Thursday, 23 June 2022

Lord of the Dance

 Hot on the heels of my trip to GLive on Monday to see the Unthanks, I was back to see Lord of the Dance.  This was quite a different event to the minimalist and intimate folk music of Monday night.  Lord of the Dance featured a giant projected screen starting with a mini hagioraphy of Michael Flatley, dancer and founder of the show.  After that the live dancing started, along with grandiose scenic accompaniment on the projected screen.

The dancing was very impressive, with a mixed group of dancers playing out scenes in story of a battle between good and evil (loosely, and to the extent that I understood the story).  The music was augmented by the rhythmic sounds coming from the dancers' hard shoes, and I enjoyed seeing brilliant well-practiced artists doing their thing.  Monday night was more my scene, but I'm glad I came to see the dancing.  

From where we were sitting we had a good view, but it was quite far back, so my picture taken as the cast were coming on to take their bows is not the clearest

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

The Unthanks at GLive

 Last night I went to see The Unthanks play at GLive in Guildford.  I was excited when I heard that they were coming and managed to be online when the tickets were released, so I and my partner were right in the middle of the front row.  They played a 2x1hr set with a break in the middle, where I had the pleasure of talking to my colleague Wilton and his wife Andrea at the bar. 

This is the start of an unusually hectic week for me.  I'm back at GLive on Wedensday for Lord of the Dance, out for my ice skating lesson on Thursday and at book club (for Elena Knows) on Friday.   Perhaps once this would not have been so unusual, but since having children it is.  I guess the youngest is now getting to the age that going out and leaving him with a babysitter is doable.  Still, the fact that he wakes us up at least an hour before we want/need to get up is still a hindrance to having too many late nights!

 Here's a picture taken from our plum seats in the front row:

Thursday, 19 May 2022

14 year-olds using matrices

Coming up soon is the Qiskit Global Summer School which is something I'm suggesting some of my students attend. 

I was wondering whether at least some of it might be far too elementary for them, as the summer school is open to students aged 14 and over, with a prerequisite of knowledge that attendees know some basic maths including matrices.  One of the co-supervisors I was discussing this with, who is a bit younger than me, commented that he'd never come across a 14 year old who knew about matrices, which reminded me that today's students indeed don't come across them at that age. 

I happened to have on my desk a copy of Book 4 volume 2 of the School Mathematics Project textbook that I used at school.  Indeed, it has a stamp in it of my secondary school, and it is presumably a copy I should have, but didn't, give back to them after using. 

Here's a picture of the first page, the start of chapter 11 (it being volume 2, after all)

 Its opening sentence is "we saw in Book 3 how a matrix could be used to represent a transformation ..." so matrices were obvioulsy introduced no later than book 3, possibly eariler.  Inserted into this book was a folded timetable for my 3rd year (Y9 in current terminology) timetable, so I suppose I used book 4 volume 2 in that year.  Clearly, I was a 14 year old once who knew about matrices.  Being taught them then was so matter of fact that I never thought much about it.  There was a simple enough rule for multiplying them and that was effectively all that one needs to learn about matrices to use them.  Applications, such as using them for geometrical transformations, is another matter, and one can find ever more esoteric and advanced applications, but the basic properties are really rather simple.  Of course, I am the sort of person who ended up doing a PhD in theoretical physics, but the educationalists of the time presumably thought matrices a perfectly wholesome activity for 11/12 year-olds.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

RIP Ben Mottelson 1926 - 2022

I saw announced on Facebook, via my colleague and friend Adam Maj from Krakow, that Ben Mottelson has died.  It took a couple of days for Wikipedia to catch up, but there I saw a link to a Danish news story seeming to confirm it.

Ben Mottelson was a co-recipient of the 1975 Nobel Prize for his work in nuclear physics, specifically unifying the theories of single particle and collective motion in nuclei, and for showing that nuclei could be deformed in their ground states.  The co-recipients of the prize, Aage Bohr and James Rainwater died in 1986 and 2009 respectively.  Mottelson worked closely with Aage Bohr and though the prize was split equally three ways, the prize was effectively for Rainwater's work and for Bohr and Mottelson's largely joint work. 

I don't think I've ever seen Mottelson at a conference or anywhere else, and have little I can add personally as an anecdote.   He is most well-known to me as the author of the two volumes, with Aage Bohr, of the the Nuclear Structure textbook.  This seminal work educated generations of nuclear physicsists.  I'm afraid I haven't studied the book as much as either I should have or would have liked to, and only eventually acquired my own copy rather recently, but here I am having (or pretending to for the camera) a read of it

Friday, 13 May 2022

The Liverpool Synchrocyclotron

There's in intersting article in Physics World this month about the Liverpool Synchrocyclotron.  For a period in the 1950s it was in the first tier of leading particle accelerators for nuclear and particle physics.  It innovated in the extraction of the beam from the cyclotron into a beam line to be directed at a target.  This is now a commonplace setup, but beforehand targets and detectors all had to be inserted inside the synchrotrons themselves.  

The picture below, included in the Physics World article courtesy of The Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool, shows the huge magnet being delivered to the site in 1951.  If it wasn't for the truck delivering an enormous magnet, I might have guessed the picture was much older.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

New paper up on quantum computing

A new paper from my PhD student Isaac, me, and the other co-supervisor appeared (or "dropped" as the young people say) on the arXiv this morning.  It's somewhat broad title "Quantum Computing for Nuclear Structure and Nuclear Data" is to some extent due to the fact that the paper is a conference proceeding associated with a poster presentation of the same name, presented at a very general quantum technologies conference (SPIE Quantum Technologies 2022).

The content is a bit more specific, and deals with a couple of examples of applying the variational quantum eigensolver algorithm to nuclear Hamiltonians.  Both the examples we look at have been explored on quantum computer already, but we show the results of using a different, more compact, mapping from the Hamiltonian to the qubit representation, and a method for finding excited states with a variational methtod (by minimizing the variance of the Hamiltonian with respect to the parameters in the trial wave function).  The paper is not a full description of everything Isaac has done or is working on, but the kind of work-in-progress conference paper you might expect to be associated with a poster presentation.  It's nice to have our name out there as a group working on quantum computing algorithms in nuclear physics.  Will be interesting to see what response it gets.

Here's a picture showing the energy as a function of two variational parameters in the wave function ansatz we used for one of the problems we were looking at (the deuteron ground state):

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Flamin' Groovies

Hot on the heels of my visit to London to see the Divine Comedy, I went to another gig on Saturday.  This time it was at the 100 Club on Oxford St, to see the Flamin' Groovies.  I took my Dad, as a birthday present for him.  I had looked through the listings for bands I thought he might want to see.  I had heard of The Flamin' Groovies, but didn't really know them, and my Dad had not heard of them, but they've been around since the late 60's, and the idea of going to the 100 Club, where my Dad used to go around half a century ago to listen to jazz, decided us in favour of this being the birthday present.  My Dad and I have a combined age of 122, but it certianly wasn't the kind of gig where either of us felt particularly old or out of place.  At one point, though, the lead singer did say he needed to pause and catch his breath, and that he was 74 ("youngster" my 75yo Dad muttered).  Despite their age, the band rocked pretty hard!

Friday, 6 May 2022

Departmental Colloquium Series: Michelle Collins

 I've just got back from Michelle Collins' excellent talk as the first speaker in a new colloquium series being organised in the Department of Physics by Payel Das and Jack Henderson.  These are supposed to be accessible research talks given to a whole-department audience as a way of bringing us together after the lockdown period, and as a way for us to better know what we each get up to research-wise.  Who knows, maybe it will start some new collaboraitons?  Michelle talked about dwarf galaxies as a way to understand the dark matter structure of the universe.  There were lots of pretty pictures taken with telescopes, though I think it did need guidance from the expert eye to understand the significance of blurry patches of the starfields which to me were just ... blurry patches.

Here's the view from where I sat.  I went fairly far back because I was going to sit and do some emails.   The talk, though, was too interesting, and I left the emails until after both the talk, and writing this blogpost about it!  

Thursday, 5 May 2022

The Divine Comedy

 Yesterday was a busy day with meetings: meeting personal tutees, then a session of the department Equality Diversity and Inclusion committee.  Straight from that into my weekly research group catch-up meeting, then straight to a parent information briefing from the University nursery where my son goes, then a call with the research student office to help fill in some paperwork for a new PhD student, then a final year project student meeting in my office followed by an online chat with a placement student of ours who is working at JLab in the US.  As soon as that was over, a whole-research-group strategy meeting.  It was definitely a case of eating lunch al desko.

 So, it was a nice end of the day to take a train up to London to see the band The Divide Comedy at the London Palladium.  I'm not sure if I've ever been there before.  It's a bit of a bigger venue than for most bands I tend to see, but a friend had a spare ticket and I like the band so I went along, and very enjoyable it was.  I don't consider myself a super-fan, but I first heard them around the time they started ~30 years ago, when my then-girlfriend bought a single of theirs which I most remember because it had a cover version of The Throwing Muses' Hate My Way on one side.  This somewhat obscure cover of a somewhat obscure song from a limited edition picture disc EP is certainly not something they played in their kind of greatest hits show last night, but I looked up the song online, and here it is.  A picture from last night's show is at the top

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Jyväskylä PAC meeting

 Yesterday I attended my final meeting as chair and panel member of the Jyväskylä Programme Advisory Committee (PAC).  This is the group that looks at proposals for experiments to take place at the accelerator facility and decides which to suggest to the laboratory to accept.  The period of tenure on the committee is 3 years over which 6 meeting take place.  Of course the last three years have been very unusual and we ended up running most of the meetings virtually.  There is also the issue for the lab of what to do with the recommended proposals while people couldn’t travel to the lab during lockdown. 

I enjoyed my time on the committee and learned a lot from the other members about some of the more technical and experimental details. It’s a bit disappointing not to visit Finland but also hard to justify the carbon cost of getting there for a meeting that actually works well virtually. 

Now three new panel members will join as I and two others rotate off.  I wish the new members well!

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Day one at the IoP Nuclear Physics Conference

The University of Surrey was closed today, as it kindly gives all, or most, staff a bit of extra holiday around the Easter weekend.  However, it was also the host site of this year's Institute of Physics Nuclear Physics Group conference, so I was in work as an attendee and local organising committee member (though really the chair Paddy Regan has done almost everything from the local commitee point of view). 

 It was nice seeing my colleagues from all over the UK and a few from farther afield.  Even before the pandemic-enforced cessation of face-to-face conferences it was probably a few years since I last attended one of the national ones, and it has been great to see old friends and colleagues.

The picture below was taken by the conference chair, and posted on Twitter.   I am in the picture, just, over at the right though quite cropped.  I'm wearing the stripy jumper and clearly part of a funny conversation with Kate Jones (University of Tennessee) and Carl Wheldon (University of Birmingham).  I think we were remembering the time around 20 years ago when we were all at the University of Surrey together.

As well as meeting old colleagues, I saw some recent ex-undergrads who are now PhD students.  My faviourite part of the day was talking to them, not least because they told me that my lectures were their favourites when then were undergraduates.  A lovely thing to say, and I could feel myself blush when they did so!

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

QCTIP 2022

 As promised in a post last month, I have come to the QCTIP conference in Bristol.  QCTIP stands for Quantum Computing Theory In Practice and the topic cover quantum computing from a largely mathematical and computer science point of view, with applications to various areas, including physics.  As something of an outsider, I found the talks ranged from very understandable to pretty hard to follow.   While online conference work pretty well for listening to and interacting with the talks, I wanted to attend in person so I could get to know some of the people working in the field, and get known by them.  For that, I think it was worth coming.  Particularly in the poster session, where I displayed a poster made by my student Isaac.  There was a pretty constant stream of people coming up and talking to me.  The idea that someone was applying quantum computing to nuclear physics was new to them, and they seemed genuinely interested.  I was also reasonably reassured that our neophyte forays into quantum computing were along the right lines.

The conference is organized by the mathematics department at Bristol.  As such, there are blackboards dotted around the building and people used them to discuss work during coffee breaks, as in the picture below

Wednesday, 16 March 2022


I am in the process of organising a trip to Bristol to attend a conference (this one, if you are interested).  I lived in Bristol for a while as a child (1980-1983, or something like that).   I was young enough that my memories centre around home, the nearby environment, parks, the walk to the local shops, the Downs, and a very few other things - the long road with the toyshop (Dawson's Toys) on, for example.  It will be strange to be back.  Like with any work travel, I will be there just in time for the start of the meeting and leaving just as the meeting ends and will not be able to visit any old haunts, but I expect it will be a slightly odd experience in any case.  It's the only place I've lived as a child that I've never really been back to.  I was born in Glasgow and have been back many times, and lived in London, Oxford, Tennessee, Portsmouth, Bishop's Stortford (where my parents still live) and have visited all those places again over the years.

If you ever watched the opening of TVAM's Good Morning Britain programme when it was on the air over many years, then you would have seen me, aged 6, somewhere in the top-right part of the "D" in this spelling out of the words "GOOD MORNING BRITAIN" made by a group of people on the Bristol Downs.  

The snapshot is taken from a YouTube video I found (here) so you can see the whole thing, where we were all milling around on the Downs and then at a signal we all had to move to a roughly-designated position inside some letters that were marked on the ground.  The director on the ground heard back from the helicopter that it had apparently worked brilliantly - and the effect is pretty neat!

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

PDRA positions in York

The University of York nuclear physics group is currently advertising for three post-doctoral researchers to work with them.  This is excellent news for the group there, indicating as it does great success in having their peer-reviewed grand proposals funded, with three full-time researchers enabling them to carry out the promised research.  It's also good news for the UK nuclear physics community, and in particular the very small theory component of it.  Especially it is good for those looking to secure a post-doc in nuclear theory, based in a lovely city. 

The deadline for applying is 18th March.

Here is an image I found of the theory group at York, probably taken before the pandemic!  As I understand it from the job advert, the Principal Investigator on all three projects is Prof Jacek Dobaczewsku, on the left in the picture

Monday, 21 February 2022

doi on arxiv

 My last post was about the arXiv and now there is more news to report about it:  All papers posted there since the beginning of 2022 will have a doi assigned.  This is excellent news, as the doi has become such a standard way of providing a link to an online article.  I assumed that that the reason this hadn't been done in the past was because of the non-zero cost of having a doi assigned.  I don't know what the cost is, but I guess it was not so much of a hindrance after all - and of course arXiv is not free to run, but it does have sponsorship and institutional funding, and presumably the arXiv board arrived at the decision that subscribing to the doi system was worthwhile and affordable. 

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

From arXiv to ar5iv

A little while ago I posted about a website which took arXiv articles and presented them as html for better reading on devices such as phones where pdf does not work so well.  Now I've come across another one, ar5iv which makes html5 versions of arXiv papers (where the original is in LaTeX).   To use it you can just replace the X by a 5 in the URL of a paper and hopefully it will return a readable version.  

Here's an example from a paper writing up a summer student's code.  It seems to work pretty well even with the LaTeX package we used for pretty-printing the source code in an appendix.  

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Nuclear reactions breaking causality?

In response to a tweet about a paper taking a long time to get published, Toshihiko Kawano of Los Alamos tweeted about a paper of his that appears to violate some physical laws in its publication.  Good job Toshihiko!

Saturday, 29 January 2022

Having Covid-19

 I managed to get this far before getting Covid, but with four children in four different schools, and with three of the children under 12 and hence not vaccinated (since that is the regulation in the UK) it seemed only a matter of time until we got it.  It seems to have been rife in my 5yo's school, and we tested him, even though he did not have symptoms before sending him to a trampolining party in an encolsed space.  He tested positive, was pretty stoical about it, even about missing the party, and he is now the first to get through the other side and testing negative again.  Meanwhile, I and my partner have it.  It has been hard work both being ill at the same time and having to keep the kids home because of the Covid in the house, all the while trying to get through a few most-vital work tasks.  

The line on my own lateral flow tests is fading, and according to the UK rules I can return to society on Tuesday no matter what (even if testing positive).  I see in the national statistics of case number that though we are past the recent peak, we are sitting on a smaller peak, or shoulder to the main peak which seems to me to be thanks to schools going back after Christmas, with younger years having no masks, no vaccinations and really no precautions at all.