Tuesday, 30 September 2014

It's semester time again

Well, there is no doubt that we are back into semester time.  The campus is thronging with students, no least in the residence blocks, where I -- as a campus warden -- reside alongside them.  In the Physics Department itself, I've yet to see the students, as the University increasingly organises campus-wide induction events for them, and I will miss the Departmental undergraduate reception we throw tomorrow.  On the other hand, I have actually met some physics students, when going round my residence area last night to chat to the new arrivals.  So, I guess that is summer gone - with its three-month window for getting lots of things done.  I certainly did things - perhaps even the right things - but of course my to-do list still has quite a few aspirations on it.  Never mind!  I'll get through them, and enjoy moving back into the time of year when I interact more with the UG students.  Special Relativity and introductory computing for me this semester...

The picture is from the halls of residence where I live, showing that over the summer, the University refurbish the rooms.  This photo was taken on chair-replacement day.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Well done Dr Goddard

Yesterday, for the first time since May last year, I found myself sitting in a room while my PhD student underwent his viva voce examination.  I'm pleased to say he did a great job, but with an external examiner who was very impressed with the thesis, it was always going to be a fairly painless event -- which is not to say that the student in question, Phil, was not a bit nervous beforehand.  

Now I am down to a single student, of whom I'm the lowly second supervisor (with Jim Al-Khalili).  He is planning to submit his thesis very shortly, and I'll be down to none.  Sad face.

Phil's thesis was on fission, using a microscopic quantum theory to undertake the most extensive study at such a level of fundamental theory.  Now he has left, and has a job, and it is up to me, and Phil's co-supervisor to make sure we publish the work coming out of his thesis.  Past experience tells me that when a student leaves their PhD to take up a job in another field, I need to get a paper written up quickly, if it is to ever appear.  For someone who has just finished a PhD, Phil already has a good publication record.  He'll get another couple of papers to add to the tally, but alas for nuclear physics, he's taken a look at the job prospects and the typical life of a post-doc, and got a proper job.

The plot at the top is from Phil's thesis and shows a few snapshots of a simulation of the fission of an isotope of plutonium.  Phil also put a couple of genuine "movies" in his thesis, in the form of flip-book animations in the corners.  I wonder if this is a first?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Biographical Songs

This is very tangential for a blog about nuclear physics, but it comes from the fact that a singer I like is coming to Guildford -- home of my august research institution -- in a few weeks, and I shall be going to see her.  One of my favourite songs from her most recent album is a paean to another musician.  Called That Alice, it's about Alice Coltrane, a jazz harpist and pianist, whose surname she took up her marriage to musician John Coltrane.

I remember finding it strange and disappointing when I was a kid to have films come on which were set actually in Hollywood, and were about aspiring actors trying to make it in the film industry.  It seemed a bit of a lazy trick -- but my family liked watching them (which was true of films in general, in a way I wasn't, really) and I would end up seeing them.  I no longer have the same antipathy, but somehow I never even developed one to the musical analogue.  I think I was just always a whole lot more into music than films.

I'm not aware of too many examples of this sub-genre, but I post three here, which are all songs about other musicians, and that I all like very much.  I'll go in age order -- oldest first -- with the Animals' Story of Bo Diddley




Next is Pavement singing about R.E.M. in Unseen Power of the Picket Fence




and finally Laura Veirs with That Alice.  I hope she plays it on 15th

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Old Durham Town


Yesterday I went to Durham to give a talk in the DiRAC day - a symposium dedicated to scientific and technical results from the use of the STFC's supercomputing facilities. I gave a talk representing the work of the theoretical nuclear physics group at Surrey - mostly mine and Carlo's work actually. 

I arrived at Durham station at 10am, which gave me plenty of time for a walk along the river to the University.  I'd never been to Durham before, except passing through on the train.  It's a very pretty place, and it was a perfect autumnal morning to see the castle and cathedral through a little mist, with university boat crews training on the Wear in the foreground.

Although some of the University is in the old part of town, naturally the sciences are hived off in modern buildings a little further away.  Still, that part of campus seemed pretty nice.  I walked past  a Bill Bryson Library, though didn't find a Leslie Grantham House.  I picked up my badge from the registration desk and tried to book a taxi for the afternoon to take me back to the station. "Oh, we can't get a taxi for the afternoon," they said, "not at that time -- not with all the schools, you see?"

The first session consisted of a series of longer talks from a range of different collaborations that use the DiRAC computer - a combination of QCD and astro/cosmology projects.  The the lunch break was announced with a "lunch is in the upstairs meeting room.  Vegetarians should make sure they get there quickly."  I hadn't heard that at a conference for ten years or so.  Fortunately there was no problem and I got some (rather nice) lunch.  

I gave my talk after lunch.  Hopefully people enjoyed it.  No-one asked any questions, though they didn't in any of the talks in that session, which were in diverse ranges of science.   The chair stepped-up admirably to the mark, though, with a question for me (about future plans - always a good stand-by)

I couldn't write a post about Durham, without including Roger Whittaker singing one of his signature tunes.  Enjoy!

Friday, 19 September 2014

The New York Post


In pretty big news for theoretical nuclear physics in the UK, the University of York have just announced that they have two new posts up for grabs in nuclear theory - a professorship and a lectureship.  On the scale of things, a job opening might not sound so very newsworthy, but given that theoretical nuclear physics has dwindled so much in Britain to such an extent that the press release above cites only Manchester and Surrey as other places doing theory# - having a new group start is quite a big deal.  Now, I wonder who might apply...

It seemed sort of obvious to make some kind of "New York" pun in the title of the blog post.  In picking an accompanying graphic/video, I've gone for a much more tangential thing - a song which is purely about New York City.  If you don't like the first three minutes, try to plough past that, because that's where the best bits are.

# This is not exactly what the press release says, but it's reasonably uncontroversial to say that Manchester and Surrey have the only two nuclear theory groups in the UK - with a total headcount in single figures.  However, one could argue that the collaboration spread out over a few Universities (Kent, Cambridge, Durham) that works on Skyrmions, and at least some of the Lattice QCD people could be called nuclear theorists.  Part of the reason that one often doesn't is that they don't go via the STFC Nuclear Physics funding schemes, and don't habitually get involved in IoP Nuclear Physics Group (or its annual conference) so they self-identify as Mathematical Physics and Particle Physics respectively.  

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Job opening at Surrey

Guildford Cathedral + a play park 
Following the recent STFC Nuclear Physics Consolidated Grant round, and the award of a grant to our group at Surrey, we have an opening for a Research Fellow in theoretical nuclear physics.  The job advert is here -- closing date 21st November.  Tell your friends to apply (if your friends are theoretical nuclear physicists looking for a post-doctoral position).  

The nuclear group - and indeed the whole physics department - at the University of Surrey is a nice place to work.  We're a friendly bunch, and there is a capacious desk waiting for the successful applicant in our post-doc office.  

Guildford itself is a popular place to live, mostly because it is easy to leave, via the train to London.  Still - it has much to offer over many other commuter towns in the South-East.  It's in a pretty location in the middle of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It's also the nearest big town for quite a large local area, with all the amenities that come with it.  Bizarrely, though, for a town of its middle class credentials, it doesn't have a branch of Waitrose, but fear not, because one is due to open next year.  Besides which, there's a shop just off North Street that sells quinoa.  Also, Guildford occasionally returns an MP who is not Conservative, though never one who is not conservative.


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Conferences galore

It seems to be the week for announcement of conferences and workshops.  I guess once one person sends round an email fixing dates in peoples calendar, everyone else planning an event has to get their dates in the collective consciousness, too.   So, an interesting-looking conference is taking place in Slovakia next May, and another in Finnish lapland in April (with no website yet, but the graphic from the flyer is attached to this post.  This adds to a Slovenian conference in June that was announced a while back.  Then there's COMEX5 in Poland in September.  I mentioned this before since the organisers were so kind as to invite me onto the international organising committee.

For those interested in travelling to Eastern Europe, nuclear physics is a really good thing to be studying.  Largely this is a relic of cold war days, when each country wanted to be seen to be active in basic nuclear physics, alongside other applied nuclear activities.  The legacy continues with research activity today.  A much more comprehensive list of conferences is kept by NuPECC - the European nuclear physics umbrella body.  It demonstrates that there are other parts of the world where nuclear physics conferences take place.  The last two on the list (as of the time of writing) look rather tempting...