Thursday, 18 December 2014

REF for Surrey Physics

As everyone in the UK University world is aware, today is the day that the results of the REF – the "Research Excellence Framework" come out.  The results are used to determine how a hefty pot of University funding is distributed, the so-called QR or Quality-Related funding (as opposed to funding won through specific research grants).  Doing well in the REF is therefore very important if you want to have time funded to spend on research.

At Surrey, Physics did creditably.  25% of our submitted research (in the form of papers, and other evidence of impact of research) was considered 4* or "world-leading", 59% was 3* or "internationally excellent" and 16% was 2* "internationally recognised" with nothing falling into 1* ("nationally recognised") or unclassified.  How this will be turned into funding is not yet clear, but I think that's a good result for us, and a steady improvement on last time.  

I should give due credit to my colleagues who did a vast amount of work preparing the case.  Thanks all.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

MPhys student placement prize

At Surrey, we send our MPhys students away for a year of their studies to perform a research project at an external institution.  This is a bit different to most UK MPhys programmes, and derives from Surrey's history of always sending out its students on traditional sandwich years.

Thanks to the nature of the Physics Department's research strengths and our external research links, quite a proportion of our students go on placements in nuclear physics.  One such student, Tom Dyer, is on placement right now at AWE (the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment) and got to present his work at a conference (SPIE Security + Defence Conference, Sep 2014).  This is already a great thing for an undergraduate student to be able to do as part of their studies.  That wasn't enough for Tom, though -- he also had to go ahead and win the prize for the best student paper in the "Electro-Optical and Infra-red Systems: Technology and Applications" section.  His work is on using fibre-optic cables to make tamper-indicating enclosures for use in nuclear arms control.  The full paper is available here (though you might need to access it from a IP address inside a subscribing institution - I'm not entirely sure).

Well done, Tom!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Gruesome extracurricular activities

In the past I've reported on some of the successes of Surrey physics students in their academic endeavours.  This time it's the turn of one of our final year undergraduates, George, who won, along with the rest of the band he's in, Joanna Gruesome, this year's Welsh Music Prize, for their first LP, Weird Sister.  They were up against some stiff competition, including the Manic Street Preachers, and ex-Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys.  

Well done George and the rest of the band.  See you in relativity class tomorrow...

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Clashing events

I received an email from the Institute of Physics Nuclear Industry Group about an interesting talk they are organising on 20th November at 7pm.  It's on the topic of the closure of the last nuclear civil research reactor in the UK; Imperial College's CONSORT reactor, in Ascot, Surrey.

It may come as a surprise that Universities used to have their own nuclear reactors for research.  These are much smaller reactors than commercial power station reactors, and were used for all sorts of research into nuclear reactors themselves and related materials and engineering problems, along with applications of the neutrons to research into solid state physics, neutron physics itself, and applications of radiochemistry.  What's more well-known is that the first nuclear reactor was a University–based research reactor, known as Chicago Pile-1, built under a sports field on the University of Chicago campus.

I expect the organisers of the talk will not mind me giving them some free advertising to readers of a specialist nuclear physics blog, and details can be found on the IoP Nuclear Industry Group's published newsletter, for those interested.  

I'd go to the talk, except for the fact that my colleagues Jim Al–Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden have invited me to the launch party for their new book "Life on the Edge" – a scholarly tome about microfauna inhabiting U2's guitarist a popular exposition of the role of quantum mechanics in biology.  The launch party clashes with the nuclear physics talk, alas, and I've already said yes to the party.  Such is life.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Crossword prize!

On most weekends I attempt to buy the newspaper (The Independent, or Independent on Sunday) and then attempt to read some of it, and do the prize crossword.  More often than not, I succeed in some measure in doing these things, though I often don't end up buying the paper until late on in the day, if at all.  This weekend, I've managed to buy the newspaper both days, and read a good amount of them.  I've done the crossword from yesterday, but not started today's yet.  Still, I was alerted via Twitter this morning that I won the crossword prize for last week's Sunday prize crossword.  How exciting!  I shall gratefully receive the dictionaries that come as the prize, though perhaps like most people that solve crosswords, I do happen already to own a reasonably good set of crosswords.  Perhaps they ought to start offering as prizes the sort of things crossword solvers would be rather unlikely to own.  I'm not sure what that would be, exactly.  Any ideas?

Friday, 24 October 2014

Visiting Oak Ridge

My last post was about a visit to UMass, Lowell, to see a student on placement as part of the MPhys research year as a University of Surrey student.  After a tedious day of delayed and cancelled flights, I made it form Manchester (New Hampshire) Airport to Knoxville (Tennessee) Airport, and on from there to Oak Ridge, where the University travel agents had booked me in the Quality Inn.  One might assume that anywhere that feels the need to put such positive words in their establishment's name must feel it has something to prove.  In common with most standard US motels, it was perfectly decent, if not distinguished in its quality.  An Acceptable Inn, perhaps it should have been called.

I spent yesterday visiting Sarah, who has spent her year in the wild recesses of a part of Tennessee once considered sufficiently remote from civilisation to have a secret city for the Manhattan project built there.  As expected, Sarah is getting on famously there, and the visit was more of a formality and an excuse to thank the hosts for looking after her with dinner in the brilliantly–named Chez Guevara restaurant.  Not only does it have a good name, but it was better Mexican food that you could reasonably expect in Tennessee.

Now I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina, hoping to be on a plane back to London, but sitting in the departure area because the plane has "maintenance issues".  At least it gives me a chance to write a little post about my visit to Sarah in Oak Ridge.  Unlike with Bobby in UMass, I didn't go around the lab and get a good picture for this post.  Instead, here's a snap from the oldest part of Oak Ridge – the slowly decaying area with sidewalks where people used to be seen out and about, before cars and strip malls became synonymous with the outdoors.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Visiting Lowell

One of the things that makes our MPhys programmes at Surrey different to other places, is that our students spend a year away from their home institution on a research placement.  It could be at another university, or at a private or government laboratory, and it could be close to home, or far away.  Wherever it is, our students get a unique experience of physics research.  

When our students are out on placement, they get visited by us – the Surrey academics – to make sure things are going okay, and to provide a bit of contact between the home and host institutions.  Today was my turn to visit one of our students, Bobby, on placement at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.  I've never been to Lowell before, or met the group here, so it was a real pleasure for me to come and see them, and the University here.  Lowell is an old industrial mill town in the Northern part of Massachusetts, near the border with New Hampshire.  Very different from the parts of the US that I know well, such as Tennessee, where I used to live.  I'm pleased to say that Bobby is getting on very well here.  He's enjoyed his time greatly, and there has been a lot of mutual benefit between him and the group with his being here, working on radiation detectors.  

The picture shows Bobby (left) with the two professors here that he's been working with – Partha Chowdhury and Kim Lister.  They are standing next to the main beam line of the accelerator facility housed at the UMass campus.

Tomorrow I head to my old stomping ground of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to see Sarah, who is on placement there.