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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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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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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Jon Butterworth: Our first speaker
Jon Butterworth: Our first speaker

I have arranged the evening public lecture programme for the local Institute of Physics branch. I’ll post some advertisements to the individual talks closer to the times, but here is a summary, with full details appearing at the IoP website.

  • Wed 24th Oct: Discovery at the Large Hadron Collider – Prof Jon Butterworth, UCL
  • Wed 21st Nov: Is the End of the World Really Nigh? – Alok Jha, The Guardian
  • Wed 13th Feb: The Atomic Theory of Matter: From Democritus to the Quantum Computer – Dr Chris Hooley, St Andrews
  • Wed 13th Mar: Title TK – Dr Arnau Rios, University of Surrey
  • Wed 24th Apr: Title TK – Samantha Shaw , DSTL

All talks take place in the Griffiths Lecture Theatre at the University of Surrey, and last from 7pm to 8pm. They are free to attend and unticketed. Please just turn up in time for a 7pm start.

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KevinbacongfdlI am quite proud of my Erdös number of 4. An Erdös number of 4 means via a trail of 4 papers I can reach the prolific Hungarian-born mathematician Paul Erdös. Erdös published papers with an astonishing 511 other mathematicians. The path of papers is here, but basically I have written a paper with a good friend Jon Doye (Erdös number of 3), who has written a paper with a guy called Richard Berry (Erdös number of 2), who wrote a paper with a P. Salaman, who published a paper with Paul Erdös himself and so has an Erdös number of 1.

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