Liverpool Heroes

Six Thirty, Albert Dock, Liverpool. Woken up early, staring at the rain. Coldplay on the earphones. Somewhere within a few hundred metres of here there are several hundred more astronomers, scattered through space in other beds. In three hours those bodies will converge on one room. We are assembled together to produce a Roadmap for European Astronomy. It might seem interesting to crossmatch the STFC plan and the Astronet plan, especially because Mike Bode seems to be in charge of both. Hmm. Another time.

I lie still and try to visualise all those other organisms in three dimensional space. We are all clumps in the same matter field; moving knots in a process. Tat Tvam Asi. I am you and you are me and we are all together. They are the eggmen, I am the the walrus.

When I was a lad, you were a John person or a Paul person. Well, Paul may be a national treasure, but hey, you land at the John Lennon airport. Our conference packs have photographs of other Liverpool heroes, the heroes of science – Horrocks, Rotblat, Chadwick, Lassell, Barkla, and Lodge.

I have a link to Barkla. His desk is in my office.

C.G.Barkla's desk, 1917

Early in the twentieth century Barkla was the guy who proved that X-rays are transverse, because you can polarise them; and discovered the K and L series of X-ray lines, the key to the shell structure of the atom. For this he got the Nobel prize in 1917, and with the money he had himself made a rather splendid desk with his name carved on. This is now in the Head of School’s office in Edinburgh. My tea bags are behind a door at the front. I think of this as the C.G.Barkla Memorial Tea Cupboard.

Now … his famous work was done in Cambridge and Liverpool (not sure which bits where). He was then hired in Edinburgh as the Big Star. After this he spent the next twenty five years chasing a will-o-the-wisp. He was convinced there was another series of lines, which he called the J-series. I believe he talked various students intto working on this problem, but it all came to nothing.

There’s a lesson there. Maybe several.

6 Responses to Liverpool Heroes

  1. Tony says:

    [[There’s a lesson there]]

    You may be famous now but in fifty years you’ll just be a tea caddy?

    A man might have a cool desk but that doesn’t mean he is right?

    The universe isn’t always alphabetical?

  2. Russell Smith says:

    What with the airport and the university, I sometimes wonder if the city will eventually be re-named “Liverpool John”.

  3. Matthew says:

    So does anyone know why they chose to hold the AstroNet meeting the week before SPIE?

    I think many of us who work on the infrastructure side would have liked to have been in Liverpool too, but had already committed to SPIE.

    The main issue I saw from the report is that there’s no interest in a ‘grand plan’ to replace iraf/starlink etc. Or is the VO supposed to fulfil all our data analysis needs in 10 years time?

    Any juicy gossip Andy? Or is everyone agreeing with the draft report?

  4. Tony says:

    [[Or is the VO supposed to fulfil all our data analysis needs in 10 years time?]]

    With no further input from the UK…

  5. andyxl says:

    There is a proposal for a “Software Lab” but its very vague. (An envleope and collaboration, not a physical institute or projetct). I think its correct that there shouldn’t be a “grand plan” for IRAF/Starlink etc, because tools should evolve independently and competitively, as long as they are interoperable (which the VO deos provide). However the problem is there is no obvious funding stream for people who wanto write such tools. Hence this idea of of Software Lab.

  6. Tony says:

    Hmm. Something is always better than nothing but astronomy has a huge way to go to catch up to other disciplines in the software stakes: be interesting to see what it is.

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