Wednesday, 26 February 2014

India Fusion conference; mid-way report

It's the end of the middle day of the Fusion '14 conference.  I must say, that I've felt a bit out of it all, having totally stayed on English time during the first two days, attending the morning sessions in a state of somnolent stupor.  Too bad, then, that my talk was yesterday morning.  I did feel kind of dazed through it.  Oh well;  I've at least had some good chats to people during the tea breaks, and it's been nice to catch up with some old friends.  I've made some new ones and have a calculation to do for a PhD student in Chandigarh, thanks to a referee who suggested they perform a calculation which is rather specialist (but which happen to have the means to do).

Today was the day with the excursion, which took place after lunchtime.  It was to the Akshardam Temple, about an hour's drive on the east side of Delhi.  My small amount of research before going revealed that it is very large, and also very new (finished in the last 10 years).  I prevaricated about going, partly because of just feeling quite knackered, but I'm glad in some ways that I did - getting out of the lecture theatre has really helped me feel a bit more human.  It was slightly odd going to a big religious structure that was so new.  It shouldn't have been odd, but typically we seem to go to such things (as tourists) because they are old.  I found myself musing about such thing and being glad I went, though I might have found sitting my hotel room more comfortable.  Then came a couple of hours of 'entertainment' which consisted of a series of presentations, which I struggled with a bit, not being part of the religion.  Anyway, I am glad I went on the excursion, though I wouldn't have minded terribly if it were to somewhere else.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

India day 0

I'm in India - in New Delhi, for the Fusion '14 conference.  I arrived earlier today, and the conference starts in the morning.  I like coming to India.  The food is great, and the people really friendly.  They have English as a national language, which at least makes my life easier, and they have quite a few cute English usages.  I picked up a copy of the Times of India today and enjoyed the use of the word "nabbed" as the default, and perfectly formal, verb for police capturing criminals.  India has also embraced the cryptic crossword, which is surely a sign of civilisation and love of language.  The "matrimonials" section of the paper is also fascinating, with dating adverts in such a cryptic code, and in sections according to caste, religion, community, language, US visa status and so on.  They are very different to UK dating columns, and very factual and practical.  There's also no same-sex column.

Having been here before, I'm a little wise to the level of bureaucracy, which seems much higher than at home.  I have ensured that I have a paper copy of my flight itinerary, as without one it is very hard to even get through the door of the airport on departure (or so it seemed last time).  I was still caught out, though - when I came to the hotel earlier, I was asked for my passport and business card.  I was able to hand over my passport, but the business card proved to be more of a problem.  I don't think it is terribly common for UK academics to have business cards - depending perhaps on their line of trade, but I certainly didn't have any on me this morning.  Fortunately, they still let me check in.

So - five days of talks on nuclear fusion lie ahead.  One of the talks - on Tuesday - is mine, and I'm looking forward to the conference.  Right now, though, it's back to the Nuclear Physics Grant Panel proposals in preparation for the meeting when I'm back in the UK...

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Petting Zoo

I'm quite used, in my day job, to standing up in front of other people and "performing". I rather enjoy giving lectures at University, and talks and seminars at conferences and elsewhere. It can sometimes be a bit daunting, and usually the way I find it best to deal with that is to be well-prepared. Experience helps too, no-doubt, probably as another kind of preparation for whatever the audience may throw at you in terms of questions. 

I'm not so used to the kind of performing I did on Monday, though. My brother, Mark, and I are in a band together, called Petting Zoo. We played our first gig on Monday at an open mic night in a pub in Richmond. I must say, I was more nervous than when I stand up to talk about physics, and I must admit that I felt a little amateurish and underprepared compared to other acts. That's probably because I was both those things. It went okay, though, and the audience was basically just all the other acts - it was a very supportive environment. 

Some of the other acts were truly impressive, not least the girl, who must have been about 14, who played guitar and sung just brilliantly. I'm sure she has a future in music. I'm not sure I do, much above the level of occasional pub gigs, but the experience was fun, and has redoubled my resolution to practice practice practice

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Storms in Essex and Turin

I'm away this weekend in Bishop's Stortford, visiting my parents, to see them and celebrate my dad's 67th birthday, which is tomorrow.

In common with other parts of the country, we experienced quite a storm here last night.  I hadn't quite appreciated the extent of it until I took a walk to the local shops to buy a copy of the newspaper to see that the road I took into town yesterday evening was closed.  On the way back from the paper shop I ventured up the road to see why, and saw that it was due to a tree across the full width of the road.  It must have fallen from someone's garden, and they were probably lucky that it fell across the road.  

I took my oldest daughter, Flora, to the Rhodes Centre in town, where I used to go as a kid to things like roller discos, but mostly to a Saturday morning amateur dramatics club.  It's undergone some extension and now has a nice bar/cafe area and function rooms, and houses the Bishop's Stortford Museum, which used to be in the cemetery on Cemetery Road, if I remember rightly.  Flora took part in a seal-making workshop (as in the seals used on letters), while I made a bad stab at Anax's Saturday prize crossword.

I had a (rare) suggestion by a reader to cover something in my blog, on low-energy nuclear reactions. It's a story to do (tangentially) with the Turin Shroud that has cropped up in newspapers, such as this in the Telegraph which reads like a press release and this from the Independent, with more of an attempt to ask some experts.  I don't have time right now to make a longer and more considered post on the matter, but the idea that neutrons are emitted from things like earthquakes doesn't fit with our understanding of nuclear processes.  I fear those that propose it have too much hope that it is true, to answer questions in a way that would suit them - be it that the Turin shroud is an authentic relic which supports a religious view, or that "cold" nuclear fusion is real.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

STFC budget: Flat cash

I managed to miss the announcement yesterday that the government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has allocated its science budget to the various places it disburses it, such as the research councils and the general higher education funding council. 

I guess the news for nuclear physics is that STFC have a 'flat cash' - i.e. same amount of money, not adjusted for inflation - outcome for "core programmes".  The STFC press release is here. That, I think, was largely expected.   That part of STFC which pays for subscriptions to international facilities and in running its own facilities (mostly for non-STFC-core science) has increased a fair bit.

QR - or "quality-related" - funding will still exist, and also be on a flat cash basis.  This is the money that gets distributed following the results of the REF exercise.  

So, could have been better, could have been worse.  

Monday, 10 February 2014

2013 Update of the discovery of nuclides

I noticed on the arXiv server this morning that a preprint has appeared with the 2013 update of the project, run by Michael Thoennessen of MSU, documenting the experimental discover of nuclides. 

Nuclides are the nuclear equivalent of chemical elements - the basic units of matter.  Each element is characterised by the number of protons in the nucleus (or equivalently by the number of electrons orbiting a neutral atom of the element).  They run from element #1 - Hydrogen, with one proton, up to element #118, with 118 protons in the nucleus.  Element 118 has no official name, as yet.  Nuclides are characterised not just by number of protons, but also the number of neutrons in the nucleus.  There are many more nuclides than elements, as each element can host a range of numbers of neutrons in the nucleus.  

The chart attached to this post is know as the Chart of the Nuclides, or sometimes Segré Chart.  It is the equivalent of the periodic table of elements, but for nuclides.  While we don't see new elements discovered every year, most years see the discovery of new nuclides.  The new members of the nuclear family can be seen in section 2 of the above preprint.  2013 was actually quite a lean year, with 67 discovered in 2012.  You can see more details at the discovery project's home page

Perhaps surprisingly, I (as a theoretician) am a co-author on two discovery papers;  for the nuclides Tantalum-155 and Rhenium-159, thanks to my collaboration with the group from Liverpool.  I provided some theoretical input on the structure of these nuclei to help guide the interpretation of the experiment in making the identification of the nuclides in question.

ResearchBlogging tag:
M. Thoennessen (2014). 2013 Update of the discoveries of nuclides arXiv arXiv: 1402.1663v1

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

You know where to come(x)

I had a nice email earlier in the week from a colleague in Poland inviting me to be on the international advisory committee of the COMEX5 conference.  I think this is the first time I've had such an invite, except for some parochial conferences.  I was happy to say yes - it's a conference in part of a series and I've attended previous outings of it.  

The acronym COMEX apparently means "Collective Motion in Nuclei under Extreme Conditions," and certainly those letters can be found somewhere in the phrase in that order.  

The phrase "collective motion" in the context of nuclear physics means processes in which lots of protons and neutrons are doing the same thing at the same time (like vibrating) as opposed to situations in which a single nucleon is doing all the work.  Most actual nuclear processes are not quite one thing or the other, but it tends to be a useful rough categorisation.   I look forward to going to Cracow for the conference, as well as advising, in an international kind of way.