Richard Sear

DE GENNES Pierre Gilles-24x30-2001I am reading a biography of Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, by Laurence Plévert. De Gennes won the Nobel prize in physics in 1991. I guess he is a scientific hero of mine. The Nobel prize was for his work on understanding polymers and liquid crystals. You are probably reading this screen with a liquid crystal display of some sort (often called just LCDs). He perhaps contributed more to understanding what liquid crystals are, than anyone else.

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I went to library to look up some statistics books this week, and my eye was caught by several copies on the shelves of Statistics without Mathematics for Psychology, by Dancey and Reidy. I did a double take. I thought statistics was a branch of mathematics. Wikipedia agrees.

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WinkAlienThis is a rough estimate of the number of alien civilisations in our galaxy, obtained from the Drake equation. Last week I went to a Institute of Physics local branch general talk, by Alok Jha. He quoted this equation. The Drake equation is clearly a bit of a guess, but it is an interesting way to think about the question of whether we are alone in the galaxy, and if we are not alone, is it likely that aliens will signal us, or even invade us.

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Mona Lisa moustacheMany men are growing mustaches to raise money and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer, including a number of our students, you can see two of their taches here and here. Then I began to wonder when someone casually said that he had ‘unusually rapid hair growth’. I wondered if it was true, that indeed some people’s hair does grow faster than others, it is not just that it make look as it is growing faster if they have thicker hairs.

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Capuchin monkeys sharingI don’t research on evolution any more (sadly I had to give it up as I didn’t have the time) but I still think it is pretty cool. One of the big questions in evolution is why we humans evolved such large brains. These sorts of evolutionary questions are hard to answer definitively partly because it has already happened and we can’t reurun this experiment, and partly because our brain is ferociously complex, and understanding complex things is just hard.

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Lionel Messi Player of the Year 2011Over the summer I went to a couple of conferences and in one I enjoyed a talk by a Barcelona-based British scientist called Ben Lehner. It featured an interesting idea, and Lionel Messi. I guess if you work in Barcelona, Lionel Messi is your go to guy if you want to illustrate an idea; in this case, an idea about clones.

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Iss017e011632On Friday an atmospheric scientist I know from the University of Leeds, Ben Murray, gave a talk on his research. His research is on how ice forms in the atmosphere. It was very interesting, and one of the things I learnt is how big the atmosphere is, and how high up some clouds are. The image above is taken from the International Space Station and at the top of the image are what are called noctilucent clouds.

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D hamsterBy one increasingly common measure of how good you are as a scientist, I am twice as good a scientist as Tisha the (now sadly late) hamster. Beating a dead hamster in a field that apparently requires high levels of intelligence is quite unsatisfying. The measure is the average number of references people have made to my scientific papers. I have published about 100 scientific papers, and Google Scholar reckons that they are cited about 21 times each on average. Tisha’s paper has been cited 12 times. Incidentally, the picture above is not of Tisha but just one of a random hamster I got from Wikimedia.

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Yesterday I ran the physics bit of a University Open Day for prospective students, and so I talked to a lot of prospective students and their parents, we had about 100 visit the department. I chatted about personal statements to one of them. Today I read in The Guardian that apparently there are companies that charge £350 to write personal statements for students applying to University.

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