Sunday, 18 December 2016

Hamish, dob 17/12/2016 <3

I'd like to present the results of a recent fusion-fission reaction.  One event was detected, on Saturday morning, with the final product observed to have a mass of 2.45 × 1030 MeV/c2. As a working name, we have have assigned Hamish, though obviously it needs to be ratified by the appropriate authority, via the Guildford Register Office.

The initial reaction products are remarkably more or less as they were before the reaction, though some evidence of decay seems to have taken place.  The results of previous successful experiments (codenamed Flora and Alba) are both delighted about this new emanation. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

More new isotopes

I posted not so very long ago about the announcement of the discovery of a hitherto unobserved isotope of lead.  The same laboratory has now had the announcement published about the observation of two further new isotopes; 240Es (Einsteinium, element number 99) and 236Bk (Berkelium, element number 97)

Congratulations to the team, drawn from the home institution of the laboratory, Jyväskylä University, as well as from collaborating institutions around the world.

If you want to read the research paper, it is published as an open access paper (i.e. anyone can read it without a subscription to the journal) here.  The publication date of the journal issue in which the paper features is in 2017, strangely.  

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The IBA prize for applied nuclear science

I noticed today in the electronic newsletter from the European Physical Society that the call for nominations for the IBA prize is mentioned there.  The prize is sponsored by the IBA company, whose business is in proton therapy, and it is awarded to one or several individuals for outstanding contributions to applied nuclear science including nuclear methods in medicine.  If any readers of this blog know of anyone that is deserving of the prize, please follow the link above to find the nomination form.  The deadline for nomination is 15th Jan 2017.

You can see a list of previous prizewinners here, and a picture of the last winner, Prof. Salehpour, accompanying this blog post.

Friday, 18 November 2016

"Do while" annoyances

Since I'm teaching a computing class this morning, here is a purely computer programming related post.  One of the students was having a problem with his code, using a do-while construct in the Fortran language.  This runs a block of code while a certain condition is true.  Here is a full example program which you can compile with e.g. the free gcc compiler:

PROGRAM dowhile

  INTEGER :: i, j

  DO WHILE (i<5)
  WRITE(6,*) i, j


Now, the DO WHILE construct says that we run the code between the DO and END DO statements until the variable i is less than 5.  One may wonder, then, in the example, what value of j will be printed after exiting the loop.  If you know the rule that Fortran works by, then you know that the check of the condition i<5 takes place only each time the loop starts, and not continuously, so the line j=20 gets executed even though i<5 is no longer true at that point.  It is perhaps a little counter-intuitive, and can certainly lead to mistakes.  For that reason, I don't teach the DO WHILE construct in the year 1 computing course, but instead  "IF (i<5) exit", which can be inserted wherever in the loop the user wants the test to be done.  Enterprising students will, of course, find out about DO WHILE on the internet and make use of it. 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

New isotope of lead discovered

Yesterday, the journal Physical Review C published a paper announcing the observation of the isotope 178Pb – an isotope of lead with 96 neutrons and 82 protons.   This ratio of neutrons to protons is pretty extreme for such a heavy element, where the large positive charge of the 82 protons tend to prefer to be padded out with more neutrons than that.  126 neutrons is the number producing the most abundant isotope, so the one just discovered in a reaction at the laboratory at Jyväskylä University in Finland has an amazing 30 neutrons fewer than that most stable isotope.  At the other end of the scale, the heaviest lead isotope so far observed is 220Pb, with 138 neutrons.

The lead (no pun intended) author on the discovery paper is a PhD student, originally from Syria, who is studying at Jyväskylä.  Well done to all involved!

Books: An update

At the end of 2015 I posted about the books that I head read during the year.  I resolved to read more in 2016, and have managed to do it.  I expect I'll give a mini-review of them all at the end of the year here on the blog, and you can get a sneak preview on the Goodreads website, if you really want to.

As I noted in the 2015 post, I actually read loads of books, in the form of books for toddlers.  I can't realistically keep track of all such books I read, but for one month, in October, I attempted to do so.  Here is the list:

Miffy at school 
My First Numbers
Peppa’s Easter egg hunt
The Fire Engine
Peppa’s Gym Class
Peppa’s Pumpkin Party
Daddy pig’s Fun Run
Daddy Pig’s Office
Daddy Pig’s Office
Mum’s New Hat
The Golden Touch
The Monster Hunt
Funny Fish
Poor Old Rabbit
I Can Trick a Tiger
Dad’s Birthday
Little Miss Sunshine and the Wicked Witch
Little Miss Naughty and the Good Fairy
Danger Dragon
Hungry Floppy
The Spaceship
Dad’s Birthday
Floppy and the Bone
Girls' Potty Time
Mr. Nobody
Mr Topsy Turvy
Mr Messy
Mr Tumble's Sunny Day
The black and white baby book animals
Bunny and Bee can't sleep
My First Trucks
Mr Grumble
Mr Perfect
Poor old rabbit!
Super dad
I can trick a Tiger
The Monster Hunt
The old tree stump
The spaceship
My very noisy digger
Hungry Floppy
Silly Races
Dad's Birthday
Funny Fish
Mum's New Hat
Floppy and the Bone
Dragon Danger
Blue chameleon
Frieda and Bear
Hello Kitty first words
Guess how much I love you
Hello Kitty first words
Hello Kitty first words
Picnic Time
The snowman
Silly races
Dad's birthday
Funny Fish
Mums new hat
Hungry floppy
The spaceship
The old tree stump
Spike the spider
Baby Animals
Peppa favourite things
Peppa at home
Peppa at playgroup
peppa's garden
Peppa's Friends 
Peppa's family
Looking After Gran
Guess How Much I Love You
Hello Kitty First Words
Spike The Spider
Baby Animals
I can treat a tiger
The monster hunt
Dragon danger
Floppy and the bone
Miffy is crying
Miffy at the seaside
Miffy the fairy
Miffy at the zoo
Miffy and the new baby
Spike the Spider
Hello Kitty First Words
The Golden Touch
Picnic Time
Funny fish
Dad's birthday
Silly Races
The snowman
Bod's Dream
Bod and the cherry tree
Peppa's new neighbours
Peppa at playgroup
Peppa's friends
Peppa at home
Peppa's favourite things
Peppa's garden
Peppa's family
Lines that wiggle
Meg and Mog 
The golden touch
Mountain rescue
Looking after gran
Arctic adventure
Hello Kitty first words
Owl babies
Owl babies
Mr lazy
The very hungry caterpillar
The story of the little mole who knew it was none of his business
Mr noisy
Spot loves bedtime
Jack and the Beanstalk
Aye aye
Jack and the beanstalk 
Meg and Mog
Spot goes to school
Where's Spot?
Spot's First Christmas 
The golden touch
The hairy-scary monster
Arctic adventure
Pip and Posy The Snowy Day
Pip and Posy The Big Balloon
Dentist Trip
Super dad
Poor old rabbit
I can trick a tiger
The monster hunt
Dragon danger
Floppy and the bone
Spot says good night
Bread and jam for Frances
Peppa's Pumpkin Party
Miffy's bicycle
Miffy's birthday
Miffy in hospital
Miffy at School
Peppa's Easter egg hunt
The fire engine
Peppa's gym class

As you may have noticed, I read many books several times.  I include the cover of one of them at the top of the post, since I always like to have an illustrative picture when I make a blog post.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Another MPhys publication

In an automatic list of announcements of papers published in the latest edition of Journal of Physics G, I noticed a paper co-authored by one of our (University of Surrey's) MPhys students on her research year placement.  The paper, entitled The PROSPECT physics programme, describes a project taking place at a research reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to study neutrino oscillations.    

Neutrinos are very light elementary particles that are created in nuclear processes such as beta decay.  As far as we currently understand, there are three flavours of neutrino, associated with three different particles:  The electron neutrino, the muon neutrino and the tau neutrino.  When any of these neutrinos are created they are fully of one of these three types.  The oscillations begin as the neutrinos travel through space, and find that they oscillate between the different flavours, so what starts as an electron neutrino will oscillate between the three different flavours.  This effect has been observed by a couple of experiments (Daya Bay and Double Chooz) which both looked at neutrinos as observed at some distance (at least a kilometre) from the nuclear reactors which are the source of the neutrinos.  PROSPECT is designed to look for very short range changes in neutrino flavour by having the detectors very close (a few metres) to the reactors, to help understand the nature of neutrino oscillations, and potentially look for some hypothetical neutrino-like objects. 

The apparatus for the experiment is still being built and tested, and the paper is something of a statement of intent and progress report for the project.  Our student, Brennan Hackett, is working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the detector assembly that is being placed close to the High Flux Isotope Reactor (pictured in this post).  Congratulations to Brennan on what I think is your first physics publication (and all while an undergraduate student)!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Seaborg in the Times Crossword

Yesterday, the Times Crossword featured the clue "Old US scientist bags ore for breaking down (7)". Seasoned solvers of cryptic crosswords will spot that "bags ore" has 7 letters, and that "for breaking down" could reasonably indicate that one should make an anagram from the 7 letters.  That leaves the rest of the clue "Old US scientist" as the definition.  The answer is Seaborg

Now, I wouldn't necessarily have thought that Glenn Seaborg was famous enough to feature in a crossword, but with this kind of clue where you have a shortish anagram to work with, it's often the case that you (or at least I) figure out a plausible answer then have to look up to check if you are right.  Seaborg was a nuclear physicist or nuclear chemist (them being really the same thing) who worked at University of California, Berkeley, where he was famous for research into making transuranium elements -- those elements heavier than Uranium which are not found in primordial matter, and need to be synthesised in the lab.  Element number 106 was named after him, as seaborgium.  

Thursday, 22 September 2016

"Until general disarmament has been achieved..."

I moved house a little over a year ago, so naturally many of my things are still in boxes piled up around the place.  Rifling through one of them today, I came across this pamphlet issued by the government in 1963 entitled "Advising the Householder on Protection against Nuclear Attack".  It's pretty sobering reading.

The first line of the introduction reads "The primary purpose of the Government's defence policy is to prevent war; but until general disarmament has been achieved and nuclear weapons brought under international control there still remains some risk of nuclear attack."  I suppose since the time of the publication some progress has been made.  The Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed late in 1963 and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty came later.  Still we have not been attacked by nuclear weapons, but "general disarmament" does not seem to be on the cards, except as an accidental side-effect of austerity, perhaps.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Oliver Lodge's Past Years

I'm back from my holidays for the summer now.  Like last year, we ended the school holidays with a week in Deal, in Kent, staying in a friend's house that happens to have a lot of physics–friendly books on the shelf.  I again started reading Oliver Lodge's autobiography, and I got a bit further through it than last time.  It's a bit of a painful read at times, with his bleak assessment of parts of his childhood and schooldays (such as the bullying at school and the violence of the schoolmasters) as well as what seems like a bit of an outsider's career in physics (having started at University late, his not having had the background that leads to it at end of schooling), and the description of his courtship with his to-be-wife sounding very Victorian and somewhat excruciating.  Still, it comes across as a very frank and open description of these sometimes-painful things and so rewarding enough to read.   

I only got about half way through the book during my week there, and not therefore on to the parts of his research career where he was investigating psychic phenomena.  Perhaps that is for the best, but I've made a note this time of how far I got through the book, and maybe next year we will be back and I can pick up from where I left off. 

I've checked, and neither Surrey County library nor the University library have a copy.  I'm not sure I want a copy badly enough to secure one by other means.  I used to use the abebooks website before Amazon took them over, but I'm a little uneasy about giving Amazon money, following widely–reported allegations of unpleasant ways they treat their workers.  Are there any other places one can look, do you know?  

Friday, 26 August 2016

Nuclear in New Brunswick

A quick post today to alert anyone who is looking for a permanent position in nuclear physics and uses my blog as their primary source for information, that Rutgers University is advertising for a tenure track, or potentially more senior, position.  Tell them I sent you :-)

I haven't had the pleasure of visiting Rutgers University, but I do know some of the work they are involved in, thanks to them employing some of our MPhys students for year–long research projects.  Those students have been physically placed at Oak Ridge in Tennessee, though working for Rutgers, helping to develop the Oak Ridge Rutgers University Barrel Array (ORRUBA).  The included in this post is from a talk by Prof. Jolie Cizewski from Rutgers University from a talk at the INPC conference in 2007.  The whole kit has come a long way since then.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Job at UTK

I've had an enjoyable time since coming back from the Nuclear Structure 2016 conference in Tennessee.  I've been for a family holiday in Spain, of the relax-on-the-beach variety.  To be honest, going somewhere hot and lying around not doing much is not my usual idea of a good time, but with two kids, "not doing much" is not an option, and I spent a lot of time in the sea or the pool, playing with them.  Anyway.  Tennessee has cropped up again and prompted me to post:  I received an email this morning saying that there is a post-doc position available in Knoxville.  As someone who once held a post-doc position at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I can heartily recommend it as a place to spend a few years.  In fact, downtown Knoxville is considerably more fun that it was 20 years ago when I lived there.  Here's the job advert.  

Since I always like to put a picture on each post, I attach a photo from the one day in the beach holiday when we went on a day trip to do some sight-seeing -- to Girona.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Nuclear Structure Day 3

This morning's run
It's more than half way through the Nuclear Structure 2016 conference.  Thanks to Kelly's comment on my previous post, I indeed took a run straight down Walnut Street to the river so that I could run along the "Greenway" path that runs alongside it.  I was a bit worried by the very steep hill I ran down to get to the bridge across the main road and then the stairs down to get to the riverside.  It meant that there would be a lot of uphill on the return run, and of course so there was.  I ended up running 2km, so no great shakes, but I certainly felt like I got a lot of exercise while doing it.  

There have been a lot of good talks at this conference.  I particularly enjoyed Gaute Hagen's talk yesterday which showed some recent results from his group's calculations using the coupled cluster method to calculate the properties of the doubly-magic 48Ca nucleus.  They use interactions from chiral effective field theory which one can think of as a fairly fundamental way of describing the nucleon-nucleon (NN) interaction (though it turns out that they are still a little uncontrolled so that there are many such interactions they can choose from) and the whole method falls under the name ab initio, meaning really that they use free NN interactions rather than in-medium interactions to produce the structure of nuclei.  I think there is still some work to make NN interactions sufficiently fundamental to justify the ab initio moniker. But okay, they are heroic calculations that were justifiably published in Nature Physics.  It was good, I think, that they made some effort to get the radius of their nuclei right.  The radius always seems to take second place to binding energy when people are trying to reproduce the properties of nuclei with their theories.  There are strong links between the neutron-proton radius difference and e.g. the expected properties of neutron stars, linked via the equation of state of nuclear matter.  Anyway, the result Gaute presented suggest that the neutron skin is on the lower end of what is usually predicted, which is certainly an interesting result, and I (and many others) await the CREX experiment which is planned to make the best ever measurement of the neutron radius.  The proton radius is relatively easy to measure via electron scattering.

charge radii
The radii of nuclei in this region show really interesting behaviour, as shown by Kei Minamisono in the talk before Gaute's, and by Ronald Garcia-Ruiz's talk immediately after Gaute's.  The second picture here shows a snapshot I took during Kei's talk.  If you click on it you get a slightly bigger version.  The points show the charge radius – so the proton distribution, basically.  The black triangles (second line from top) are for calcium, in which there are always 20 protons.  The radius, between neutron number 20 and 28, shows a kind of inverted parabola with odd-even staggering.  Very few theories can reproduce this.  Then there is a strong linear increase after the N=28 magic number.  Add one proton for scandium, or subtract one for potassium and the details don't just mirror calcium shifted up or down a bit, but look quite different.  There are rich structure effects going on in here that I don' think we fully understand.  Certainly there are approaches (such as density functional theory) which have reproducing radii well within their remit, but simply don't get the details right.

Lee Evitts
Yesterday also saw a Surrey PhD student (who spends all his time actually working at the TRIUMF lab in Canada despite formally being enrolled at Surrey) who is also a graduate of our MPhys programme, Lee Evitts, give a talk to the couple of hundred delegates present.  He did a good job, talking about his results of spin-zero excited states in nickel isotopes, and what they tell us about the nature of those nuclei.  In particular he was looking at electromagnetic transitions between spin-zero states, which are very peculiar as they cannot proceed by the emission of a gamma–ray photon, which is the usual way that electromagnetic transitions proceed.  This makes the experiments harder as the probes tend to be messier.  Lee's experiment used proton scattering off of the nuclei to let the associated Coulomb field cause the transition to take place.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The old stomping ground

I am at the Nuclear Structure 2016  conference in Knoxville, TN for this week.  This is part of a series of conferences that moves around the US, organised by a different National Laboratory each time.  This time is the turn of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).  A previous time that it was organised by ORNL was one of the first conferences I went to as a young researcher.  The conference website this time gives a history of the biannual conference back to 2008.  A quick search (for the conference proceedings) reveals that I was at the 1998 conference in Gatlinburg, which is a nearby resort town in the Smoky Mountains.  Back then I lived here in East Tennessee.

I usual consider the part of nuclear physics I do to be nuclear structure (the properties of individual nuclei), as opposed to nuclear reactions (how they interact with each other).  So this conference series is sort of my main area, but actually I've increasingly moved to the border between structure and reactions, and I never feel like I am completely at home at most conferences any more.  Not that there is anything wrong with being away from home.  

Well, one of the pictures attached to the post shows a slide from a talk given by Jolie Cizewski from Rutgers University.  I took a picture of it because of the prominent featuring of a list of University of Surrey collaborators, most of whom are our MPhys students, which Prof. Cizewski has been kind enough to host during their research years.  The other picture shows I run I went on at around 6 am this morning.  There's a bit of a heatwave here this week, but running before dawn was pretty acceptable (and there were a few of us out).  After a long time of not doing too much running, I'm trying to get back into doing more of it to improve physical and mental health.  This was not a terribly long run on the scale of things (1.5km) but it's a start.  If my jet lag keeps me getting up early, hopefully I'll be going a bit further while I am here.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Ghost Rider

I don't think I can construe this as a nuclear physics post, but I notice that Alan Vega, of the bad Suicide died this week, and so I present a Suicide song, covered by REM:

Monday, 4 July 2016

2016 Rutherford Medal

It was announced at the end of last week that the 2016 Rutherford Medal of the Institute of Physics was awarded to Professor John Simpson, of Daresbury Laboratory.  The award cites his contributions to the understanding of atomic nuclei, particularly in the high-angular-momentum regime, and through his leadership in associated detector development.  

The picture attached to the post features John, though if you don't know what he looks like, you're hardly going to find him in it.  It's a picture take from before my time in nuclear physics, at Daresbury Laboratory, before nuclear accelerator facility was closed down.  John is wearing a white top, to the left of the centre of the detector, as the camera is looking at it.

Congratulations, John!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Mid–year book post

Around the new year, I made a post pointing out that I had discovered a list, from 2006, of all the books I had read that year.  Back then, for various reasons, I used to read a lot more than I have come to in recent years.  I used to never be without a book about my person so that if I got a chance to read (on a train journey, say) I'd always have my latest read to hand.  There have been times lately when I have found myself on a journey only to realise that I don't have a book with me.  That never used to happen, and this year I've been trying to find the time to keep up a better reading rate.

As a half-year status report, I list the books that I've read so far this year.  I don't have any mini-reviews prepared, but I might try to retrospectively fit some in.  If you are desperate to know what I think of any of them, feel free to ask in comments and I will take your interest as a prompt to write something.  Anyway, for the record -- and I'll report back at year end -- here is what I have read thus far:

Seymour, an Introduction – J. D. Salinger
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Raffles – E. W. Hornung
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave
Night Blind (still reading) – Ragnar Jónasson

Friday, 17 June 2016

Nuclear Spot-the-difference #8

I wonder if readers have previously noticed the similarity in appearance between Ayatollah Ali Khameni, and emeritus nuclear physics professor Bill Gelletly of the University of Surrey?


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Why I'm voting "In"

There is a lot of commentary out there at the moment on whether voters in the UK should elect to leave the EU ("Brexit") or stay in it.  Here's my contribution.

Brexit, science & the economy

Part of the remit of this blog is to do with the environment under which scientific research takes place, and many scientists have been vocal in supporting the UK staying in the EU.  Here, for example, is a letter from 13 nobel science laureates.  It's no wonder that us academics are by and large in favour of staying in.  We tend to be fairly international in our outlook.  Our profession is about education and research and borders are only a hindrance to those things.  The government's anti-immigration rhetoric and policies usually have a detrimental effect on higher education, irrespective of the current EU referendum.  Much of the science-related debate regarding the EU has been about funding.  The UK wins a lot of EU research grants, and this source of funding would be thrown into doubt by us leaving the EU.  The small group of pro-Brexit scientists that are campaigning on a "scientists for Britain" platform have tried to argue that we would probably still be able to apply for EU funding in the sciences.  That's not what happened to Switzerland, though, when they tried to limit immigration and freedom of movement.  They lost the right to bid for EU science funding, and to participate in the Erasmus+ scheme for student and staff mobility.  Eventually -- yesterday -- the Leave campaign said they would match funding for science if any were lost by us leaving the EU.  Not that they are in the position to make such promises, but it was a strong admissions that leaving would be, on the face of it, bad for science, that the needed to make such a promise.  The small group of pro-Brexiters that self-identify as scientists only go to show that turkeys sometimes vote for Christmas, and that they don't prioritise science too highly in their reasons for wanting to leave.

The left-wing case for leaving the EU

There is a left-wing case for leaving the EU.  It's summed-up in the beginning of this article.  Much of the population of Greece might understand very well that the EU promotes the interests of capital and those that control it over the interests of people in general.  Not only that, but the choice we are facing in this referendum is between the pissy half-in membership of the EU that our government has negotiated and being completely out.  But the version of completely-out that we are being offered is one on the terms of the likes of Farage, Gove, and Johnson.  An out vote will be a vote for a right-wing future.  A one based on fear of foreigners and a distaste for a communal approach to things like human rights.  There is no left-wing exit option on the table this time.  Left-wingers who promote voting "leave" at this referendum are only useful idiots.  The rest of the article I link to at the top of this paragraph goes over the arguments, as does this one

"I want my country back"

The economic arguments regarding the leave–stay campaign have been won by the remain campaign, it seems.  But okay -- I think most Brexiters' primary concerns are to do with ideas of democracy and being able to have democratic control over the country (particularly borders).  I think the same arguments apply here as they do in the left-wing argument.  Since Thatcher, and possibly earlier, we have handed over control of our country to the controllers of capital, rather than in favour of the populace.  What exactly would  we be getting "back"?   A neoliberal Utopia is not really getting our country back, I don't think.  Are Brexiters hoping that we will somehow get a 1950s version of England?  Complete with child abuse and the ability to make racial or homophobic slurs with impunity?  I don't think there is any prospect of getting anything "back" that people asking for getting our country back want.  (Oh, and if you want to read actual evidence on what immigration does for us, look here).

Ironically, those looking to make this a kind of united United Kingdom against the rest of the EU seem likely to find themselves having facilitated the break-up of the UK.  What is for sure if we leave the EU battle is that we will have revealed that the population of the UK is not at all united in how it sees its relation with Europe -- indeed, that has already been shown.  Of course, the majority can impose its views on the rest -- that is how democracy works.  What they can't do is claim that we have somehow returned to the natural unit of concordant nationality.  They will have disproved all their arguments, and they can contemplate that if a newly independent Scotland re-joins their fellow Europeans.  I wouldn't blame them if they did.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Nuclear Physics Spot-The-Difference #7

I wonder if readers have previously noticed the similarity in appearance between composer John Adams, and nuclear physics professor Phil Woods of the University of Edinburgh?


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

New element names

The announcement came through today that the elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 now have names suggested by the discoverers and recommended for acceptance by the official committee that deals with such things.  There is now a public review, ending on 8th November 2016, but I can't see any reason why the names will not stand.  They are:

113: Nihonium, after Japan, where the element was discovered
115: Moscovium, since the element 115 effort was a collaboration involving a research lab in Dubna, in Russia's Moscow Oblast
117: Tennessine, honouring the role of Tennessee in the collaboration, with scientists from Oak Ridge National Lab, UT Knoxville, and Vanderbilt University (Nashville) involved in the work.  The different ending to the element name comes from the fact that element 117 sits in the halogens which conventionally end with the –ine suffix.
118: Oganesson, after Yuri Oganessian, who for many years has been the driving force of the superheavy element group at Dubna.  The –on ending is thanks to element 118 sitting in the noble gas column of the periodic table. That's Yuri Oganessian in the picture attached to this post.  Well done Yuri, and everyone else involved in the discoveries.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Line of Control

I saw a tweet earlier today relevant to both my current geographical location (Indian-controlled Kashmir) and matters nuclear.  It was from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation and pointed to a blog / news post of its own.  It pointed out that 28th May is the anniversary of Pakistan's series of nuclear bomb tests which took place over three days starting on 28th May 1998.  

I'm in Kashmir, through which runs a contested border between India and Pakistan.  While I'm in the Indian part of Kashmir, in the capital Srinagar, the nearest national capital to where I am is Islamabad, about 100 miles away.  I read in the article that the bomb tests took place "in the eastern part of the country" but a quick look at the map they show in the post indicates that actually it was in the west of Pakistan, quite far from where I am now.  It also reminded me that I am currently in one of the nine nuclear weapons states.  In fact it is the fifth one I have been to this year (following the UK, US, France & China).  I expect to go Russia in September.   Now perhaps I need to arrange trips to Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.

The de facto border between India and Pakistan up here in Kashmir is called the Line of Control.  I was amused by the sign (shown in the photo) used in the coffee shop next to the guesthouse on campus which indicated where the staff area was, where the public is not supposed to enter.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Does dark matter cause cancer?

A quick post today while I distract myself from the stack of marking that piles up at this time of year.  This is one I fully expect to appear on the front page of the Daily Mail or the Express:  I saw today that there is a new article in the journal Physics Letters B entitled Dark Matter as a Cancer Hazard.  I haven't read it in detail (perhaps someone who does could make their own post or comment below) but it's an assessment of whether some popular candidates for dark matter could undergo the same kind of interaction with atomic nuclei that might cause a DNA mutation that other kinds of known radiation can do.  

We don't know if the kind of dark matter used in the paper even exists.  If it does, there's not a whole lot we could do about it anyway, but it'd be kinda interesting if it is a background cause of cancer -- and it would mean that we effectively have detected this kind of dark matter without realising it

Kashmir Art Tree

While here at Kashmir University to teach a course in theoretical nuclear physics, I saw a news story on the BBC news website about a fallen plane tree on the campus of the University which is being used as a canvas for art students.  What else is one supposed to do, then, but try to find the tree.  The campus is not very large and I walked around to look for it.  It turns out to be around 100m from the guest house where I am staying, close to the art faculty building.

I found a group of art students hanging out by the tree, and chatted to them about the project.  They knew that it had somehow made the BBC News website and told me that it had become a bit of a tourist attraction.  When the project was over, they said, the tree would return to nature.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Oh let the sun beat down upon my face

Today, I gave my first lecture in a series of six as part of a nuclear physics graduate school.  It's based at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar.  I arrived here after a somewhat gruelling journey from Xinxiang, involving a flight from Zhengzhou to Guangzhou, another to Delhi and a third to Srinagar. The first flight was delayed by quite a while thanks to bad weather in Guangzhou, and when we did finally take off and fly to Guangzhou we ended up circling quite a bit in the storm and ended up with a flight time more than an hour more than it should have been.  I could swear we almost landed quite some time before we actually did -- at least we appeared to be flying very close to the ground.  Oh well, we got there okay and the lateness meant that my 9 hour wait at Guangzhou for the connecting flight was more like 5 hours.  I then got to Srinagar okay and feel good to have given the first lecture.  I was a little uneasy about how it would go, what sort of reaction to expect from the audience, and the extent to which the material would be paced.  In fact with just how busy the last couple of weeks have been,  I needed to spend yesterday preparing rather than joining the students on the excursion, which was a great shame, but I should have a chance later in the week to go for a bit on an explore of the town.

My lectures draw a strand through general ideas of the nuclear mean field, through effective nuclear interactions to applications of time-dependent approaches, including fusion and fission.  Today I talked mostly about some general ideas and then some quite formal stuff -- in particular the derivation of the Hartree-Fock equations.  I'd like to think that at the end of the week I'll bring my somewhat rough notes together and write them up into something more presentable and permanent.  It's nice to be optimistic.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Back from the blackout

I wasn't able to post to the blog at all last week, because I was in China.  More or less all Google services are blocked there and that includes Google's Blogger platform.  I was attending a workshop called International Workshop on Nuclear Dynamics 2016.  I should have realised better in retrospect that it wasn't the best of weeks to go there.  I realised when I said yes that it would be semester time, but I made sure that I would be able to give the online tutorials that were the only part of face-to-face teaching scheduled that week.  I was also over optimistic in thinking that I would have managed to finish the marking of the module for which I give the online tutorials before I went to China.  The assignment requires detailed marking for the feedback to be of any use, it worked well in the past when fewer students opted to take the course.  This year the numbers have exploded and I've struggled somewhat with the consequent marking.  That took up many hours last week.  Then there are other things to do with research grant planning and dealing with the process of appointing a new lecturer.  The fact that the last weeks were busy for that was not something I knew when I said yes to the workshop.

Oh well.  I gave my talk, and I watched many, but not all, of the other talks.  I didn't go on either of the excursions and got to see very little of the city of Xinxiang or the region.  Here, then, is my very minimal photo gallery of the week

From left to right, it's the view out of my hotel room, across the Central Park and to the Xinxiang municipal building.  It's more grand than Guildford Council offices, I think.  In the middle -- well, it's a bit uncouth to laugh at poor English translations when I don't understand a word of Chinese, but it was a particularly surprising thing to find at the dinner buffet.  The picture on the right is a rock on display at Henan Normal University, which organised the workshop.  Inscribed on it is the University's motto, which means something like "Strive for Virtue and Knowledge".

Friday, 29 April 2016

New Fellows for 2016

Today the Royal Society announced the appointment of its 2016 intake of Fellows (who don't have to be fellows).  The announcement is here.  I can't claim to be familiar with many of them, but for the topic of this blog, it's noteworthy that the nuclear engineer Sue Ion is now (Dame) Sue Ion FRS.  A few years ago she was tasked with writing a report about the state of nuclear science in the UK and I think she did a good job in highlighting the parlous state of the support given by the funding councils to nuclear physics in particular (I blogged about it back in 2010)  So, congratulations Sue, along with the other 49 new Fellows.  That's Sue in the picture associated with this post, courtesy of the Royal Society website.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Sir Denys Wilkinson FRS 1922–2016

I heard the news yesterday that Sir Denys Wilkinson died on 22nd April 2016, aged 93.  I can't (since I'm not qualified to) give much of a general obituary here.  They will presumably appear elsewhere in due course, written by those that knew him personally.  Though I met him once or twice at conferences when I was a graduate student, I know Denys more as one of the big names in UK nuclear physics, as well as through his rising up the ranks of research and higher education administration.  He was vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex between 1976 and 1987.  Preceding that, he was professor at the University of Oxford, and the building that used to be called the Nuclear and Particle Physics building during my time there is now called the Denys Wilkinson Building.  

Though I don't suppose he was very active at the Royal Society in recent years, he was a Fellow there, and one of the last remaining fellows whose science background was in nuclear physics.  

Friday, 8 April 2016

Spot The Difference #6

I wonder if readers have ever noticed the similarity between University of Surrey physicist Jim Al-Khalili and Holby City physician Art Malik?


Thursday, 7 April 2016

The kids here still respect the college dean

A friend of mine posted a video of Merle Haggard singing Okie From Muskogee yesterday, on Twitter.  I like the song, and I even once sang it at karaoke when an undergraduate, as I remember.  Only later did I realise that the Twitter post was occasioned by Merle Haggard's death.  Great song, Merle.  RIP.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Signed Refrigerators

In the coffee room of the nuclear physics building here at ANU, there is a tradition that when staff leave, they host a leaving party, filling the refrigerator up with beer, thereby earning the right to sign the fridge door.  The tradition has been going on so long that the oldest fridge door is now mounted for display on the wall.  If you click on the picture you can see an enlarged version, with names and dates. 

Monday, 21 March 2016

How to spot a nuclear physics building

I'm visiting a student on placement in Canberra today.  I've not been to Australia before, but the nuclear physics building at the Australian National University looks much like a nuclear physics building elsewhere.  At least, as long as there is a tandem accelerator which needs to be housed.  It's a useful landmark to help navigate to the building.  

I was given a guided tour by our student Jess and one of her local supervisors, Ed, who also happens to have once been one of our placements students, some years ago (albeit in the US).  In the picture is me, with Jess (photo taken by Ed).  There's also a picture there taken down the beam line, looking quite high-tech.

Of the things I've noticed so far, the brightness of the light is conspicuous.  I'm used to living about 15º further away from the equator than this, and it does make a difference to how bright the light is in the day, and how it lights up the scenery.  Also, my body has noticed the eleven hour time difference, which is a little bit gruelling.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Jobs at Surrey

I'm pleased to be able to announce that we, at the University of Surrey, have two permanent positions available in the Physics Department:  One in theoretical nuclear physics, and one in experimental nuclear physics.  The jobs will appear online at probably on Monday (edit:  It is at  For now, here is the text that will appear in the advert.  Please circulate widely!

University of Surrey
Department of Physics

Lecturer in Experimental Nuclear Physics
Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Nuclear Physics

Salary from £38,896 - £57,047 per annum (subject to experience and qualifications)

The Department of Physics is seeking to strengthen its successful scientific programme by appointing two new academic posts in Experimental and Theoretical Nuclear Physics. This exciting new initiative ties in with the emergence of the next generation of radioactive beam facilities such as FAIR, FRIB, HIE-ISOLDE and RIKEN that offer a host of fresh opportunities across the field of nuclear physics. In particular, Surrey is committed to seizing the new experimental opportunities relating to nuclear structure and nuclear astrophysics research and providing leadership in theoretical understanding, including innovative developments in nuclear reaction theory.

The Surrey Nuclear Physics Group is strongly engaged in research internationally and has a long-standing reputation as a world-leader in the field. The Group leads experimental projects at a wide range of facilities spanning the areas of spectroscopy, transfer reactions and nuclear astrophysics. Theoretical research at Surrey is at the frontiers of reaction theory, ab initio calculations, mean-field calculations and the theory of nuclear matter. Most recently, close links with the UK’s National Physical Laboratory have allowed the Group to extend the scope of its research in radiation sensing and radionuclide metrology. The two new academic staff members will be expected to develop independent research profiles that complement and extend current research strengths and activities, and are aligned with the overall scientific goals of the Group. As part of the written application, candidates should submit a brief research proposal (maximum 2 pages) that describes a vision for their research programme, highlighting both initial interests and possible longer-term aims. Alongside their research activities, the successful applicants will join an enthusiastic team of physics academics with a commitment to excellence in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.

For general information about academic posts in the Department of Physics applicants should address queries to Professor Stephen Sweeney, Head of Department ( Informal enquiries regarding the experimental nuclear physics position should be addressed to Prof. Wilton Catford (, while enquiries regarding the theory position can be addressed to Dr. Paul Stevenson ( All enquiries will be handled strictly in confidence. For further information about the Department of Physics at Surrey visit Please direct questions related to the application procedure to Ms Kate Sheen (, tel: +44 (0)1483 686126). Reference letters will only be requested of shortlisted candidates. For further information about the University of Surrey, please visit We acknowledge, understand and embrace cultural diversity.