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Comment Re:Trendy (Score 1) 91

Newton seemed to earn money doing numerous other jobs, as have many other physicists.

Indeed - perhaps I wasn't clear. Anyone seeking work straight from University should have an edge. There are still some prejudices out there (e.g. "Physicists can't write and don't have social skills) but the numeracy/problem-solving card usually trumps those. Having said that, those who start on a "physics" career may find it harder to change direction later. They often seem to end up in a series of short-term posts (been there, done that). Those who hold out for "real" jobs in their chosen field may find themselves effectively unemployable or doing casual jobs (the decorators previously quoted are two such examples).

Lots of interesting articles out there at the moment from current graduate students who are struggling with these issues, hashtag #PhDelta for openers.

Incidentally, Newton would not have been my exemplar. His get-rich-quick schemes included occult alchemy (which was highly illegal and potentially punishable by execution) and his position as Master of the Royal Mint was obtained through patronage, as was usual at the time. He acquitted himself superbly, though, unlike his foray into politics, which sounds disastrous.

Comment Trendy (Score 5, Insightful) 91

There are many reasons which may have conflated to produce this result. I moved out of research 20 years ago and have been teaching physics in UK schools ever since, so I have seen various trends during that time.

Physics has always been perceived as hard (especially by girls) and considered geeky. Most of my students have either been out-and-out geeks or those aspiring to medicine/dentistry. A few have shifted into numerate careers (e.g. actuary, accountancy) and several into teaching.

Mostly pupils are interested in the sexier aspects - astrophysics or relativity or quantum theory, rather than mechanics or thermodynamics. Of course, at school level the really hard stuff doesn't kick in but it is still quite challenging for the vast majority of students.

A few years ago maths at A-level in the UK was made significantly easier (this is well-documented elsewhere) and took a lot of students who were considering doing physics as a "hard" option in order to go to medical school. To some extent this is still the case, but more people are doing physics as well. Why?

The courses feeding into A-level have been made easier - this gives people the [misleading] impression that they can cope with physics - and increases the course drop-out rate! Also, it is very valuable for entry on to competitive courses in good universities, but only if you get the top grades. Finally - and perhaps most importantly - it is seen as interesting, thanks to the influence of ambassadors such as Brian Cox (who has over 0.75 million followers on Twitter) and the well-reported recent events at CERN.

It will be fascinating to see how this develops - will the courses be "dumbed-down" (probably not, in the current political and economic climate). Will people realise that physicists are not necessarily directly employable? (I currently know two Ph.D.s who are still working as painters and decorators, several years on). Will the love affair with media science die away? (Again - it was last seen during the Moon landings and yours truly got sucked in as a boy...)

Comment Re:Where were they? (Score 1) 291

Way too harsh. I've just read the hyperlink and it's a good stab at providing analogies people can try to get their heads around. "A quantum of the Higgs field which enables the Higgs effect" doesn't do it for most non-slashdotters.

The Justin Bieber fan analogy is a variant of an explanation I first saw fronted by Tara Shears a few years ago, when the LHC originally came online. Probably still out there somewhere on YouTube.

Kudos to this article - they even mention the nickname story (the same version I was told personally when I visited CERN).

Comment Bad timing... (Score 1) 2

One of my external HDDs began reallocating sectors on Monday evening. When I specced a replacement, I was shocked. Prices here (UK) are mostly up 300% (over the last couple of weeks, it would seem) and even the best deals are coming in at about double the prices from a couple of months ago.

Gonna put that new RAID array on hold for a bit...

Comment Re:More than Numbers, More than Money (Score 1) 841

We need a legion of enthusiastic experts who live and breathe it. Who love it to the point they're almost willing to do it for free.

Which is how this all went wrong in the first place. If they'll almost do it for free, then pay them buttons... (been there, done that). Youngsters today don't think like that - and still have massive debts to repay even if they do.

Far too many technically-minded people are either choosing to study medicine or going into another, better-paid, field after graduation. Very few want to spend 15+ years making the world better for others but not for themselves - that's the new monasticism, as I've said here before.


Submission + - Bubble memory? (

PeterAitch writes: "It may now be possible to test for 'multiverses' using data embedded within our own Universe. As reported by the BBC, a team at University College, London now think they may have found that some 'bubble universes' (as predicted by the theory of eternal inflation) leave a detectable pattern within our own cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB).
The idea was first proposed by some of the same group back in 1995, but the new work seems to provide some [tentative] supporting data."

Comment Re:Here's the solution (Score 2, Interesting) 302

In the cause of "refine and improve" let me suggest the following...

We put accountants and generalist managers [effectively] in charge of all scientific funding. For projects to be allowed to continue, they must be explained clearly and precisely, but in terms the scientifically-illiterate can grasp. The generalists, having the balance of power, can then make a "reasoned judgement" on whether to continue paying for the elitist frippery called "research" (instead of the important stuff like expense-account lunches, continuous face-to-face meetings around the world and powerpoint-projected wallpaper-to-go).

To make it even more interesting, build-in the assumption that science is a linear activity, like constructing a wall with bricks. "How many ideas have you has today/this week/this month?" would be a good initial benchmarking question. The answer can then be used to ramp-up quotas in future years to DEMONSTRATE INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY. Perfect! Ultimately, some sacrifices may have to be made - like abolishing coffee breaks - but scientists like to work hard and aren't in it for the money, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Time to pencil it in on the wall-planner...

Comment Re:what are you FOR? (Score 1) 315

City jobs and research jobs are obviously very different worlds. Many of the scientists who went into the City did so initially as analysts, working on numerical modelling of financial systems (and starting with some very shaky a-priori assumptions, which were then superbly modelled, whilst faithfully retaining the dubious validity of the original assumptions. I met 8 physics D. Phil. candidates from Oxford some years ago, who were about to do just that). They would then tend be promoted according to how well they meshed with the internal culture of their organisation and the shifting criteria of company politics. The £1M+ jobs are for those who negotiate this labrynth successfully.

Most researchers are dreamers, to some extent. Their dreams may be self-centred, involving fame and position, or more altruistic, involving doing a job which will advance society. Either way, it's work, work and more work. I've seen people lose partners, friends and even their sanity on the way. Ultimately I didn't make it (and I won't do defence work anyway) but on the journey I lost about 15 years of pensionable service because research jobs came and went with the rapidity of a revolving door. In my case, this started over 30 years ago, but as some wag once pointed out to me, "When I came into this field 25 years ago this was the technology of the future - and it still is!"

Other than scientists, most people can't - or won't - cope with this over-arching picture of sustained future investment. Most UK industries have already gone along this road - consistent lack of investment, followed by inevitable collapse. Even the great Victorian entrepeneurs sent their children to University to study classics, as this was considered socially superior to how they themselves had made their money. Not much has changed since - people piled into computers in the 60s and 70s, finance in the 80s and 90s (and beyond); universities throughout. There are some bright spots, pharmaceuticals for example, but the picture is patchy at best. At this worst of times, when the money has been sytematically blown elsewhere, we have to face up to a leaner future. Personally, I don't think we can afford not to invest in basic science, but it's a hard sell to the country as a whole. In order to be seen as "efficient", scientists are already having to spend insane amounts of time on admin, which brings to mind another old saying, "You can't fatten a pig by weighing it".

Comment Re:Money, Career, and Life (Score 1) 618

I didn't care so much about the pay, doing science is in itself worth it as long as you're being paid enough to survive. Yeah, for some people it's that much fun.

That's why sales guys (and CEOs) make far, far more money than scientists (and, to a lesser extent, engineers). They DO care about money. I used to think exactly like that, now I realise that I'll probably never be able to retire because I won't be able to afford it, because of the string of positions I had early in my employment history.

I'm now older, wiser, and a science teacher (in the UK). Science careers? Think very carefully before making that commitment.

Comment Re:easy (Score 1) 651

You have to experience this with a loved one to understand it. I'm in the midst of it right now with my Dad (although, mercifully, in the UK the financial aspect is much less burdensome to the individuals concerned). Intellect is ultimately not enough: indeed a truly rational or analytical approach can lead to guilt and depression because you try to follow a course which you think to be "right" but which feels "wrong". The whole thing is an emotional, ethical and (potentially) financial minefield.

Comment Re:Nothing new I have noticed this with my beer ;- (Score 1) 165

First of all, you wouldn't put REAL beer in a freezer. You must mean what we in the UK call "lager".

Some highly filtered lagers and "lite" beers can readily be supercooled in a freezer. When removed, they have not solidified since there are no nucleation sites available to them. When opened, the CO2 bubbles will act as nucleation sites and freezing will occur rapidly, producing dendrites of ice in all directions. The same effect can be initiated by tapping the unopened bottle SHARPLY (without breaking it!) on a convenient surface. It's a handy party trick: offer a supercooled lager to someone you don't like and watch them [not] drink it.

Comment Re:Beautiful pictures (Score 1) 149

I have an Orion Optics 8" Newtonian AND an equatorial mount and could not hope to match these amazing captures, even if I worked at it for years. Then again, I don't have a dedicated CCD camera (except for the sensor on my SLR body, of course). Great stuff.

As far as "doing weddings" goes, obviously he only turns out for the stars! (Binaries mainly, with the odd kinky trinary+)


Correlation Found Between Brain Structure and Video Game Success 110

kghapa writes "Still want to argue that video games shrink your brain? While video games have been previously shown to stimulate brain activity and improve coordination skills, a recently published study has directly linked structures in the human brain with video game aptitude. And yes, apparently size does matter in this case. Quoting: '... each subject received 20 hours of training to play a video game specifically created for research purposes, called Space Fortress. It's basically an Asteroids-type arcade game, in which the object is to knock down and destroy an enemy fortress while dodging space mines. However, the game has lots of extra twists that require close attention. Some of the players were told to focus exclusively on running up a high score, while others were told to shift their priorities between several goals. The result? The subjects who had more volume in an area called the nucleus accumbens did significantly better in the early stages of training. Meanwhile, those who were well-endowed in different areas of the striatum, known as the caudate nucleus and putamen, handled the shifting strategies better.'"

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