I have just spent a couple of weeks in Japan for research.  I thought I’d use the occasion to write a blog post, but I did so on my nuclear physics blog. Click here to see the post.  Feel free to comment either here or there.

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MTS 733 - frontWhenever I disconnect my mobile phone from its charger, it tells to me to unplug the charger “to save energy”. I obey. But how much energy am I saving? Very very little. Continue reading »

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ADN staticAs this is a blog, maybe a suitable topic for a post is doing scientific research, or slightly more accurately, reviewing scientific research, by blog. In December 2010, NASA-funded scientists published a paper in Science. In an article, a senior NASA administrator said “The definition of life has just expanded,”. The response in blogs of scientists working in the field was pretty clear: “No, the definition of life is pretty much as it was last week”.

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Tortoiseshell she-catIn this weeks’s Nature there is an article on X-chromosome silencing. This sounds very technical, and it is, but it has fun consequences, namely tortoiseshell cats (and tortoiseshell-and-white or calico cats, as seen in the picture). You may know that tortoiseshells are almost always females, but you probably don’t know why.

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BdnaI was in Zurich last week, attending a workshop at ETH (= Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, the university Albert Einstein went to). I enjoyed it. It was quite a small conference, around 30 people, allowing for lots of informal chatting about people’s results and what are the outstanding problems. Continue reading »

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I have just come from the 2011 graduation ceremony for postgraduate students both in the Physics Department and other Departments in our Faculty (Computing, Maths and the Engineering Departments). I think it was over 300 students getting their Master and PhD degrees, including a PhD student of mine.

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Universities have two basic roles: teaching and research.  These two activities are closely related.  For example, our research leads to an ability to teach cutting edge material to undergraduate students, and to supervise a research project in their final year of study.  As well as undergraduate students, we also have postgraduates studying for masters or doctoral degrees.  The latter spend some time being taught, but most of their time learning to become independent researchers, leading ultimately to a PhD thesis.

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Every year, as part of a final year statistical physics course, I have a lecture on correlation vs. causation. This is a very important distinction in science. For example, the average temperature over the Earth’s surface, and the number of pirates in the world’s seas, are correlated
PiratesVsTemp English
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Sir Martin Rees, distinguished scientist, Astronomer Royal and a churchgoing atheist, has just accepted the Templeton Prize. This is awarded by the Templeton Foundation, a charity set up by the late John Templeton, a wealthy merchant banker, enthusiastic Christian and fan of the big questions in life. It is £1 million – chosen I think to be at least equal in value to a Nobel prize. This has stirred up the usual storm in a teacup. Some people are concerned that the Templeton Foundation is using its wealth to mix science and religion. I would say that this not something to lose sleep over, but I am biased, I got money from the Templeton Foundation myself. Sadly only £100,000 and all for research, Sir Martin Rees gets to keep his £1 million.

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