Nuvola apps bookcaseOne of my many jobs is that I am the academic library rep for the Department. In this capacity I attended a meeting on Friday with the person in the University’s library who is in charge of Physics, and two sales representatives from one of the big publishers in scientific publishing. The reps were nice people and it was interesting to see what they had to say but mostly what they had to say was about different models for paying for their online content. It was a bit of a shame that it was all about how they could charge us money for various packages, and almost nothing about how new technology could make for a better learning experience for our students.

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CK-12 spaceshipThe above is a quote from 1955, from a guy called Alex Lewyt, who was then president of a vacuum cleaner company. Fifty-five years later I still have to plug mine into the mains. It is one of a number of predictions about future technologies that have proven over optimistic. I came across this while I was searching for predictions from the 1950s and 1960s about what technology we would have now. This was inspired by the fact that I am currently writing a grant proposal – a bid to a part of the UK government (called EPSRC) for money to do research. As of late last year the proposal must include a bit where I must say what is the “potential, over 10-50 years, to meet national strategic needs” of the products of the research.

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In British Universities the  all-important Research Excellence Framework (REF) is coming up. It is all important as how well a University does will determine how much money they get from the government. If we are assessed and found to be really good, we should get a bit more money from the government, but if we are found to be not so good, we will get less money which as money is so tight in UK Universities is very bad. Basically, in the future Universities will get most of the money to cover our basic running costs (e.g., my salary) from UK student fees, this REF money which we get to support research, and the fees of overseas students.

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The ponytail still intactPonytails in space would be pretty unmanageable. Or at least that is my prediction based on a paper I have just read. The paper has just come out in the prestigious physics journal Physical Review Letters, and is titled: Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles. First off, I should say that I have met all 3 authors and, at least the last time I saw them, none of them had ponytails. But one of them does work for a company that makes a awful lot of shampoo, so that may have been part of the motivation behind the study.

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Nasa-giss 1880-2009 global temperatureThis was the title of a full page ad that appeared in many American newspapers one day in 1954. It was paid for the tobacco industry. This was at a time when there was already convincing evidence that smoking caused lung cancer, and public health authorities were waking up to the problem of lung cancer wards full of smokers, and starting to do something about it. The tobacco industry reacted to this by paying for the ad.

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This week, we ran our biggest and busiest ever UCAS day; well certainly the biggest in my memory, and I have been at the Surrey Physics Department for a very long time. Put it this way, in my earliest departmental photos I had hair, and lots of it. Even my mother can’t remember me with hair! So, I can state with some authority that I have never known our physics department to be quite as popular and thriving as it is now. Continue reading »

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Naming childI kind of thought that “To name is to define” is a quote from someone, but if so then Wikiquote has let me down, as I can’t find it. I am writing a grant proposal and so need to make my proposed research look ground breaking, novel, important, etc, etc. Getting funding is competitive, the odds fluctuate but roughly speaking between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 proposals get funded. The rest get nothing – these are not great odds.

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In science, and in other academic disciplines like economics, research is published in the form of papers. A paper is typically around 10 pages long and announces a new discovery, a new idea, etc.  Famously, in his annus mirabilis of 1905, Einstein wrote 3 papers that changed the world, in a (mostly) good way.

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