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 15ยบ 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 http://jobs.surrey.ac.uk/ probably on Monday (edit:  It is at https://jobs.surrey.ac.uk/vacancy.aspx?ref=019816).  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 (s.sweeney@surrey.ac.uk). Informal enquiries regarding the experimental nuclear physics position should be addressed to Prof. Wilton Catford (w.catford@surrey.ac.uk), while enquiries regarding the theory position can be addressed to Dr. Paul Stevenson (p.stevenson@surrey.ac.uk). All enquiries will be handled strictly in confidence. For further information about the Department of Physics at Surrey visit www.surrey.ac.uk/physics. Please direct questions related to the application procedure to Ms Kate Sheen (k.sheen@surrey.ac.uk, tel: +44 (0)1483 686126). Reference letters will only be requested of shortlisted candidates. For further information about the University of Surrey, please visit www.surrey.ac.uk. We acknowledge, understand and embrace cultural diversity.

Last post

The picture associated with this post shows the envelope I sent off earlier this week containing my completed crossword grid for their weekly competition.  The prize is to see your name in print, and a dictionary, or set of dictionaries (depending on whether you come first or are a runner up).  I don't particularly need either of those things, but I enjoy the ritual of not only doing the crossword, but putting it in an envelope and paying the postal service to convey it to the newspaper offices, then flicking through the paper the next week to see if my name has been drawn from a hat.

This will be the last time I will be sending off the crossword to the Independent on Sunday.  The very last print edition comes out this coming Sunday, 20th March, and I will not be in the country that day to get a paper copy.  Part of me will miss it, but I can always switch to another newspaper, though I do like the crossword style in the Independent.  It seems to be inevitable that print newspapers will come to an end.  I'm not sure I will really shed too great a tear.  In many ways I found the Independent a frustrating thing:  A newspaper that purported to appeal to left-leaning people of a non-partisan nature with somewhat progressive ideals, but then the first edition of the Independent on Sunday that I picked up after the announcement that they were ceasing print publication contained a supplement on picking the best private schools to send your kids to.  When it came to such "lifestyle" articles, they were clearly always aiming at a small percentage of well-paid people, which I thought was a bit ridiculous, but probably says something sad and true about how the existing newspapers receive funding, how they peddle influence, and what they thought of the downtrodden masses they thought they were treating sympathetically.  Really, the democracy of social media is something that appeals to me much more.  A single newspaper might be much cheaper than a device with which one can access Twitter, but a smartphone contract costs less than a daily newspaper and provides other functionality.

I'm not around on Sunday because I'm going to Australia tomorrow.  I've never been before.  Doesn't quite seem real that I'll be there next week.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Paul Greenlees on YouTube

I came across this, via Facebook:  A nuclear physicist talks on YouTube about what he does.  I share it via this blog

Monday, 7 March 2016

Let's Twist Again

I started reading Oliver Twist while waiting at Clapham Junction for a train yesterday.  I came across this nice slyly-observed paragraph in Chapter 2 on a Victorian-era justification for cutting welfare benefits to the poor.  They don't look entirely different from arguments one sees and hears today,  uttered with all seriousness:

The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical men; and when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse, they found out at once, what ordinary folks would never have discovered—the poor people liked it! It was a regular place of public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern where there was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper all the year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it was all play and no work. 'Oho!' said the board, looking very knowing; 'we are the fellows to set this to rights; we'll stop it all, in no time.' So, they established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they), of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it.

I also happened to listen to some of Saturday's edition of Pick of the Pops on Radio 2, where they happened to play through the chart from this week in 1962, featuring Chubby Checker's Let's Twist Again.  I missed the part where they played Vienna by Ultravox, for the 1981 countdown, alas.

Friday, 4 March 2016

World Book Day

It was World Book Day yesterday.  It seems, for parents of school-aged children in the UK, to have turned into an annual ritual whereby one is supposed to make a fancy dress outfit so that your child can go into school dressed as a character from a book.  I don't think that can have been the original spirit of World Book Day, but judging by pictures posted by either proud or weary parents on Facebook, this seems to be what happened.  I think I preferred the pictures of kids with simple additions to their normal clothes rather than the attitude from the rather despondent parent I met at nursery complaining that they paid £6 for special delivery of an outfit, from an online shop, that didn't arrive on time.  Alba, pictured, went in as Posy from the Pip and Posy books, who just wears normal but distinctive clothes.

My University made an interesting blog post entitled "13 books to read before starting University".  The list just comes from a single Department at the University, which is a shame, but it doesn't read like a canonical list of Nation's Favourite Books.  I can only admit to having read two of them:  Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed by our very own Jim Al-Khalili.  That leaves 11 unread, though a bit late for me to read them before starting University.  Can any readers recommend any of them in particular?  I'm slightly trepidatious about the first book on the list, which looks like it could be a book on magical thinking dressed up as self-help pop psychology, but it's won a Royal Society prize, so may be not so bad.  I was also surprised that the authors used the word inarguably in describing book number 13 (Complete works of Shakespeare).  Neither OED or Chambers list the word, though it's obvious what it ought to mean.  If it existed.  Perhaps I'm missing something and it's a word that Shakespeare uses.  Guess I should read his complete works and at least up my tally of the list to three books read.