Friday, 14 January 2011

Phil Elliot orbituary?

Phil Elliot, who died in 2008, was an important figure in the field of nuclear structure, showing how mathematical group theory could be used to explain the complexities of nuclear structure from a simple point of view. The protons and neutrons in nuclei are somewhat colloquially said to move in "orbits," so perhaps this is why the journal Nuclear Physics A has just published an "orbituary".

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

First workshop of the year

I'm in Brighton attending the PRESPEC Workshop, aimed at discussing the sort of experiments my experimental colleagues will do at the GSI Facility in Germany. There have been all sorts of different topics discussed, from proton radioactivity (decay of a nucleus by emitting a proton), to isomeric states (long-lived excitations in a nucleus), to evolution of nuclear shapes as the number of neutrons or protons chances, to theoretical approaches to describe all these different things. Mine was a theoretical talk, covering the range of things that one can do with mean-field theories. I culminated with a movie that I think is pretty cool. It is of a simulation of a collision on two Uranium nuclei, which combine briefly, and the combined "compound" nucleus then splits into three. Such ternary fission is pretty exotic, and it would be good if the calculation turns out to be correct. I need to do a bit more work to come up with a predicted experimental signature. For now, I'd just like to be able to convert the movie into a much smaller file format, so that I could show it here. I'm sure the file size is not what it should be if it were efficiently encoded. Anyone know a way of reducing the size of an mpeg video file?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Quantum Mechanics and The Archers

As I was lazily enjoying the Bank Holiday on Monday, my mobile phone rang. I answered it to find a researcher for the BBC's PM programme asking me if I was an Archers fan and if I knew anything about Quantum Mechanics. The answer was yes on both counts. In truth, the older I get and the more I study physics, the more I realise that I don't understand things, but I think there's no doubt that I'm an Archers fan.

For the show's 60th Anniversary edition on Sunday, they had a double-length episode, with a cliff-hanger in which we heard a long running cast member's scream as he fell from the roof of his stately home. What we didn't know for sure is whether or not he died. I didn't think about it at the time as I listened, but others apparently made the link between this situation and the Schroedinger's Cat thought experiment. The BBC picked this up and wanted to have me on PM to discuss it. So... I said yes, and walked the 30 seconds to the BBC studios that I conveniently live next to(!) and before I knew it, I was pre-recording an interview with Eddie Mair about the link between not knowing whether Nigel, the Archers character, was alive or dead, and not knowing whether a cat, locked in a box with a phial of poison which opens according to a random event, is alive or dead.

I thought I'd sound a bit nervous at the start of the interview, before I relaxed a bit, but listening to it when it went out (which I never much like doing!) it was actually okay. I think I gave a reasonable account of Schroedinger's Cat for a Radio 4 audience, and I got to talk to the great Eddie Mair.

Thanks to Jim Al-Khalili for forwarding my number to the BBC. They asked him (and according to Twitter, lots of others) before finally finding someone qualified to talk both about the Archers and Quantum Mechanics. That's one interesting Venn diagram.

If you want to listen, and you read this before the 10th of January, you can listen again on the BBC website. I'm about 40 minutes in.