Saturday, 2 September 2017

A FAIR view

I remember in the relatively early days of the WWW, or at least my first experiences of it in the early-to-mid-nineties, it was considered pretty exciting when webcams came along.  I guess most web users of the time would have looked at least once to see how much coffee was in the pot of the Trojan Room Coffee Pot in the Computer Science Department at a University of Cambridge, via the webcam pointed at it.

I can't really comment on the extent to which webcams (as opposed, for example, to video cameras for video calls) are that useful or interesting, except to say that I don't think I ever regularly visit a website just to see one pointing at something elsewhere in the world.  Still, if you are interested in such things, than I notice that the under-construction Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) in Darmstadt, Germany, has a webcam showing the progress of construction.  Perhaps an enterprising student could use the feed to show how the current status compares with the schedule.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

RIP Glen Campbell

I learned today that Glen Campbell had died.  His most famous song is probably Wichita Lineman.  I think I heard it first through this cover by REM.  It's a fine song.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Cross-country physicist

Yesterday I had an enjoyable trip to Birmingham to visit a student on a sandwich-year placement.  He is working at Cross-Country Trains, effectively doing logistics work.  As it happens, there is a single Cross-Country train service from Guildford to Birmingham per day, so I took it (though at 06:02 it's a little earlier than I needed to travel).

Once there I met the student, and we had breakfast together at a place near his office called Boston Tea Party which, I can report, does an excellent vegan cooked breakfast.  He's been getting on well and enjoying the challenges of the business world;  not just the technical work that he is doing that draws upon his analytic, problem-solving and numerical skills that he has been picking up as a physicist, but the networking, dealing with work relationships and getting involved in the structures and reporting lines that business use.  It's not an atypical placement for a physics student on our BSc programme, though it does not involve directly doing physics.  Our sandwich-year students end up going to more or less any kind of place that wants to employ graduate physicists, and that include train operating companies.

Because I ended up meeting the student as soon as I arrived in Birmingham, I was done with the meeting with him, and later his supervisor, quite early in the day.  I therefore had a wander round the city.  Parts of it have changed a lot since I first got to know Birmingham (when I was an undergraduate in Oxford and my then-girlfriend went to study in Birmingham).  The renovations are rather nice.  Particularly impressive is the new library, which is beautiful inside and out.  I went there for a couple of hours to do some work.   The picture above is taken from the balcony on the third floor of the library.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

NuPECC Long Range Plan 2017

Every few years, the Nuclear Physics European Coordination Committee (NuPECC) publishes a Long Range Plan (LRP) to try to give a unified community picture of what the broad goals are for nuclear physics research in Europe for the coming years.  The most recent one was published a couple of days ago and is available to download.  It's a pretty lengthy document (236 pages) and I can't say that I've read the whole thing yet, but the recommendations seem broadly sensible.  I don't know how much influence it will have, but at least we have a kind of official-looking document to point policy-makers at, and amongst the recommendations are support for nuclear theory, so I should be (and am) glad about that.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

More new isotopes

Since I subscribe to Michael Thoennessen's isotope newsletter from his Discovery of Isotopes Project, I learn that two papers have just been published which between them give details of observations of new isotopes of Mn (Manganese), Fe (Iron), Co (Cobalt), Cu (Copper), and Np (Neptunium).  The Neptunium isotope was created and observed in China, with all the others from a single experimental run in Japan.  

Welcome to the world, new isotopes! (though you decayed fractions of a second after you were created)

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Towards the end of the Semester

My blogging rate has slowed down somewhat of late, related I think to the subject matter of the last post.  Actually, it's probably possible to use blogging as a kind of cognitive behaviour therapy in which you set a small goal to write something every day (or week or whatever) and make sure that you include it as a must-do task.  Providing you make the target, and it should be achievable, because it could just be a matter of pointing out an interesting new paper you have come across, then it should be of some positive impact on one's mental health.  I dare say, though, that authors in general would not highlight the mental health benefits of making a career of writing.

I don't have such a recent interesting paper to highlight, though I expect that if I looked at the latest edition of Physical Review C or Journal of Physics G or similar, then I'd find many interesting papers.  One thing I can report is that I just finished my marking of exam papers, it being the end of semester (though I've got plenty of coursework assignments still to mark).  That means the students in their final year are on the cusp of becoming graduates and moving on to the next stage of their lives.  I wish them all the best of luck!  I know at least a few of them will be going on to PhD study, including one to my previous employer, the University of Tennessee (pictured).

Friday, 12 May 2017

National Mental Health Awareness Week

I hadn't been aware until earlier in the week that this is National Mental Health Awareness Week.  There seem to be so many special event days/weeks/months/years that I rarely know which ones happen to be occurring.  Indeed, until I just searched, I had no idea that it is currently also National Doughnut Week as well as National Walking Month

Well, I don't have much to say about doughnuts, but I've long been aware of issues around mental health since I was diagnosed with depression as an undergraduate around 20 years ago, and having probably suffered from it for a few years prior to diagnosis.  Even when I realised that there was something wrong, I put off going to the doctor for fear of the stigma.  In the end, I went on antidepressants for a few years and had a small amount of talking therapy.  I suppose that combination must have worked to a reasonable extent as I did get over it, though when the depression was at its worst it didn't seem like I ever could or would get past it.  

More recently, problems with depression and anxiety have returned and hopefully this time I was quicker in seeking help.  Certainly I don't worry about being stigmatised for having mental health problems any more, and have no qualms about writing a public blog post about it.  This time I am on antidepressants again (different ones to last time) and have had some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy sessions.  I've even been taking physical exercise as a therapy, which is something my 20-year-old self would probably not have done.  It has proved quite helpful as one component of trying to keep good mental health.  My partner suggested I sign up for a 21-day yoga challenge that was being run by a yoga place in Guildford.  I thought "why not?" and am now one week through it.  The place is called Red Hot Yoga and their thing is that their sessions take part in a hot room.  It can be pretty gruelling, but I generally do feel positive after each session.  I could do without some of the more spiritual aspects of it, but mostly the teachers don't belabour that part too much.  To get myself through it, I just think of the Peppa Pig episode in which Daddy Pig seeks to regain his world puddle-jumping record, where he takes a kind of yogic approach.  If you cannot instantly recall most Peppa Pig episodes, then here is the scene for your enjoyment:

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

A Euratom Update

As we (in the UK) continue in a period of much uncertainty about the future for our relationship with the rest of the European Union, a report appeared today from the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee to urge the government to reconsider the effects that withdrawing from the Euroatom treaty and to try to ensure we remain in deed if not in word, in it or an analogous treaty.  Full details here

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Walter Greiner 1935 - 2016

I don't think I posted anything here last year noting the death of Walter Greiner.  He was a major figure in nuclear physics in all the time I've been doing it, and someone closely related to people I have had close links with research-wise, though I only actually bumped into him a couple of times that I remember.  

Anyway, I notice that the European Physical Society posted an obituary of him earlier this month, so rather than attempt to write a potted biography of someone I knew mostly through second-hand observations,  I direct interested readers to the EPS obituary.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Machiavellian spot-the-difference

This is somewhat off-topic, but I wonder if readers have ever noticed the similarity in appearance between Florentine politico Machiavelli, whose most famous work advocated acting immorally if it achieves the desired political ends, and contemporary politician Jeremy Hunt, who has governmental responsibility for looking after the NHS?


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Euroschool on Exotic Beams

I notice that the latest in the series of Euroschools on Exotic Beams is open for registration.  It is a summer school intended for PhD students and young researchers working on nuclear physics involving radioactive ion beams.  If you are such a person reading this, then follow the link above to have a look and consider applying to attend.  There are a great range of lecturers covering experimental and theoretical aspects, and spending a few days in Normandy in late summer can't be the worst thing to do.  

The Euroschool series has a great history of publishing the lecture notes and making them freely available.  If you follow the link above you can easily find them.  They are a great resource for graduate level nuclear physics study, covering a very broad range of topics.  It also includes one instance of my friend and colleague Wilton Catford citing a certain R. A. Zimmerman.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Ludvig Faddeev (1934 – 2017)

I saw from a friend's Facebook post that Ludvig Faddeev, known to me for his eponymous equations, died a couple of days ago.

Faddeev was a mathematician and physicist whose work is of great importance in few-body nuclear physics.  In particular, he developed a method for solving the quantum three-body problem that can be used when studying, e.g the triton or 3He, but also weakly-bound nuclei in which there is 2-neutron halo along with a strongly-bound core, such as 11Li. 

At this point I have to confess that I have never tried solving the Faddeev equation myself, though this blog post is tempting me to do so.  If someone reading would like to write a quick primer, then I'd be more than happy to post it here.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Bright Club #12

A series of reminder emails are doing their job in reminding me that I am going to be one of the participants in Bright Club #12, which is happening quite soon, on March 9th in the Boilerroom in Guildford.  Bright Club, for the uninitiated is a stand-up comedy event where the performers work in academia.  The name is a bit show-offy for my liking.  Like joining Mensa or something.  But it's an okay pun on Fight Club, so okay.  Anyway, if you want to come and see me, and my absent sense of embarrassment standing up and attempting to be funny, along with some other more competent people, then tickets are available here.

I might start a rival event called Shite Club.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Fusion 17

I'm at the FUSION17 conference in Hobart, Tasmania.  At the beginning of today's session I tweeted, using the hashtag #fusion17 not realising that it had already been used by a party being organised in Texas this spring break (see attached picture).  Oh well.

The conference is one of a series which has been going for 20 years to bring together people working on nuclear reaction mechanisms which lead to fusion.  That's a somewhat minor part of what I do, though what I do doesn't really fall within any one specialist conference series, so it's about as on-topic as most conferences I ever go to.  The fact that I know quite a few of the people here is probably a sign that I belong sufficiently well enough to attend.  

We're about half way through day one, and as usual, the conference talks have filled me with enthusiasm for the research area, and given me lots of ideas of calculations to perform.  I was also pleased and somewhat embarrassed to see my name in the talk by Michael Thoennessen in which he listed the names of all attendees at the conference who were co-authors on papers which announced the discovery of new isotopes.  I have 4 written next to my name, apparently being a co-discoverer of four isotopes.  I can't claim to have been on the experiment(s) leading to these discoveries, but I was involved enough in some of the calculations associated with them to be on the discovery papers.  

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Erasmus Joint Master Degree in Nuclear Physics

If any readers are looking for opportunities to study for a funded master's degree in nuclear physics, an email I received earlier this week might just have what you are after.  It's a 2-year taught master's degree course entitled (deep breath) Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in Nuclear Physics (EMJMDNP).  The email says that "the course is supported by EACEA Agency of European Union with full scholarships (including travel costs and health insurance)"

The degree is co-taught across several universities across Europe, and from what I can see all students will spend some time in each of Spain, France, and Italy.  It looks pretty interesting, and well worth considering as a next step if you have just finished your bachelor's degree and nuclear physics takes your fancy.  Tell them I sent you :-)

Friday, 27 January 2017

UK Leaving Euratom. What does it mean?

According to official explanatory notes accompanying the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, the withdrawal of the UK from the EU will mean withdrawal from the Euratom programme.  

As an academic nuclear physicist, my knowledge of Euratom comes from its role within the European research mechanism.  The Euratom page at the European Commission website says that "Euratom is a complementary research programme for nuclear research and training" and goes on to describe its role in research into decarbonisation, nuclear fission research, nuclear waste management, fusion energy, and radiation protection.  Its most high–profile project is the ITER fusion reaction; the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, based in France, to which Euratom contributes, with other partners.

But as well as being a scientific research programme, Euratom is also a very high-level treaty that the UK has just confirmed it will leave at the same time as it leaves the EU.  What I have not seen anything about is whether and how the UK will step in to replace the funding of research in these areas.  Will we re-join ITER as an independent partner?  What about pursuing the other goals of the Euratom research project for UK scientists?  Will they have increased funding via the UK Research Councils to replace Euratom?  The UK Government need to state the position on the wider consequences of departure from Euratom, if they wish to inspire confidence to the UK scientific community in the management of the Brexit process.  

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Buy Lego. Save the world.

A friend of mine who works at Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited alerted me to this pretty neat thing:  Lego has a scheme whereby proposed kits and designs can be produced by them if they receive enough support on a community website.  Someone has proposed a kit for the Galileo Global Navigation Satellites, parts of which are made here in Guildford.  If you'd like to see the kit made available, please add your support at the Lego Galileo Spacecraft page.  It doesn't oblige you to buy one when it gets to market, but Lego is pretty cool stuff, and Lego are also a place where at least I feel comfortable spending my money, given that every time we spend money we are undertaking an act about as political as anything else we do.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Applications of Nuclear Physics

A really nice and extensive article on many of the uses of nuclear physics appeared on the arXiv this week, written by Anna Hayes of Los Alamos Lab.  As well as including the most obvious applications (weapons and power) and perhaps the most widespread, as well as the first, application (medical), it also covers some of the neat uses in areas like geology, where the study of isotopic abundances in things such as groundwater can tell you what it going on far underground.  I've yet to read the whole thing yet, but it looks definitely worth bookmarking as a go-to piece whenever you are looking to discuss the range of things nuclear physics is applied to.

The figure attached to this post is from the paper, showing some of the ancient (pre-historic) natural nuclear fission reactors that existed in what is now Gabon, detected by the unusual isotope ratio of the remaining uranium, as well as some fission products.  See Anna's paper for more details!