conferences take place.  The last two on the list (as of the time of writing) look rather tempting...

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Physics acronyms

I posted yesterday about getting a flyer for a big conference happening next year.  Then today, I got an advert about a smaller one happening next month, which is in fact the next conference I'm going to, as I'm an invited speaker at it.  

It's taking place under the banner of "FUSTIPEN".  I love this acronym.  It stands for France-US-Theory Institute for Physics with Exotic Nuclei.  Most physics acronyms at least make the effort of invoking some classical figure or other, and have a painfully contrived way of making it work.  Not theorists, though - making something vaguely pronounceable is enough for them.  Funnily enough, along with FUSTIPEN, there is also a JUSTIPEN (Japan) and CUSTIPEN (China).  In other word-play, going to France means I am flying in to Orly airport.  I must remember to post a selfie of me there looking a bit confused, captioned with "O RLY?"

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

EuNPC and mailing lists

Had an email today advertising the 2015 European Nuclear Physics Conference, and thought I'd pass it on here.  I've not been to either of the previous two outings of this conference series, though the first one, in Bochum in 2009 was attended by my then-postdoc.  These days I don't have a post-doc.  In fact, there are no longer any theoretical nuclear physics postdocs working in the UK, thanks to drops in funding, though we will have one at Surrey in the near future.  One is not a large number.

This one is in Groningen, in the Netherlands.  I've never been there, so it might be a nice excuse to visit.  Perhaps, of course, they will invite me to give a talk *cough* and then I'll be sure to go.  It's not the most exotic part of Europe -- and I perhaps should have attended the previous one, in Bucharest in 2012, seeing as I've never been to Romania.  The biscuit, though, was taken by a conference in the CompStar series.  CompStar is short for Compact Star, which is a term referring to the dense remnants (such as neutron stars) that are the end stage of normal star evolution.  There is a lot of nuclear physics going on in working out the properties of these stars, and one of my colleagues attended the conference.  It had to be somewhere in the EU, as I understand, because of some EU funding.  So, one of the organisers arranged for it to be in his home town, in Tahiti.  Because of the way France deals with its overseas territories, they are all part of the EU on the same basis as any other part of France (hence the curiosities in the maps on the Euro banknotes).

The email about the conference came via one of the nuclear physics mailing lists I am subscribed to.  It ended with the line "To unsubscribe from the NUSTAR list, click the following link: &*TICKET_URL(NUSTAR,SIGNOFF);".  So, some glitch there, which is no problem.  I don't want to unsubscribe, and If I did I could easily ask them.  It reminds me of a more painful e-mail related problem I am suffering at the moment, though:

It started, I think, when some paid advertising by the Conservative Party appeared on my Facebook wall and asked if I'd like to give the Tories some comments or feedback by filling in a poll.  Ever happy to tell the Conservative Party what I think of them, I went ahead and did it.  I then clicked on the box to agree that they could get in touch with me if they wanted to know more about what I thought about them, and gave them my email address.  

Then the emails started - The first was sent by Boris Johnson, and was written in an terrible style -- very tabloid (or BBC News website) with separate paragraphs each of short sentences.  That weird style that no-one uses to communicate, but someone has decided makes the message easy to digest.  The content was an attack on Ed Milliband, ending with a link for me to click asking for me to donate £10 to the Tories to "make sure [Ed] never gets in to Number 10".   I've now had about a dozen of the messages (around 2 per week) from various people, including David Cameron.  They are not all purely negative campaign emails, but most of them are.  David Cameron's was actually an exception, having a Better Together message.

They are pretty awful, though, and so I tried to unsubscribe.  Each email ends with a line saying "to opt out of messages from David Cameron and the Conservative Party, send a blank message to this address" with the "this address" part hyperlinked.  The sad thing is, though, that the unsubscribe mechanism doesn't work.  Every time I have tried, my blank email to them returns with a bounce message, and I keep getting these emails.  It's almost tempting to write a spoof campaigning email in the same style, complaining that they can't even run a mailing list, yet want to run a country. Sigh. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Nuclear Physics Forum

I've spent the day attending a meeting of the Nuclear Physics Forum at Daresbury Lab, Cheshire.  It's a kind of political community powwow for nuclear physics academics to discuss matters of funding, community management, strategy and so on.  Other areas of physics research that fall within the STFC funding remit organise themselves quite well with a voice to lobby policymakers and funders when they need to, and we haven't always done it quite so well.  Partly that's about size and manpower ... but here were were today to give us all a little kick to do things.  

One of the things is to set up a new community website.  It's, perhaps surprisingly, the first time I think we've done this in such a community-wide way.  Here it is, and I am now the official Surrey editor.  Hopefully we will keep some momentum up to make it all worthwhile.  One positive thing to have come out of it all is the formalised graduate school which we use to train our PhD students.  

Getting to Daresbury is always a bit tricky.  It's too far to drive.  Not literally, but practically for me.   Train is okay, but from the other side of London it's a pain, and then it's a fairly lengthy taxi at the Daresbury end.  So I flew up - 30 minutes after the taxi picked me up from campus, I was through security in Terminal 5 at DHeathrow and it's a 20 minute drive in a hire car at the other end...  I'm not sure it's the best way, but a bit more relaxed than other options.   The picture is from Manchester Airport this evening.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The baby names of summer

In August, the Office of National Statistics publish tables of names given to babies in the previous year in England and Wales.  You can download an excel spreadsheet of the data from their web site.  Scotland's General Register Office did the same for Scotland-born bairns back in March, available on their web site.

I always find it kind of interesting, but since I have a child born last year, I was especially interested to see the names.  Our baby is called Alba.  When I tell people this, they usually say "that's an ... interesting name" which I usually take to mean they think it is an unusual name - or perhaps not a real name at all.  Maybe this is just my prejudice, as it was my reaction when my other half first suggested it.  I didn't think it was a proper name that people actually had.  She had seen it in the book The Time-Traveller's Wife and liked it from there.  Fortunately, we had the 2012 baby name data to look at, and Alba came in at rank 483, with 91 Albas born in 2012.  That's above Frances (89 of them), Veronica (77), Gemma (73), Bridget (52) and Caroline (28) but below Princess (97), Jorja (102), Lacey-Mae (107), Lillie-Mae (108), Gracie-Mae (123), Lilly-Mae (158), Lilly-May (179), Ellie-Mae (189), Lily-May (192), Ellie-May (207) and Lily-Mae (232).  I was sufficiently convinced that Alba was a real name, and it grew on me.

Last year, there were 118 Albas born.  Funnily enough, when we started going to baby activities and hanging out with other babies and their parents, we came across two other Albas in Guildford, making it the only name that multiple baby girls -- that we know -- have.

It's interesting seeing how once-common names have become uncommon, and that names I hadn't really heard of have become quite common.  Take my own name -- Paul.  In the year of my birth (1974) it was the most common boys name (in England and Wales at least, though I was born in Scotland), and had been moderately popular for some time before that.  It didn't take too long to drop way down the ranking.   The plot attached shows where Paul came in the boys name list for about a hundred year period.  The graph of other once-common names looks pretty similar.  In 2013, Paul was in position #285, off the scale on the graph I made a few years ago. Names more popular than Paul (in 2013) include Aryan, Zayn and Jace, which are all a bit unfamiliar to me, as well as some I'd have thought to be rather old-fashioned, like Sidney and Wilfred.

The ONS list for England and Wales give names only down to those with at least 3 occurrences "using S40 of the Freedom of Information Act in other to protect the confidentiality of individuals", so you can't see the really unusual and unique names, though names with three occurrences (amongst girls) include Weam, Wan, Tallulah-Blu, Shy, Ren, Pal, Meta, Lolly, Lava, Disney and Bellatrix. Boys' names occurring thrice include Ze, Tory, The, Rj, Pious, Pa, Or, King-David, Greatness and Berk. 

Scotland's GRO shows no such qualms about showing names given to fewer than three babies, so if you follow the link above, and are so inclined, you can see all the one-off names given in Scotland.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Cheers, Phil

Today is one of those rare days in my career when I say goodbye to one of my PhD students because they are done - finished writing their PhD and about to go off to pastures new.  Phil - my student in the picture - has finished writing his PhD, and his only task for his last day tomorrow is to take the version he has printed this evening to the binders and then to the postgraduate office to hand it in.  He's starting a job on Monday, but will be back to defend his thesis in due course.  

This leaves me with no PhD students (at least not as principal supervisor) so please do tell all eligible candidates to come my way, and that they too can look mildly pleased in the future to have completed their PhD.

I think, for a PhD student, Phil has a pretty respectable publication record - see here (and that doesn't cover his main thesis results).  Too bad he has realised that there are some good opportunities in non-academic life.  If only I had, all those years ago... It's A-level results day today.  I got my results 22 years ago, and they took me to University.  The peers of mine who did not go to University now have a much better standard of living than I do thanks (among other things) to getting on the UK housing market, which is constantly propped up by recent conservative governments whether Conservative or Labour.  It's not necessarily a terrible injustice that this is the case, but it's certainly one way in which government policy has (probably) unintended consequences.  I'd rather be able to tell students a more positive story.  

Monday, 11 August 2014

Turning 40

Ayr beach, recently
The last few weeks in my non-virtual life have been quite busy.  I seem to be getting older and more stuck in my ways, so as well as going to the same conference in Bulgaria as I've been to in succession for the last few years, I also went on the same summer holiday to stay with my cousin and her family in Ayr.  That was a lot of fun, as always.  It's nice to see them, and nice for my daughters to hang out with my cousin's kids.  

Since I've been back, I've had a few celebrations for turning 40 years old.  The weekend before last most of my family came down and we had a nice lunch in Guildford's finest pub (the Drummond).  They came then because they couldn't make the party this weekend on Saturday, that being closest in date to my 40th birthday on Friday.  I had a lovely time.  In fact, it turned out that my Dad did make it to the party after all, albeit at 11pm.  He wasn't going to be able to make it because he works on the cricket test matches for the telly.  He wasn't expecting the match to end when it did...

Normal service, whatever that is, should resume here about now.  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

"Many, if not most, particle physicists despised nuclear physics"

My recent post mentioning Skyrmions has prompted me to walk down the corridor to get back my copy of Selected Papers, with Commentary, of Tony Hilton Royle Skyrme, which I bought on a whim when World Scientific were having a sale.  A quick search through my email reveals I bought 9 books at the time, all for £6 each.  I guess I thought it was a great bargain at the time, and actually I've made decent use of some of the books.  I don't suppose I'll ever open the 1200-page Sixty Years of Double Beta Decay but it may give me a bit of exercise next time I have to move offices.

Anyway, I thought I'd try to get better acquainted with the basics of Skyrmions, and it seemed like a good place to start.  I haven't got onto the real subject matter yet, but can't resist quoting this from the preamble to the commentary on the Skyrmion papers (which form one section of the book).  Penned by the editor, Gerald E. Brown, who died recently -- there is a special issue of Nuclear Physics A coming out soon in his honour (see here) -- it is written in an informal way discussing the history of the Skyrmion and its links with other field theory approaches to nuclei and nucleons.  He (Brown) says
I told [Feynman] that the MIT bag model of quarks was simply too large;  it had a radius R of ~ 1 fm. With such a large radius, the nucleons would be like grapefruit in a bowl.  It would be difficult to see how they could perform the independent motion that they exhibit in the shell model.

Feynman responded by a number of objections and penetrating questions, but he was obviously intrigued.  This was a great stimulation to me, since many, if not most, particle physicists despised nuclear physics.  (In fact the only criticism that I have of Sanyuk's article is that it tries to convert Tony Skyrme retroactively into a particle theorist.)  Feynman asked me how I wanted to compress the MIT bag.  I told him that the pion cloud would compress the quarks.  Only later, I discovered that in the Skyrme model, the pion cloud compressed the quarks to a point, the point source of the baryon number.

The underlining is mine.  The whole prologue is written in the same style -- the sort of freewheeling arrogance that big-name professors sometimes profess.  Quite a rollicking read, really.  But is it true? Do most particle physicists really hate nuclear physics?  It would explain a lot.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Graduation week - for me too

As I walked across campus this morning, I saw the sight of many people dressed up smartly, some in academic dress, for it is (undergraduate) graduation week at the University of Surrey.  Today, it's the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences (aka FHMS).  My faculty ("FEPS" = Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences) is on Friday, and I'll be present at the afternoon ceremony to see our students graduate.  The other two faculties on campus presumably have their ceremonies tomorrow and Thursday.  One of these faculties, by the way, is now called "FBEL" = Faculty of Business, Economics and Law.  It used to be called the Faculty of Management and Law, with the abbreviation FML, which I'm sure caused much amusement to the students before it was deemed that it needed to change.

It can't really be denied that graduation ceremonies are a bit on the boring side, but for the period of the ceremony when the person or people you are there to see are graduating, it's actually rather nice.  I get to see the students who I worked with for their Final Year Projects, and taught in several other courses.  Students who were my personal tutees, students who I know struggled with problems of an academic and non-academic nature, now reaping the reward of their hard work and perseverance.  Occasionally I also see a student who I utterly fail to recognise and wonder why - perhaps because they studied more from books than from lectures or were unusually quiet, or didn't take my optional courses.  Indeed, now that our intake is the size it is, there will be some students who I will never teach, given the way the teaching allocation currently stands.

As I mentioned last year, and the year before, and the year before that,  I have been taking some Open University maths courses for fun, and to give myself the stick of assignments and deadlines to force me to learn some things I never formally did before.  It's been fun (mostly) and it's been useful for several reasons -- not just that I learned new things, but also because it has reminded me what it is actually like to be a student in terms of having particular assignments to do, exams to do, and even what interacting with a University from the other side is like.  Of course I did all that before, but interesting to do it again having seen life from the teaching side.  

This year, I had my final module for the MSc in Mathematics, which was the dissertation.  I wrote one on spline approximations to solutions of the Schrödinger equation, and I'm pleased to say that I passed and did just fine (getting a distinction, as I found out yesterday).  That means I can complete the story by attending a graduation ceremony from the other side, too.  I only managed to find a small picture of the gown I'll be entitled to wear, hence it looks a but blurry, but it's attached to this post.  Might be nice to wear this one at Surrey graduations for a bit of variation!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Nuclear Matters

So, after last week's NuSYM14 conference, it's back to to getting on with summer tasks in the office. I've spent the morning so far reading through a chapter of my students draft PhD thesis and giving comments, and I'm shortly going to meet a visitor of another mystery academic, who phoned me up to ask if I could help them with time-dependent density functional theory.  I don't know if I can, but I'll find out soon.  

The picture from the NuSYM conference was sent by the organisers to everyone that took part, and since it is going up on the conference web page anyway, I thought I'd reproduce it here, too.  If you want to see all the slides from all the talks, you can find them, too, on the conference web page.  In the picture, I'm in the panama hat, which unfortunately shades my face (although that's rather the point of it).

Speaking of nuclear matter, I've recently learnt of a conference going on in Kent this summer which includes at least one talk on nuclear matter -- specifically on its compressibility.  This conference is all about a model, known as Skyrmions, which are a field-theoretic approach to nuclei.  Typically, they are treated more as mathematical curiosities, or perhaps fairer to say are more studied by mathematical physicists and there's not much dialogue between them and people who style themselves nuclear physicists.  Too bad, really.  I don't think I'll make it to the Kent conference, but I never knew their model had got so far as to be applied to describing compressibility of nuclear matter, so will at least check out their work on it.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Dining on Hope

Later on this evening is the NuSYM14 conference dinner, in a fancy restaurant on Liverpool's Hope St.  Walking around there always makes me think of this song, with its obvious Liverpool connection:

Expected Liverpool

In a followup to my recent post, where I found myself making an unexpected trip to Liverpool, I can now report that I am deliberately in Liverpool, to attend the "4th International Symposium on the Nuclear Symmetry Energy NuSYM14".  The eponymous nuclear symmetry energy is the characteristic energy it takes to change protons to neutrons (or vice versa) in the nucleus.  More often than not, it's discussed in the context of infinite nuclear matterwhich is an idealised nucleus of infinite extent, which dispenses with difficult things like finite number of particles, and the complication of the surface of the nucleus.  It's an easy(ish) thing to model and calculate, and the symmetry energy can then be worked out by making calculations with different proportions on neutrons and protons in the nuclear matter.  

The conference symposium is about all the ways this fictitious system and its properties can be used as a proxy to link together a lot of actually observed things - like the properties of neutron stars, the properties of finite nuclei and the results of heavy-ion collisions.  It's a nice small-scale event (with about 50 people) and I gave a talk on Monday, which was about work that my BSc Final Year Project student did a few months ago.  That was about linking properties of the giant quadrupole resonance, in which real nuclei vibrate with a particular shape (going between stretched rugby ball and squashed Smartie) and nuclear matter.  We (or, in fact, James) found that these resonances seem to probe the derivative of the nuclear incompressibility.  The previous knowledge of this parameter of nuclear matter was very poor.

It's been nice to catch up with a bunch of people, and I've met a lot of new people too, since this is quite a genre-crossing field.

The conference is at the University of Liverpool.  We're in an old lecture theatre (but a perfectly fine one).  The coffee breaks are in the lobby of a new central lab teaching building, in which laboratory space for many disciplines has been put together in a shared facility.  It's probably the only building in the world where a room labelled "Radiation Laboratory" is opposite one labelled "Flint Knapping".  It also has an awesome vertical garden just outside it, shown in the picture.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Nuclear women in Bulgaria

One thing that my partner pointed out to me about the group of people attending this workshop in Bulgaria is that there are a lot of women present.  I guess it is true.  I had a look through the delegate list at the back of the booklet, and counted 27 male and 16 female attendees.  I don't know if that really counts as a lot, but it must say something about most physics gatherings she has been in that the group assembled here seemed out of the ordinary.  Good for Bulgaria!  The number of female nuclear theorists with permanent positions in Bulgaria (pop 7m, GDP USD0.1t) who are attending this small workshop is around the same as the number of nuclear theorists of both sexes in the entirety of the UK (pop 70m, GDP USD1.5t) with permanent positions.  

Anyway... A conference update:  I have generally enjoyed all the talks, but particularly I enjoyed learning a neat mathematical trick from Nikolay Minkov to do with factorising the Schrödinger equation in a way I will save describing further until I have successfully got mathjax working in Blogger.  I liked Xavier Viñas's work on attempting to write down a nuclear energy density functional based on a matching of a polynomial form of the density functional to give a realistic equations of state, with small additions to give good results for more or less all finite nuclei.  This is the sort of spirit in which energy density functionals should probably be used, rather than what I tend to do, starting from the Skyrme interaction.  It was nice to hear about a new facility being set up in Yerevan, in a talk by Roza Avetisyan.  A cyclotron mainly for medical isotope generation is being set up, with a beam line for nuclear physics experiments which will be a good place to train students in the arts of nuclear techniques, and some interesting ideas of reactions to look at were presented.

Yesterday saw our excursion day.  It was quite a long day, running from 9:15 to 19:15,  taking in a reconstituted Roman hill fort near Samokov, then lunch, then a tour round the Rila Monastery.  Alba, my 8mo daughter did an admirable job of coping with the long coach journey, the being carried round the sites, and the cabbage-rich lunch.  She continued to be a more or less welcome diversion to the other attendees, never getting to the stage of screaming constantly in a confined coach for hours on end, which would no doubt have changed other people's ideas about having babies as accompanying people at conferences...

The picture is a view from the hill fort.  Mostly, of course, it's just a tree.  You can see a bit of reconstructed wall, and some indication from the plain below of how high up we were.  The funicular was broken for the journey up, by the way, and pushing the pram up the path was hard work.  Special thanks to Rajdeep Chatterjee from Roorkee for helping here!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Rila, again

Like last year and the year before, I'm at the Nuclear Theory Workshop, organised by the group in Sofia, and held in a rustic hotel in the Rila Mountains.  It's day one, and I was scheduled to speak in the first session, like last year.  My talk followed talks by Andrzej Góźdź, and his student Aleksandra Pędrak (from Lublin, Poland) concerning collective Hamiltonians, and one by Attila Krasznahorkay (Debrecen, Hungary) on resonance states in calcium isotopes.  I enjoyed all the talks, and with Attila's experimental talk being relevant to things I can calculate, I got a few ideas of things to do.

My talk was a kind of advert for our recently-published computer code, Sky3D, with some details of the kind of physics problems one can solve with it -- quite a wide range from nuclear structure and dynamics -- and some technical details of implementation and usage.  I got a reasonable amount of interest out of the talk and a fair few questions.  Hopefully, having published the code, we'll get plenty of people interested in running it.  It's good to have given the talk on the first day, partly because now I can relax more and enjoy the other talks, and chatting to people, rather than tinkering with my talk, but also because there is now plenty of time for me to sit down with people and infect their computers with my code install my code on their computers.

This year, I brought travelling companions, as seen in the picture.  Eagle-eyed regular readers may notice that the mountains in the background haven't changed much, but the climbing frames in the playground have had a lick of paint.  My daughter Alba, in the picture, is a little young for the climbing frame, but she has already proved to be the star of the conference.  Her first plane journey went well,  It was on a pretty busy plane, and we had two seats in a group of three.  Our fellow passenger, seeing that he was sitting next to a family with an 8 month old baby graciously begged the stewardess to be allowed to sit elsewhere so as to give us a little more space.  We certainly didn't mind...

Friday, 20 June 2014

Where did the isospin sign convention come from?

Perhaps a reader may be able to help with this conundrum, which came to my attention on Tuesday following a seminar at Surrey from Mike Bentley, from York, which was all about isospin.

In 1932, Werner Heisenberg introduced the concept of isospin [1].  At least, that's what we call it these days, though it was Wigner, in a 1937 paper [2], who first referred to Heisenberg's idea as isotopic spin, which we've since shortened to isospin.

Heisenberg's idea was that protons and neutrons are really very similar objects - both about the same mass, and having a close link via beta decay in which a neutron can turn into a proton and an electron.  Together neutrons and protons constitute atomic nuclei, and can be termed nucleons.  Heisenberg wondered if it would be possible to conceive a theory where one dealt with just nucleons, but had some way of distinguishing them as either protons or neutrons.  He said (excuse my translation)

Each particle in the nucleus would be characterised in five dimensions:  The three spatial coordinates (x,y,z), the spin in the z-direction, and through a fifth number, ρξ, for which the values of +1 and -1 are possible.  ρξ = +1 would mean that the particle were a neutron, ρξ = -1 that it were a proton.

The whole concept can just be considered a mathematical convenience;  now one can write equations in a higher-dimensional space, but without having to have a notation with 'p' and 'n' subscripts everywhere for proton and neutron states.  However, it also helps notate an apparent underlying symmetry;  that protons and neutrons nearly behave as mirror particles.  The purpose of my post is not about anything as deep as that, but rather about the choice of +1 for neutrons and -1 for protons.   It is just an arbitrary choice, but it's the one originally made by Heisenberg, and repeated by Wigner shortly after.

If I look more or less in any modern textbook, or the Wikipedia article on isospin, one finds the opposite sign definition.  Here I quote from the textbook Nuclear and Particle Physics, by Burcham and Jobes, which I bought while an Undergradute (so you may argue it is not "modern"):

Heisenberg introduced an internal degree of freedom, the isospin I, in complete analogy with the ordinary intrinsic spin s.  The two orientations of the isospin I (I=½) in a notional isospin space, namely I= +½ and I= -½, would correspond with the proton and neutron respectively

The factor of ½ difference I understand, but where did the sign flip come from?  Anyone know?  In Mike's talk on Tuesday, he used the Heisenberg convention, and this is the norm for nuclear physicists, but particle physicists use the opposite sign, as the textbook does.

[1] Über den Bau der Atomkerne. I., W. Heisenberg, Zeitschrift für Physik 77, 1 (1932)

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Unexpected Liverpool

I'm in Liverpool today, thanks to various tedious reasons to do with getting a passport for my daughter to be able to come with me on a conference trip to Bulgaria next week.  Her application had been sitting in the Liverpool passport office for a few weeks without being processed, and it worked out that the only practical way of ensuring that it was in my hands in time for the trip was to come up here today.   I came up last night and stayed in a hotel overnight, so as to be able to go to the passport office when it opened at 8am.  Fortunately, it all seemed to go okay there, and I should be able to pick the passport up this afternoon.

Being in such a fine city as Liverpool means that I can go to its wonderful Central Library - refurbished at a time when such spaces are being closed down elsewhere.  I got there a little before 9, and there were a group of people waiting outside for it to open.  Once inside, I wandered round it a bit, went to its cafe for a cup of coffee then settled in to one of the reading rooms in the old part of the library.  The picture attached to the post is taken from where I sat to work.  

It's heartening to see that not only are there parts of the country where community facilities are retained, but that the library is so well-used, with what seems to be to be quite a cross-section of people;  people engaging in scholarship, like me, and what appear to be college-age students;  people coming to study the Financial Times; many people sat at the computers; tourists walking round with cameras; people coming to indulge a hobby;  a group of disabled women come to hang out in the cafe together; and who knows for what other reasons (I didn't actually interrogate anyone about their reasons for coming).  

It might seem an unnecessary extravagance to some to pay for libraries these days.  I would have been fine without it, as I'd have been able to get in to one of Liverpool's University libraries, but with poverty getting worse, society more divided, and study-space at home at a premium for many, I am very happy to see such a wonderful library thriving, and paid for by me and the rest of the taxpayers.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Research for its own sake

Reading the Independent on Sunday (on Sunday), I came across an article headed "Universities are 'not just for getting a job'".  In some ways it was a bit of a non-story; a story about the opinion of someone who had made the remark.  I was pleased to see that the person saying it was the Vice Chancellor of my own institution, who is also the chair of the Vice-Chancellors' supergroup Universities UK.

The headline seems a rather uncontroversial statement (to me, at least), but the idea of charging students large tuition fees was predicated on the fact that University students earn more money, on average, than those not going to University, and so charging them high fees is therefore justified.  I never much liked that argument.  I mean, we have a graduated income tax to account for that time of thing, and it always smacked of the politics of envy.  We should fund from taxation anything we think is worth having in a society.  The last couple of governments seem to have decided that we do want people to be educated up to sixth form level, but that's enough, and anything else is a kind of personal luxury.  What I don't like most of all about it, though, is the assumption that Universities only exist for people to serve their own financial self-interest.   What of the people who want to go because there is so much to know?  How do we account for the fact that this desire to push the boundaries of knowledge is part of what makes us human?  

I may be doing a subject which has a lot of positive financial benefits, but I also want to live in a society where we have Professors of Medieval Poetry, just because such a society enriches us in ways beyond money.

I'm glad my vice-chancellor thinks so too. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Video test post

As the title suggests, I'm making this post to see how to include videos most easily within Blogger-hosted blogs.  This one is uploaded via Blogger's tool.  It doesn't do anything in preview mode, hence I am publishing it.  

It's a simulation of a nuclear fusion reaction between Oxygen-16 and Zirconium-64

If anyone has a good guide to including videos in web-pages, in a Blogger-compatible way, I'd welcome some pointers.  I can host the videos elsewhere and edit the blog posts in pure html mode, if it helps you make suggestions.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Conference of the week: ARIS2014

[ARIS 2014 logo]
I'm at home this week, but many people I know from the nuclear physics community are at ARIS2014, in Tokyo.  In fact, there are enough people there that if you follow the twitter hashtag #ARIS2014 you can keep up with nuclear physics news (so people at ARIS, please tweet news!)

Friday, 23 May 2014

The nuclear Rorschach test

My student (hi Phil) presented me with a snapshot of density contours in a calculation of the fission of an isotope of plutonium today.  The picture is attached to this post.  On twitter, I suggested it looked a bit like a parachuting cat, and others gave their interpretations.

So, blog reader, what appears to you in this picture?  Opinions in the comments please!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

PhD in theoretical nuclear physics

At the Univeristy of Surrey we have the largest theoretical nuclear physics group in the UK.  Size isn't everything of course, but it's a vibrant group that works alongside one of the largest experimental groups to make up a great place to do nuclear physics.  I must admit that I was not wholly cognisant of this fact before coming here, and as a finishing undergraduate at Oxford I first looked at local opportunities before thinking about looking further... and took one of those opportunities before looking further afield.  No harm probably came of that, though it was perhaps a little unambitious of me at the time.   Still, I can understand those students today who don't necessarily cast their net as widely as they could when looking for PhD places.  Theoretical Nuclear Physics is increasingly an area outside of the obvious target for graduating students to think about, since it has been quite squeezed out of the undergraduate syllabus, with many students getting little more than what appears in the IoP's Core of Physics, which is a recap and a slight extension of the A-level syllabus.   

It's too bad - there is a lot of activity in nuclear physics (pun intended).  We are not just filling in the gaps in an ageing field of physics.  2010 saw the most new isotopes discovered since nuclear physicists first started building accelerators to study matter - and we are about to enter a new golden period of new experimental facilities around the world, such that the 2010 figure will be overtaken again in the not too-distant future.  The theoretical understanding of nuclei, which are hugely complex objects, gets ever-better, with leaps in understanding of the underlying interaction between the constituents, and in the the ability to perform better calculations.  It's a good time to be in nuclear physics.

So... might I mention here that we have a PhD position available, with funding for a good UK candidate, to undertake research in the theoretical nuclear physics group at Surrey.  We work on a diverse range of topics across the group.  Feel free to get in touch, or leave a comment below if you're interested in finding out more!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Just Read it

Yesterday's email from the Journal of Physics G, which covers nuclear and particle physics, featured a list of newly published articles.   The first on the list turns out to be a review by my Surrey colleague Justin Read, and is a review of local measurements of the Dark Matter density.  I know rather little about the topic, and the review is surely my opportunity to remedy this.  I shall add it to my reading list, though I did also learn the word tsundoku yesterday, which may be the status of this review, like so many others.

The picture attached to the post is taken from the freely-downloadable version of his review that Justin has made available on his website.  You (and I) will  have to read the paper to understand the context of the figure, but I always try to illustrate each post with some graphic!

Friday, 2 May 2014

Ten days in Tennessee

1) Me in front of a large guitar
So, I'm about to head back from Tennessee after what feels like a lot more than 10 days.  Following my last post, I spent about a week in Nashville, visiting a collaborator (a word that was synonymous with quisling to me before I stared upon scientific collaborations, and still retains the ability to cause me to doubt its appropriateness) to make use of the fact that I was nearby for other reasons.

My host, Sait, and his wife Melinda looked after me brilliantly, taking me to many of Nashville's sites, including the Grand Old Opry (first picture) and to many of the famous music venues downtown.  

I was impressed to find my name, along with a promotion in title, on the door of an office when I got to Vanderbilt (second picture).  Of course, I shouldn't necessarily be impressed by a piece of paper tucked into the display holder on a door, but it was a nice touch!  
2) My name, with an elevated title

I worked on an old paper that I have let sit around for far too long, based on the work of one of my brilliant PhD students, who went off to greater things working on climate science.  This meant that it was for me to turn parts of her thesis into publications, if it was going to happen at all.  It hasn't yet, but I made much progress last week in following that up, though I spent more time re-acquainting myself with her code and the maths and physics behind it than I would have had to had I got on with it when she left. 
3) Stevenson Center

Not only was my name of the door to my office, but Vanderbilt University seem to have named the whole building complex in which much of the science faculty is based after me (photo #3).  A cursory exploration of Vanderbilt's Wikipedia page sheds no light on who the real Stevenson is, so if anyone knows, do comment below.

For various complicated reasons, my trip to Oak Ridge and that from Oak Ridge to Nashville took place on totally separate flight bookings, so my journey home is in two stages;  a two-flight trip from Nashville to Knoxville, a night in Knoxville, and a two-flight trip from Knoxville to London.  I'm at Knoxville airport waiting ready for the last stage to take place.