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.