King Edward's Gate, Trinity College, Cambridge - geograph.org.uk - 1057067This is the last week of semester before the Christmas break, so things are getting a little busy, and I could spend a day at Cambridge talking science with an old friend and his PhD student. The student has started from a paper I did almost ten years ago, and is extending the work. He is doing some really smart calculations, and it is a little humbling, and very flattering, to see how has taken what I have done and gone far beyond that.

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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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I can remember my first day at Surrey very vividly, it rained. In fact it rained everyday for 6 ½ weeks. At the time I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to be after the 4 years, but somewhere dry was at the top of my list. As it turns out the University of Surrey was actually a great place to be, not only did I enjoy my time whilst there, the contacts and collaborations of the Physics department saw me not only working at CERN for a year as part of my MPhys research, but also got me in contact with many other institutions where further positions were possible. So, after getting my MPhys degree, I found myself in the Nuclear Science Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame in the US, where after my PhD and Postdoc, I am now transitioning into a research faculty position. The University itself is a unique place, an American University founded by a French priest, with the nickname “The Fighting Irish”. However, the lab finds itself at the forefront of low-energy nuclear astrophysics research, both experimental and theoretical.

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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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For more 15 years I taught the level 3 Physics of Stars course at Surrey, because of my lifelong amateur interest in astronomy. This was kindled because my father, Paul Murdin, is an astronomer. Some of the best memories I have from childhood are of going with him to observatories, either looking up at the glorious colours of the night sky from the top of La Palma, or inside playing my first computer game (a Star Trek game that in 1978 involving typing instructions to fire photon torpedoes on punched cards, feeding them into the reader and waiting for a the punched response card telling me if I hit the Klingons).

Paul is famous because he discovered the first stellar black hole, Cygnus X1. All confirmed black holes are at galactic centres, and confirmation that Cygnus X1 is also a black hole was the subject of a famous bet between Kip Thorne and Stephen Hawking (they have now agreed that it really is a black hole).

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