Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Time-dependent methods editorial

 I had a notification this morning that the editorial that I wrote for the Research Topic on time-dependent methods in nuclear physics has been published in Frontiers in Physics.  That nearly wraps-up the project.  I think the one remaining thing that will happen is that the people at the journal will make a combined e-book in pdf and epub format.  The latter will be especially useful for those who want to read the papers on the beach on their Kindle.

Here's the editorial, which has links to all the papers:

I suppose it counts as my first publication of 2021.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Wartime Codebreakers at the University of Surrey

An interesting piece of history with a link to the University of Surrey came to my attention last night thanks to a Tweet from our Vice-Chancellor

It concerns one of the key players in the breaking of Enigma code prior to the Second World War,  Henryk Zygalski.  He was a Polish mathematician, educated at the University of Poznan who joined a small team working on deciphering Enigma encrypts.  They were not only successful in doing so, but the Poles also, vitally, made working models of the Enigma machines that the German military were using, and handed them to the British and French when it was clear (thanks to their decrypting work) that Poland was about to be invaded.

As soon as the invasion started, the team destroyed all evidence of their work and fled Poland, to Romania and then France.  Zygalski ended up in the UK before the end of the war, where he joined in work on decyphering Soviet signals.   He settled in England and ended up as an academic at the University of Surrey.  As was the agreement at that time, he never spoke of his wartime code-breaking work.  He died in 1978.  The Tweet above links to an open-access paper giving a more detailed history.  Our Deputy Vice-Chaceller for Research replied to the Tweet suggesting we put up something like a commemorative plaque at the University.  Sounds like a good idea to me.  We already have a statue of Alan Turing.  He (Turing) has links to Guildford, where the University is, though not to the University itself.

The picture below shows a commemoration to him at the Chichester Crematorium where, according to the Polish Embassy, his ashes were scattered.


Thursday, 7 January 2021

RIP Bill Rae

The sad new of Bill Rae's death has been brought to my attention by my colleague and friend Wilton Catford.  Wilton knew Bill considerably better than I did, and he (Wilton) has kindly let me share the following obituary of him:

Some of you working in the same research area as me will have heard of Bill Rae and maybe even have known him. Bill was a friend of mine and one of the most gifted nuclear physicists that I have met. We've just heard via a mutual friend Dick Hunt that Bill has passed away, so I'd like to pass that information along. 


Bill was born in 1951 in Scotland and was very Scottish. From 1976 to 1978 he initiated and wrote OXBASH, deliberately designed as a shell model code that could be accessed and used by experimenters. It remained one of the most powerful codes in the field until Bill completely rewrote it in 2005, calling it Nushell. 


In 2006, he wrote a different programme that used new innovations in matrix multiplication to hugely extend the capability - this was called Nushellx and remains one of the world leaders. During the 80s and 90s, Bill became a Fellow of both Trinity College Oxford and St Cross College Oxford. Bill was forced to retire at age 50 in 2000 due to the debilitative effects of Parkinson's Disease, which eventually stopped him programming at his home in Garsington (just outside of Oxford) in 2009 but which he fought off for nearly 30 years. Amongst other things, he subsequently invented his own walking stick (cane) with a laser (of illegal power, bought through eBay to his great amusement) that allowed him to walk in a straight line by following the red dot on the ground. 


Bill is best known for the shell model work, but he also began a renaissance in alpha-clustering work both experimentally and theoretically. He wrote a new code in the 1990s to use the Brink model and extensively published new results, and he personally designed with Dick Hunt the electronics for the world's leading (at the time) multichannel data acquisition system for silicon strip detectors which underpinned the cutting-edge work of the Charissa collaboration (which he founded) in the UK and at laboratories in France, the USA and Australia. 


At times taciturn, his sense of humour was as rapier sharp as his scientific brilliance and he was a pleasure and an inspiration to work with. Vale, William Dickson Mudie Rae.


W D M Rae in 2007, courtesy B A Brown