Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Kelvin in Kent

I'm on holiday for a week with my family.  We're staying in Deal, in Kent.  So far, it has rained in an unseasonable way, with reports on the TV news this evening that there has been flooding in parts of Kent.  Right now, I am looking over a view of the English Channel, and although very overcast, it's not raining.  I can't see France across the water, though, which you can do even on a moderately clear day.

The picture shows a current snapshot of rainfall. The wind is from the southwest at the moment, and that heavy rain in the North Sea was over us not long ago.  It's not looking terribly likely that things will get too much better over the next few days.  

Fortunately we are staying in a wonderful house, thanks to the kindness of some friends of my parents, whose house it is.  They are letting us use it while they are away.  The bookshelves are full of some great books -- including some that a physicist would find particularly interesting.  There are some biographies of famous physicists;  I've started reading Sir Oliver Lodge's autobiography, and there are several books about Lord Kelvin.  It turns out that the owner of the house is a direct descendant of Lord Kelvin.  Now, if only the temperature were a little higher on the Kelvin scale, our holiday may be a bit more fun...

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Notre Dame

I've just made a visit to the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, USA.  I was there to visit one of our MPhys undergraduate masters'  students who is spending a year there on placement on a project to do with neutron capture reactions in stars.  As I often do, I took a picture of the student at the facility where he is working.  The picture is slightly misleading, as we were both on a tour of the experimental nuclear physics facilities in the Physics Department, and it was the first time either of us had seen it.  Abdellatif, the student pictured, is working on a theoretical project, and doesn't ever step into the lab, lest the theory-waves break the equipment.

The University of Notre Dame have been (and continue to be) wonderful supporters of our MPhys programme over the years.  I had never been there before, but now that I am the director of the MPhys Research Year programme, I wanted to come to show my appreciation to them for supporting our students.  Of course, they get in return some excellent junior researchers who can really do important work for their research programme.  Most, if not all, of our MPhys students publish papers as a result of their research year work, and the majority go on to do PhDs and many then get faculty positions (though some forge more successful careers).  In fact, Abdellatif is being supervised in his project by a Notre Dame faculty member who was a Surrey MPhys student around 15 years ago, who in her time was on a research placement.  

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Relativistic bias

As it's summer, I find I have the time more often to just browse recent results in nuclear physics.  One way of doing this is to go to the Physics Review Letters (PRL) website, and look at all the recent papers in the Nuclear Physics section.

If I do this, I see many interesting papers;  Some recent Earth-based determinations of reaction rates for nuclear reactions that take place in stars and which are important in understanding stellar evolution;  Some neat calculations of how nuclei can stretch into rod shapes as they rotate very fast;  The observation of a new and really exotic nucleus -- an isotope of hyper-hydrogen;  a new "soft" excitation mode in Lithium-11, itself a really interesting nucleus which is as large as a nucleus of lead despite having around 200 fewer nucleons in it.

What struck me most immediately about the list is that there were three papers among the 25 on the list that were "Editors' Suggestions" and that they were all from the sub-field of relativistic heavy-ion collisions.  Editors' Suggestions are exactly what the name suggests, and they get promoted within the Physical Review Letters website, appearing in the Highlights section.   From looking at the papers involved, I find it hard to conclude anything but that the editors involved in the relativistic heavy-ion papers are more active and zealous in promoting papers in their area than editors involved in the rest of nuclear physics.  I realise PRL has a history of publishing quite a high proportion of relativistic heavy-ion collision papers compared with other nuclear physics journals, perhaps thanks to its geographical ties to Brookhaven Lab, but I had not quite realised the obvious editorial differences between the sub-fields.

Anyway, attached to this plot is a pretty picture of some stretched-out Carbon isotopes from the preprint version of the rod-shaped nucleus paper mentioned above.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The annual increment

It was my birthday yesterday. I turned 29 years old.  In hexadecimal, at least.  My birthday always seems to have a habit of occurring right in the middle of summer.  I guess it's good in that it meant I never had to go to school on my birthday, but was probably bad for my mum who had to be in the late stages of pregnancy in the hottest days of the year.  Mind you, in Glasgow, maybe it doesn't matter too much.

England regained the Ashes on my birthday, which was nice.  The football season started, too.  My team -- Ipswich -- managed to get to 90 minutes with a 2-0 lead then end up drawing 2-2.  May as well get used to the way things will go for the next season, I guess.  As I mentioned in my previous post, as I've grown up, I've been used to having the news talk about the anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bombs in World War 2 bracketing my birthday.  The second one took place today, on 9th Aug, in 1945.  It's this arbitrary temporal coincidence which prompted an editor from The Conversation to ask me if I would write something about nuclear physics.  It's here.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

70 years since Hiroshima

Today, the 6th of August 2015, marks 70 years since the first atomic bomb was used in anger.  I'm not much of an historian of nuclear physics, though I can surely see that the use of atomic weapons was as much an irreversibly terrible act by humanity as any other.  

If you want to follow more about the history of nuclear weapons, then my go-to person on the internet for all things nuclear-weapon related is Alex Wellerstein.  Follow him on twitter: @wellerstein or follow his blog.

Even before I was a nuclear physicist, I'd noted that my birthday (on 8th August) falls between the two days when the bombs fell on Hiroshima (6th Aug) and Nagasaki (9th Aug).  Always around my birthday during my life have there been news stories about the bombs.  The biggest event, though, on the actual day of my birth, in 1974, was Richard Nixon's resignation.