Tieless in Gaza

February 7, 2013

Party at Professor P’s house last night. We were celebrating our three new appointments and bonding and stuff. Three? Well, our REF gamble is going to work, don’t you know. Of course one of those three is what our American chums call “Faculty shuffle” – or perhaps electron-hole jumping in a a semiconductor is a better analogy. Professor H went orff to Imperial; Prof L left Sussex to come here; Professor C left Cardiff to fill the hole in Sussex. Professor WT had already left Cardiff City for Preston North End, so things might get exciting in Wales.

I was a bit late because I had been gulping vino at government expense at the Scottish Parliament, where there was a reception attached to an exhibition about the Large Hadron Collider. (You can see the exhibition on Parliament TV ! Check out the “Partical Physicist”) Earlier in the day, Wommers had I understand been giving the Science and Technology Committee a pitch on how good this stuff is for the Scottish Economy. He also gave a wee speech at the reception of course, but was correctly upstaged by the (late) appearance of Peter Higgs. Yesterday I referred to Peter as being “quarter house trained” but really should have explained that Peter has  got it just right. He allows himself to be paraded around and lionised wherever this is good for science, but never loses his shyness, modesty and general nice guyness. In his speech he basically told us to be proud of the engineers who built the LHC. He did also apologise for all the work that “we theoreticians” had put them too. Wommers picked up on this but added that he wasn’t so sure about “who-ever invented supersymmetry”.

More than one person raised an eyebrow at my lack of tie at this august gathering. OK, couldn’t resist the title. Never read Milton, but a big Aldous Huxley fan. Not that I am suggesting that at the reception I was in chains and pulled down the temple and all that. Just got a few sniffy looks.  Later at Professor P’s party, Dr F said that I shouldn’t go thinking of myself as a dangerous radical, otherwise I would have worn a skirt.

LHC is go

March 30, 2010

LHC is seeing collisions ! Twitterers have been seeing this stuff all day, and Lord Drayson is awfully excited, but for the rest of you, here is a message from Edinburgh LHCb chum Franz Muheim with the key links :

Dear all,

Today at about 13:06 CEST the LHC has started colliding proton beams at 7 TeV. :-)

This is the start of a new era in particle physics.

The webcast is ongoing at
See the press release from the CERN Director below.

Events from ATLAS and LHCb can be viewed at

A happy Edinburgh PhD graduate student in the LHCb control room



Stone Lions and the End of Particle Physics

September 22, 2008

On Thursday I attended a meeting of the SLAC User’s Organisation (SLUO). Half the talks were about astrophysics, and even some about light sources, but the tone and the worry was dominated by particle physics and its position in the US. There were talks from suits at DOE, the NSF, and the OMB, all of whom had warm words and encouragement, but also barely coded hints about the scepticism in Washington. “Why does it have to be so all or nothing ?” and “does the US really need to lead this area ?’” and of course “whats the economic impact” ? Its very frustrating because the people in power do believe its gripping stuff – thats not the problem -  and with the LHC switching on the next few years will be very exciting  .. but they don’t see where its going, why it has to cost so much, or why anybody needs a big machine in the US, as opposed to some postdocs analysing data. Strikingly, the afternoon had several talks from particle physicists who were re-training themselves as astrophysicists, who explained how much fun it was. More of them later …

Two days later I was catching a flight from San Francisco to London, for a two week stint of back-to-back meetings in the UK. I am typing this about thirty hours later, still only mid-Atlantic, having been booked at various times on seven different flights (involving five different cities) only three of which I have actually been on … This sort of thing hasn’t happened to me too often I am glad to say, but periodically every traveller hits a nightmare journey like this. At first you get real tense, and your adrenalin rises as you try to calculate the options and optimise .. but eventually you just figure what the heck, when I get there I’ll be there, and you start joking with the flight attendants stuck in the same situation.

Suddenly I remembered a poem I read many many years ago. I can’t remember the title or the author, so if the the poet happens to read this blog one day, please forgive me for stealing your idea uncredited. It was in a magazine called Crabgrass. So here is my clumsy prose rendering …

… one morning the citizens of London wake up to find the streets entirely filled with stone lions. Motion is impossible. Half the workforce get on the phone, try to figure out a way round it, register complaints, send apologies to bosses and instructions to underlings, and so on, but all to no avail. The other half stare for a few minutes, then go back inside, make some coffee, read a book, and have an unexpectedly pleasant day.

You join the dots.

World Not Destroyed

September 10, 2008

So the LHC got switched on. Its got some good publicity on the Internut. Right now the latest post by Quantum Survivor is the WordPress “Hawt Post” and the Google front page has a cartoon of the LHC !! My Edinburgh PP chums are in LHCb. Franz Muheim sent round a link to what the data looks like in the LHCb RICH detectors. Apparently 140,000 photons were detected in this one event.

Here is a really nice BBC video link. The official CERN press release is here. And of course there is plenty of nice material at the STFC web site. And you  might want to catch the rather silly LHC rap. (Got this link from Adrian Hill.) The “related videos” you will find there are a hoot. If you have ten minutes to spare you can find out how Nostradumus predicted that the LHC will destroy the world.

So far the world hasn’t been destroyed. I’m glad about that, as I have some plans this weekend.


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