Revisiting Imperial College London

June 13, 2019

The main entrance to Imperial College London

Recently I went to Imperial College to hear an Athena lecture by Margaret Heffernan on Scientific Leadership. This lecture is given annually by a prominent female scientist or entrepreneur to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and medicine. It should be on YouTube soon and I’ll put a link up and make some comments about it then.

This year I became an Alumnus of Imperial College (having got my doctorate there many years ago). I’m keen to get involved in one way or another so attending the lecture was a good start as it allowed me to have a look around to see how the College has changed. Here’s some photos that give a flavour, showing the modernisations, two famous physicists I knew and the delightful and surprising mews area nearby.

The impressive Faculty Building

The Bessemer Building (Engineering)

I decided to go to the Physics Department where I spent 3 years of my life carrying out research for a doctorate in theoretical high energy physics. The head of the theory group at that time was Tom Kibble (who ‘almost’ got the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2013). Abdus Salam, who was co-awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979, was also there as he held positions at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy (which he helped set up) and Imperial. It was an especially exciting time to be doing research as a lot of breakthroughs were made in understanding the fundamental particles and their interactions (quarks, the Higgs boson etc).

I’ve previously written about an interesting conversation I had with Salam that sparked my interest in giving advice and following different paths in life. The point being that when someone makes a suggestion that’s not in your current plans, it’s quite hard to really appreciate it or take advantage of it. However not doing so might be the loss of a major if unconventional opportunity (more details here).

Professor Abdus Salam (Nobel Prize for Physics 1979)

Professor Tom Kibble

Not far from the hustle and bustle of the university are a number of delightful mews. I have a memory of a small pub which we used to drink in in this area. I tried to track it down but to no avail. Perhaps it had been changed into a house or perhaps my memory was mistaken.

A delightful mews very near to imperial College

Another nearby mews

In hindsight, it was quite a privilege to be at Imperial at this time, great people and a wonderful location.


The Creative Medusa

March 21, 2019

I was at the Theatre Royal in Winchester last week to see a production of Medusa.

Brought to the stage by one of the world’s leading female choreographers, Jasmin Vardimon presents her new work, which reflects on the powerful feminine symbol of Medusa, the myth and its various connotations in our contemporary life.

This epic production examines the gendered historical significance of the Greek myth, the symbolism and the philosophical idea of ‘reflection’. Created on the coast of Barcelona and inspired by its marine life, the show not only deconstructs the myth but also explores Medusa’s aquatic symbolism in the environmental future of our seas.

Celebrating 20 years of her company, Vardimon brings together a remarkable international cast with the artistic team behind her previous creations for the piece.

After the performance audience members will be able to share in a post-show chat with the performers.

The post-show chat was really interesting and brought out themes that were not immediately apparent. Apart from the obvious Greek myth connection, the director also mentioned the scientific connection. The jellyfish (the informal name given to the medusa-phase of the marine animal) – is the only known (nearly) immortal creature:

The Earth’s only immortal species is a tiny transparent jellyfish that travels the world in the ballast tanks of cargo ships. It’s the only known animal capable of reverting completely to a sexually immature stage after having reached maturity…

Down through the ages, there have always been myths about immortality, that godlike ability to live forever. Well, sometimes myths can have a nugget of truth. Indeed, it was our scientists—more specifically, the marine biologists—who found a creature that comes closest to immortality: a tiny transparent jellyfish.

The aquatic theme also connected to the awful plastic pollution of the seas and this was reflected in some of the scenes where imaginative use of sheets of plastic were used (as can be seen in the video clip above).

It was interesting to see this amalgam of scientific and literary themes. This would not have come out, at least easily, were it not for the post-show discussion. Hopefully they have more of these in the future.


Famous Physicists At Cambridge

February 26, 2019

St John’s College at Cambridge (UK)

I recently paid a visit to St John’s College at Cambridge (see above). One evening we had dinner in the impressive Great Hall. Afterwards I took at the look at the portraits on the walls of past Fellows.

Paul Dirac, Fellow of St John’s

I knew that Paul Dirac (one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists) was a Fellow but I was quite surprised to see a portait of Abdus Salam as well who I didn’t know was a Fellow. Abdus Salam was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979 along with Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow.

Abdus Salam, Fellow of St John’s

I’ve given a story (see here) about a discussion I had with Salam (who was then a Professor at Imperial College London) that made me realise the skill and awareness needed to take unconventional career advice.

St John’s has impressively produced nine Nobel Laureates (five in Physics, two in Medicine, one in Chemistry and one in Economics, see here).


Gerald Scarfe Touring Exhibition

May 7, 2018

View from inside the Winchester Discovery Centre

Whilst visiting Winchester on the weekend, I called into the Discovery Centre (aka the old city library reimagined) for a look around. They had an exhibition of some of the works of Gerald Scarfe, who is mainly known as a political cartoonist (see below).

Political cartoon by Gerald Scarfe

The aim of the exhibition was to show some of his wider achievements, covering film, opera and ballet (see the impressive example below).

Costume design for Pluto from Orpheus in the Underworld (ENO)

See here:

“Gerald Scarfe is the UK’s most prominent political cartoonist, known for his acerbic and uncompromising satire – his work has appeared in The Sunday Times for 50 years. Scarfe’s unmistakable characters and worlds have also been given life on stage and screen. From Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979) to English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker (2002), this is the first UK touring exhibition to explore his extensive work in film, opera and ballet design.”


Trip to Cadiz and Gran Canaria

April 23, 2018

View from the Tavira Tower showing Cadiz Cathedral

Looking at my blog, the last post was quite a while ago, about 3 months in fact. A lot has happened in between, however I’m now hoping to get back to writing on a more regular basis particularly as quite a few interesting topics have cropped up.

To start with, and something that conjures up pleasant memories, a 2 week trip to Spain in late Feb/March this year. Southern Spain was chosen as it seemed to be the best bet for good weather and we decided on a twin centre trip (Cadiz and Gran Canaria).

Cadiz

We flew from Bristol to Malaga and then drove along the coast to Cadiz which we assumed would be out of season and somewhat sleepy. The route we took meant that we arrved in Cadiz via the imposing La Pepa Bridge (see picture below).

To our surprise it was actually the last day of Cadiz Carnival so the town was jam-packed (the decision of where and what to do was fairly last-minute so we had little time to research).

One of the Cadiz Carnival singing groups

The only real drawback of the timing was that after the exuberance of the Carnival, most of the restaurants were closed in the evenings whilst we were there (to compensate for the long hours of the previous week). 

Here’s a selection of photos:

Typical street in the Old Town

From the Puppet Museum

View from the Tavira Tower with the La Pepa Bridge in the background

General impression of Cadiz: delightful city, great to wander around and quite varied. Good place to make some excursions, such as visiting Jerez de la Frontera, by car or train, which we unfortunately had no time for.

Sardina, Gran Canaria

At the end of the stay we drove back to Malaga to get a flight to Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. We started in Maspalomas in the south but the area wasn’t to our liking, being too crowded and touristy.

Leaving Maspalomas, we drove to the north west in the vicinity of Sardina. The apartment we’d booked was right on the coast with impressive views (see photos below). We took walks in the local area plus visited the nearby towns of Puerto de las Nieves, Agaete and Galdar.

Desolate roundabout at Sardina

View of the coast from the apartment balcony

View from the study (what a place to work from!)

Lunchtime view at Sardina

Lunch in Sardina featuring Canarian potatoes

View from Mirador, towards Agaete and the coast

View inland from Mirador

A bar in Agaete, still celebrating the local Carnival

We had Storm Emma for a day or two, howling winds, spray everywhere and the sound of nearby crashing waves.

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Moving to Las Palmas, we stayed just outside and explored the city centre plus surrounding inland areas.

Christopher Columbus House (Casa de Colon)

Exhibit at the Modern Art Museum

Beach area at Las Palmas

View inland from Pico de Bandama (popular viewpoint)

Typical street in nearby Telde

General impression of Gran Canaria: I really liked Gran Canaria when you were able escape the very busy touristy areas. The bewildering road systems in the main towns, presumably due to rapid expansion, are not for the faint-hearted.


The Football Pitch

September 25, 2017

Posted just because I liked it, such an impressive and unusual photo.

From the Guardian:

This is Henningsvær, population 460, although during September the number of people on this remote speck of land off north-west Norway will swell to 5,000 as artists and visitors arrive for the Lofoten International Art Festival (Liaf), Norway’s longest-running arts biennial. Drawings, video and installations, on the theme of “Taste the future”, are on show in three former fish processing plants. The village football pitch – one of the most spectacularly located in the world – will also be used as a backdrop for one performance.

Liaf runs until 1 October.

Photograph: Ratnakorn Piyasirisorost/Getty Images


The Millau Bridge And Montpellier

June 2, 2013


ViaducdeMillau

The Millau Viaduct

Recently I took a short break to the south-west of France, flying Bristol to Beziers. The benefit of small airports, apart from cheap flights, is that you’re both on and off very quickly!

We planned to take a look at the famous Millau Bridge (more precisely a viaduct) but didn’t have time for it in the end. From Wikipedia:

The Millau Viaduct is a cable-stayed road-bridge that spans the valley of the River Tarn near Millau in southern France. Designed by the French bridge engineer Michel Virlogeux, in collaboration with architect Norman Robert Foster, it is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world, with one pier’s summit at 343 metres (1,125 ft) — slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower and only 38 m (125 ft) shorter than the Empire State Building. It was formally dedicated on 14 December 2004 and opened to traffic two days later.

However flying out of Beziers, we glanced down and even then it was pretty hard to miss – incredibly impressive!

On one of the days we went to Montpellier, which we’d heard good reports of and were quite surprised at both it’s size and differing styles. Some interesting facts and figures are:

Montpellier is one of the French people’s three favourite cities for its attractive living and working conditions. Over the past 20 years, Montpellier has grown to become France’s 8th largest city. Montpellier is also the city with the highest demographic growth in France, with 43% of the population under 30 years old. Today, the Montpellier agglomeration area has a population of 420,000. According to Insee forecasts this could grow by an additional 300,000 people by 2030.

The city has two large and quite separate parts. The old town has myriad streets like this, with many bars and small restaurants

2013-05-25 Montpellier 1

And major historical buildings like the Opera House (below)

2013-05-25 Montpellier 2

And the new part, which, in sharp contrast, has views like this

2013-05-25 Montpellier 5

2013-05-25 Montpellier 4

Quite an unusual mixture of styles. There’s a good tram system so it’s easy to go from one part to the other (there’s quite a distance between them).

I’d like to go back there again and explore further as Montpellier really caught my imagination (cheap direct flights are readily available).

Picture credit: Millau Viaduct.