Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Ready for IoP conference 2015

It's approaching the Easter break, so it's time for the annual Institute of Physics Nuclear Physics conference.  Last year I chaired the conference, so this year's will be a more relaxed affair for me.  It's in Manchester, and it's being co–hosted with the particle physics conference, so there'll be an opportunity to go to some sessions on particle physics should the mood take me.  

Today, the seven Surrey students who are talking at the conference gave practice talks and we had a lively session watching and listening to them, then asking questions and giving them feedback.  I'm speaking too, on Tuesday, so if you're there, please come along to my session!  Full details on the conference website.

It'll be nice to have a few days in Manchester.  I illustrate this post with a shot of Canal Street – one of Manchester's famous spots for a good time in the evening.  I might not make it there, travelling with my one-year-old daughter, but she'd probably rather like it.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Unsquare Loser

18 down in today's Independent Crossword is "Jazz pianist's difficulty interrupting rock guitarist (7)"

If you need a little musical inspiration for the clue, these two fine songs might provide it:

Thursday, 5 March 2015

... and then there were three

The University of York has announced the appointment of Prof. Jacek Dobaczewski as the head of their newly-created theoretical nuclear physics group.  

This brings the number of nuclear theory groups in the UK to three (though see footnote on a previous post).  Soon there will be an advert for a lectureship at York, too, and the historical anomaly of nuclear theory being conspicuously undermanned will start to reverse.  

From my point of view, it's great to have Jacek here.  His research area, in density functional theory, has a large overlap with my own, and for the first time since I've been an academic in the UK, my PhD students will now have the possibility of moving to another UK group for a post-doctoral position after completing their PhD.  

Friday, 20 February 2015


I'm going to see Deerhoof in London next week.  If you're as excited about it as me, you might want to check out the video below

Monday, 16 February 2015

No physics PhDs were awarded in the UK before 1990

The panel which judged the physics submissions as part of the recent REF has written an overview report on its findings.  The panel was responsible for several subjects across science and engineering, and the report consists of a general section covering its whole remit, followed by sections on each individual discipline. 

The specific mention of nuclear physics in the report was a little damning.  It reads
Nuclear physics had a smaller share of world-leading outputs compared with other areas. This may be due to the failure of the UK to invest in major international facilities in the last 20 years, thus reducing the scope of UK research and influence in this field. There is concern that the small number of theoretical nuclear physicists is sub-critical and that this weakens the theoretical underpinning of the subject.
The comparison in the first sentence is unfortunate, and even if the outputs (research papers, basically) are good on some kind of absolute scale, the reading is that nuclear groups drag their departments down a bit, on average.  It's curious where the panel suggests the blame may lie – not that we are (necessarily) duffers, but are struggling along with sub-critical support. 

The earlier part of the report has some interesting statistics in it. For example, it gives the number of PhDs awarded in each of the panel's sub-areas, including physics.  I decided to make a plot of the numbers, which they give for the years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2013.  The results are in the left-hand panel of the attached plot, represented by squares.  I include, too, a line of best fit, showing the clear trend of steady increase. 

In the right-hand panel, that trend line is extended back, and it is seen that it the line crosses the zero mark around the year 1990.  Clearly, then, one should treat with scepticism any claims by people who say they got a PhD in physics in the UK prior to 1990.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Isotopes from 2014

The annual update from the Isotope Discovery Project hit the arXiv preprint server last week.   According to it, 2014 saw the first ever human observation of Neon–15, Cobalt–77, Nickel–80, Iridium–164, Actinium–205 and Lawrencium–266.  Welcome, new nuclides!  Oh, except you've all decayed already.  Well,  It was nice to see you all, albeit fleetingly.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

REF submissions online

Just before Christmas I posted about the results of the REF2014 exercise, which the British government will use to decide how to allocate research funding to Universities.  

Yesterday, the submissions from each University were added to the REF site, so if you want to put yourself through the same experience as the panel members tasked with reading the judging the submissions, you are now in a position to do so.  Try not to make the server fall over.