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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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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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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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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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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Rose Champagne BubblesThe title is a James Bond quote, from The Spy Who Loved Me. A brief web search suggests that Dom Perignon 1952 retails at £950 a bottle, which probably explains why I so rarely get to judge Dom Perignon drinkers. Dom Perignon is champagne of course, which is noted for its bubbles.

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Salmon sashimiBennett, Baird, Miller and Wolford won the 2012 IgNobel prize in Neuroscience with their work with a dead (definitely dead, not just resting) salmon. There is a serious point to the work: The problem of false positives. This is a problem in statistics and is a real trap for the unwary.

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Child with a ponytailMy Friday was made when I learnt that a good friend, Patrick Warren, had shared the 2012 IgNobel Prize in Physics. A few years ago, we did some work together on the surfaces of protein crystals. Patrick, together with three other scientists won the prize for work on ponytails. I wrote a blog post on this in February, when the work that won them the prize was published.

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Argentinosaurus BWArgentinosaurus is believed to be the largest land animal to have ever lived. It was a dinosaur and at maybe 100 tons and 30 m, it was a very big dinosaur. I wanted to know the largest land animal for the lectures on biological physics I am giving this coming semester, and Google and Wikipedia provided. Anyway, in the lectures my question will be: Why was the largest animal 100 tons, not say 10 tons, or 1000 tons?

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