As a physicist of course I believe in quantitative measurements. For example physicists have measured the charge on the electron to an accuracy of more than 8 significant figures. This is great. But electrons are very simple objects. Scientists are more complex, and so a quantitative measurement of a scientist’s work is harder to do. But this does not deter some people from trying.

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Lord Rayleigh Vanity Fair 21 December 1899When you think bubbles, you probably don’t think of nineteenth century aristocrats. But bubbles were one of the many things the 3rd Baron Rayleigh studied towards the end of the nineteenth century. He is in the picture at the top left.

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Black cat eyesI am teaching one of the things I most like to teach at the moment, and on Saturdays running Open Days. I am teaching signal-to-noise discrimination in the night vision of us and other animals, like the cat shown. Improving signal-to-noise is the reason why the eyes of cats and other animals that hunt at night reflect light.

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Galveston BayI have spent a lot of time recently reading drafts of my PhD student’s excellent, and over 200 page, thesis. It is written in Microsoft Word so I am switching on this softare’s track-changes function and using it to add comments to my students’ draft chapters, and to tweak the English here and there (her first language is Malay not English). I am finding this feature of the software really useful. So are officials in Texas appointed by the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination to run for President of the USA: Rick Perry.

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Gaz moleculesI will start teaching diffusion in a few weeks. Diffusion is how everything from gas and liquid molecules to small particles in a liquid move around – when there is no flow. As usual I will be telling some small lies. I will say something like “Diffusion of particle can be described as a random walk, a succession of steps taken in random directions.” This is not quite true.

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It has been a busy week, the undergraduates are back, semester has started, and all 3 of the academic bloggers in the Department got to dress like penguins (see piccy of Jim to the left). The occasion for the dressing-like-a-penguin was the Institute of Physics (IoP)’s annual awards bash. Jim won the Kelvin medal this year. This is an IoP award for outreach. Incidentally, the medal Jim is wearing in the photo is his OBE not the Kelvin medal.

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When I was an undergraduate student, back in the dim and distant 1990s, I enjoyed my undergraduate degree, and hopefully I learned a lot of stuff, but I spent the whole degree learning by going to lectures, solving problems and going to lab classes, until I could avoid the latter in the final year by taking an optional theory paper. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but one thing I do like about the physics degree programmes here at Surrey is the opportunity students get to get away from the University and work either in industry, or in another University or research institute.
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Yawning newborn babyI love the Ig Nobel prizes. These are the annual awards that are announced a bit before the Nobel prizes, and recognise a wide spectrum of science, including both very bad science and science that is good, but on a topic that is on first appearance a bit whacky. This year‘s physiology prize went Wilkinson, Sebanz and Huber for their study of yawning in tortoises.

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