Yesterday and today, the University of Surrey ran two Open Days for prospective undergraduate students and their parents. They were very busy, today the university had over 2,000 visitors on campus. I organised the Physics bit, and we had at least 400 visitors over the two days. For his morning’s talk, I believe we were two short of the 160 capacity of Lecture Theatre L.

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[rila mountains]

As a kind of homage to the recent post of my colleague, I too am writing from a conference set in the mountains. I’m in the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria. The name apparently comes from Thracian and refers to the abundance of glacial lakes that the mountains contain.

So far, I’m a day and a half in, and have enjoyed the talks so far. The conference’s main theme is on theoretical nuclear physics, which is apt, since that’s what I do, though it means that some of the talks have been pretty heavy with equations. Even as a theorist, I can’t always digest that many equations that quickly.
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ZebrasToday is the centenary of Alan Turing‘s birth. He was born in London on 23rd June 1912. If you look at the Google homepage, the doodle is a Turing machine. Turing was one of the most brilliant people the Britain produced in the last century. He is one of the fathers of the computer you are using right now,  hence the Turing machine doodle by Google. He also made a huge contribution to the Allies winning the Second World War.

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16
Jun
2012

Phytoplankton Bloom off IrelandSome satellite images of Earth from space are not only beautiful, but make you think. They give a new perspective on the planet whose surface we spend our lives scurrying around on. Earth is very big of course. Its circumference is more than 10 million times the height of a human being.

The image to the left shows phytoplankton blooms that together are longer than England. The phytoplankton blooms are the blue-green streaks west and south of Ireland in the image. They are composed of enormous numbers of microscopic photosynthesising organisms. The blue green colour comes from the chlorophyll they contain and use for photosynthesis.

As you can see, phytoplankton can form in enormous quantities, which is why a significant amount of the oxygen you are breathing now is made by photosynthesis by these organisms. I guess we owe them one for that. And if we were looking nr from above but at sea level it would be impossible to judge the scale of the bloom. It is only now we can see from space that we can easily appreciate the sheer size of these blooms.

This picture was taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite. There is a gallery of images taken by this satellite in pages at Wired magazine. The first one shows the plume of smoke coming off the volcano Mount Etna on Sicily. I find it just astonishing, the detail is stunning and the plume is as long as the island itself. It does give you a good idea of the power behind a volcanic eruption.

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The first half of this week I am at a conference at Monte Verità (Italian for Mountain of Truth). This in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. The conference kicked off, rather unusually, with a short video on the history of the conference centre. The centre started off as sort of arts and vegetarianism commune, was a sanatorium, then a retreat, and is now a science conference centre. I leave it up to you to judge whether this is progress or not, and if so in what direction.

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ALICE TPC 1Of course I cannot predict the future and so have no more idea what the future of physics will be than you do. But I have been reading some interesting blog posts and newspaper articles. I will give links and some comments, and you can make up your mind about the future of physics.

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