Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Science books of the year

 I saw yesterday that the Royal Society published their shortlist for their science books of the year.  There are 6 in the shortlist: The World According to Physics by Jim Al-Khalili, The Body by Bill Bryson, The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan, Explaining Humans by Camilla Peng, The Double X Economy by Linda Scott, and Transcendence by Gaia Vince.

Unusually, since I don't read a lot of popular science, I've actually read two of the books:  Transcendence and The World According to Physics.  They are both excellent, and would be worthy winners.  I got Transcendence for Christmas last year, and found its arguments compelling that humans' achievements are part and parcel of the way humans work together; the network of ideas, activities, language and culture evolve together with biological humans and have created a kind of super-organism.  Mind-blowing, well-researched and full of interesting anecdotes, I found myself wanting to tell people things I'd read in it as I was going through.  

The World According to Physics is right up my own subject area, so though I would expect to enjoy it, I wouldn't necesasrily prioritise adding a popular explanation of something I think I know well to my reading list, but I'm glad I did read it:  Sure, I knew most of the stuff already, but it was infused with such a joy for the wonder of the Universe, and our way of explaining it through physics, that I rekindled my own sense of awe at what I sometimes let lapse as part of my day-to-day activities.  I did even learn a few things, thanks to the inclusion of lots of very up-to-date and speculative ideas (which were flagged as such).  I should add that I read a draft of the book and gave some comments, and the author did hand me a copy once it was published.  Jim is my colleague at the Unviersity of Surrey.  No payment was received for this review ;-)

Wednesday, 16 September 2020


 The document format pdf is pretty good when you want to make nice-looking output for printing for your scientific paper.  It's not always so handy when you want to read something on e.g. your phone screen, though, where you have to do a combination of zooming in and scrolling around to be able to read a paper.

A nicely-formated html version of a scientific paper, on the other hand, should be able to render nicely on a wider range of screens, and these days reading from screen has largely superseded reading from paper for me.  I read on Twitter about an arxiv-to-html translator called arxiv-vanity.  You give it an arxiv URL and it returns a nice readble web-page version of the paper you are interested in.  

I tried it on the recent whitepaper / review I was involved in writing on fission theory and the results are impressive.  Perhaps arxiv will fold it into its own offering soon.  

Friday, 11 September 2020

Update on the time-dependent methods special topic

 I last posted an update back in June about the Special Topic in Frontiers in Physics that I am co-editing.   Then, a new article on solitons in nuclear reactions had just been published.  This was actually followed a few days later with another paper, and then there has been a fallow period while the last few papers go through refereing, proofing, and publication.  Today, the next of those was published. so let me briefly mention the two new papers since June:

Marc Verriere and David Regnier have written a review on the time-dependent Generator Coordinate Method.  In fact, they discuss a number of related models which all share the character of mixing multiple Slater determinant wave functions to represent complex nuclear phenomena (reactions, fission) in which there is a significan change over time of the quantum state, and for which a time-dependent method is appropriate.  It's a nice contribution the Special Topic, covering one of the current hot methods in nuclear theory.  I can say this since I have a PhD student working on something that can be termed time-dependent Generator Coordinate Method, though it is not quite the same as the methods presented by Verriere and Regnier.  

 The other paper, published today, is written by a University of Surrey undergradute student who took a year-long research placement at Peking University in Beijing, China.  He used time-depedent Hartree-Fock (TDHF) to look at the part of the fission pathway near scission where the TDHF method is applicable, and to study how different parameterisation of the nuclear force give different predictions for the pathway to fission.  It's a short piece of original research, which complements nicely the mix of other research and review articles in the Special Topic.  I worked on this project with Marko and his host supervisor, and am co-author on the paper.  I took the liberty of using a picture from this paper as an accompaniment to this blog post.

Once the two remamining papers appear,  on spontaneous fission and collective dynamics with a transport model, have appeared, the whole Special Topic will be avaiable as a free e-book, in pdf and epub format, so get your Kindles ready.