Saturday, 28 May 2016

Line of Control

I saw a tweet earlier today relevant to both my current geographical location (Indian-controlled Kashmir) and matters nuclear.  It was from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation and pointed to a blog / news post of its own.  It pointed out that 28th May is the anniversary of Pakistan's series of nuclear bomb tests which took place over three days starting on 28th May 1998.  

I'm in Kashmir, through which runs a contested border between India and Pakistan.  While I'm in the Indian part of Kashmir, in the capital Srinagar, the nearest national capital to where I am is Islamabad, about 100 miles away.  I read in the article that the bomb tests took place "in the eastern part of the country" but a quick look at the map they show in the post indicates that actually it was in the west of Pakistan, quite far from where I am now.  It also reminded me that I am currently in one of the nine nuclear weapons states.  In fact it is the fifth one I have been to this year (following the UK, US, France & China).  I expect to go Russia in September.   Now perhaps I need to arrange trips to Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.

The de facto border between India and Pakistan up here in Kashmir is called the Line of Control.  I was amused by the sign (shown in the photo) used in the coffee shop next to the guesthouse on campus which indicated where the staff area was, where the public is not supposed to enter.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Does dark matter cause cancer?

A quick post today while I distract myself from the stack of marking that piles up at this time of year.  This is one I fully expect to appear on the front page of the Daily Mail or the Express:  I saw today that there is a new article in the journal Physics Letters B entitled Dark Matter as a Cancer Hazard.  I haven't read it in detail (perhaps someone who does could make their own post or comment below) but it's an assessment of whether some popular candidates for dark matter could undergo the same kind of interaction with atomic nuclei that might cause a DNA mutation that other kinds of known radiation can do.  

We don't know if the kind of dark matter used in the paper even exists.  If it does, there's not a whole lot we could do about it anyway, but it'd be kinda interesting if it is a background cause of cancer -- and it would mean that we effectively have detected this kind of dark matter without realising it

Kashmir Art Tree

While here at Kashmir University to teach a course in theoretical nuclear physics, I saw a news story on the BBC news website about a fallen plane tree on the campus of the University which is being used as a canvas for art students.  What else is one supposed to do, then, but try to find the tree.  The campus is not very large and I walked around to look for it.  It turns out to be around 100m from the guest house where I am staying, close to the art faculty building.

I found a group of art students hanging out by the tree, and chatted to them about the project.  They knew that it had somehow made the BBC News website and told me that it had become a bit of a tourist attraction.  When the project was over, they said, the tree would return to nature.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Oh let the sun beat down upon my face

Today, I gave my first lecture in a series of six as part of a nuclear physics graduate school.  It's based at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar.  I arrived here after a somewhat gruelling journey from Xinxiang, involving a flight from Zhengzhou to Guangzhou, another to Delhi and a third to Srinagar. The first flight was delayed by quite a while thanks to bad weather in Guangzhou, and when we did finally take off and fly to Guangzhou we ended up circling quite a bit in the storm and ended up with a flight time more than an hour more than it should have been.  I could swear we almost landed quite some time before we actually did -- at least we appeared to be flying very close to the ground.  Oh well, we got there okay and the lateness meant that my 9 hour wait at Guangzhou for the connecting flight was more like 5 hours.  I then got to Srinagar okay and feel good to have given the first lecture.  I was a little uneasy about how it would go, what sort of reaction to expect from the audience, and the extent to which the material would be paced.  In fact with just how busy the last couple of weeks have been,  I needed to spend yesterday preparing rather than joining the students on the excursion, which was a great shame, but I should have a chance later in the week to go for a bit on an explore of the town.

My lectures draw a strand through general ideas of the nuclear mean field, through effective nuclear interactions to applications of time-dependent approaches, including fusion and fission.  Today I talked mostly about some general ideas and then some quite formal stuff -- in particular the derivation of the Hartree-Fock equations.  I'd like to think that at the end of the week I'll bring my somewhat rough notes together and write them up into something more presentable and permanent.  It's nice to be optimistic.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Back from the blackout

I wasn't able to post to the blog at all last week, because I was in China.  More or less all Google services are blocked there and that includes Google's Blogger platform.  I was attending a workshop called International Workshop on Nuclear Dynamics 2016.  I should have realised better in retrospect that it wasn't the best of weeks to go there.  I realised when I said yes that it would be semester time, but I made sure that I would be able to give the online tutorials that were the only part of face-to-face teaching scheduled that week.  I was also over optimistic in thinking that I would have managed to finish the marking of the module for which I give the online tutorials before I went to China.  The assignment requires detailed marking for the feedback to be of any use, it worked well in the past when fewer students opted to take the course.  This year the numbers have exploded and I've struggled somewhat with the consequent marking.  That took up many hours last week.  Then there are other things to do with research grant planning and dealing with the process of appointing a new lecturer.  The fact that the last weeks were busy for that was not something I knew when I said yes to the workshop.

Oh well.  I gave my talk, and I watched many, but not all, of the other talks.  I didn't go on either of the excursions and got to see very little of the city of Xinxiang or the region.  Here, then, is my very minimal photo gallery of the week

From left to right, it's the view out of my hotel room, across the Central Park and to the Xinxiang municipal building.  It's more grand than Guildford Council offices, I think.  In the middle -- well, it's a bit uncouth to laugh at poor English translations when I don't understand a word of Chinese, but it was a particularly surprising thing to find at the dinner buffet.  The picture on the right is a rock on display at Henan Normal University, which organised the workshop.  Inscribed on it is the University's motto, which means something like "Strive for Virtue and Knowledge".