Xerox Alto fullI am reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and also an application for funds for research, a research grant proposal. The biography is for pleasure, and I am really enjoying it, the grant proposal because I am refereeing it. The grant proposal has, as it is required to, a “Pathways to Impact” section, in which the applicants are supposed to put down how the new knowledge discovered in the proposed research will have an impact – by making money or by an impact on society. Requiring scientists to talk about the possible impact of their work is pretty reasonable, although doing that even before you start the work is tricky.

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Cuerpos de CajalOver the Christmas break I hope to read at least one Montalbano detective story, plus a Scandinavian crime story or two. Incidentally, the Montalbano series is very good, light, reading. It is also set on Sicily, and reading about somewhere warm and sunlit is nice at this time of year. I also want to read about Cajal bodies.

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Graduation hatMy PhD student passed her viva yesterday. Of course she was relieved. So was I. Basically, a PhD is an apprenticeship in research. A student, who already has a first degree, spends typically three to four years doing research, then writing a thesis. The thesis is book length, often more than 200 pages.

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Panthera tigris -Franklin Park Zoo, Massachusetts, USA-8a (2)Term has now finished, so teaching is all done for 2011. Phew. It was 11 weeks, and as always, sometimes it felt like a lifetime but at the same time it seems as if you blink in week 3 and then its suddenly week 8. But that is just my perspective. For the son of one of my colleagues it really was a lifetime as he was born on the 1st day of term. Handy for his father as he did not have to remember both his son’s age and the week of term, as they’re the same.

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Alien iconWe had a forum for our final year undergraduates on Friday. This was to allow them to give feedback on what the Department is doing well, and more importantly what we, and the rest of the Uni, could do better. The coordinator will gather together the feedback and send it round – maybe I’ll do a post on it later.

But this post is inspired by chat over the post-forum drinks. Jim Al-Khalili, ‘cos he appears on tv, gets lots of emails, letters, etc from crackpots. He has printed out some of the most bizarre of these, and the students were reading them.

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SunRiseMany of the most powerful, and to me, most interesting, ideas in science connect two apparently unrelated observations. The breakthrough is to realise that there is a hidden connection between two aspects of the natural world. A simple example is the force one charge exerts on another, that is a distance r away. Coulomb’s Law tells us that this force decreases as 1/r². Now we also know that the area of a sphere centred on the first charge increases as r². You might think that it was a coincidence that in both cases it is r². If you did, you would be wrong.

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Posted in General, Interesting Physics | 3 Comments