“Science on Saturday” Goes to 11

This weekend I had the honour and privilege of being the first speaker for the 2019 Ronald E Hatcher Science on Saturday series of lectures held at, and organised by, Princeton’s PPL (Plasma Physics Laboratory).  I’ll let PPPL themselves explain what Science On Saturday is all about:

Science on Saturday is a series of lectures given by scientists, engineers, and other professionals involved in cutting-edge research. Held on Saturday mornings throughout winter, the lectures are geared toward high school students. The program draws more than 300 students, teachers, parents, and community members. Topics are selected from a variety of disciplines.

Named after the late Ronald E Hatcher, who ran and hosted the series for many years, Science on Saturday is a fun way to bring physics (and other lesser sciences) to the general public(s) and other scientists alike. I was bowled over by the enthusiasm and engagement of the audience, who braved a bracing Saturday morning to hear about the connections between Sabbath, Stryper, and Schrödinger.  (The free bagels and coffee before the talk were, I’m sure, not entirely incidental in attracting the audience. I certainly can vouch for the quality of the pre-lecture consumables.) The Q&A session at the end ran for over an hour, with many insightful questions from the audience, whose age range seemed to span ~ 9 to 90 years young!

A number of those who were in the audience e-mailed me after the talk to ask for a copy of the slides. I’ve uploaded them to SlideShare (sans videos, regrettably) to make them publicly available here:

 

Andrew Zwicker has been the energetic and entertaining host for Science on Saturday for, if I recall correctly, more years than he cares to remember. In parallel with his career in physics, Andrew has successfully forayed into politics, as outlined at his Wikipedia page. Before the lecture he told me about an exciting scheme to encourage more early career researchers into politics. I thoroughly understand the reticence of many scientists to get involved with the political sphere — my involvement with the Royal Society MP-Scientist pairing scheme a number of years ago was an eye-opener in terms of the mismatch that can exist between political and scientific mindsets — but we need to bite the bullet and dive in*, especially in an era when hard scientific evidence is so readily dismissed as “fake news”. (Apologies. Make that “FAKE NEWS” and add any number of exclamation marks to taste.)

On the day of my Science on Saturday lecture, a white supremacist march had been mooted to be held in Princeton (not the most likely of venues, it fortunately has to be said, for that type of hatemongering.) In the end, the basement dwellers never turned up — they claimed that it was a hoax. But the counter-protesters attended in their heart-warming hundreds…

I’d like to offer a very big thank you both to Andrew for the invitation to speak at “Science on Saturday” and to DeeDee Ortiz, the Program Manager for Science Education at PPPL, for organising the visit. A similarly massive thank you to Lori for all of her help and organisation, including providing the key musical “props” used during the lecture.


*Excuse the mixed metaphor. I love mixed metaphors. This, taken from Leon Lederman’s “The God Particle” as an example of writing by one of his PhD students, is my very favourite: “This field of physics is so virginal that no human eyeball has ever set foot in it.” (That quote tickles me so much that I use it as part of the introduction to the final year Politics, Perception, and Philosophy of Physics  module here at Nottingham.)

Rhapsody in Q

While digging through my e-mail archive to find a completely unrelated e-mail from years ago, I unearthed the following wonderful parody progress report (for the month of January 2012) from Julian Stirling, a PhD student researcher in the Nottingham Nanoscience Group at the time.  I just couldn’t leave it languishing in the archive so have released it into the wild here. Julian’s PhD project was focussed on various aspects of the qPlus variant of atomic force microscopy (described by its originator Franz Giessibl in the video below).

At the time of writing his Jan 2012 monthly report, Julian had been working on an analysis of the tip geometry in qPlus AFM which was later published in the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology.

Over to you, Julian…


Is this a real force?
Is this just fantasy?
I am not sure if they
Line up with reality

Open a book,
Look up at the maths and see…

It’s not a good guess, look at condition three.
Tips are, rather big, rather long
Rather like, other prong,
Any way the tip moves, all this matters to me.

To me…

Da-dah!
I just solved the math,
Put a pen against board,
left no solution unexplored

Da-dah… This has just begun,
Because now I got to work out what it means

Da-dah woo-hooo,
Didn’t mean to stop and cheer
If I’m right there is work to do tomorrow
Carry on, carry on as if nothing’s really finished

Look now, simulation’s done:
Sends vibrations down the tine
Oscillating all the time
Hey look, ev’rybody, the way it moves,
Gotta see the graph and try to face the truth

Da-dah woo-hooo,
I don’t want to stop,
I sometimes wish I’d never solved this at all

I see a little simulation of a tine,
Look at that! Look at that! Do you see the lateral motion?!
Eigenmodes and vectors, simulate detectors! Gee!
Galileo, Galileo
Galileo, Galileo
Galileo, Figaro – magnifico

Its just a theory, no one believes me
Its just a theory, why should we believe thee?
Just take a look at a this spectroscopy!
In it comes, out it goes, will you watch it go?
Bismilah! No, we will not watch it go
(Watch it go!) Bismilah! We will not watch it go
(Watch it go!) Bismilah! We will not watch it go
(Watch it go) Will not watch it go
(Watch it go)(Never) Never watch it go
(Watch it go) Never watch it go (Watch it go) Ah
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia, watch it go,
Beelzebub had a simulation put aside for me
For meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

So you think you can model me and predict how I scan?!?!
So you think you can simulate all that I am?!?!
Oh, Euler- can’t do this to me Euler,
Just gotta derive, just got to derive it in full

All this really matters, Anyone can see,
All this really matters,
All this really matters to me…

Any way the tip moves…

Denim and leather brought us all together

After the thrash metal overkill of last weekend, this week it was the turn of some heavy duty NWOBHM to crank the volume to the point of pain. I’m still recovering from the early eighties flashbacks induced by Saxon’s set at the Royal Concert Hall on Saturday night so please forgive this relatively short review. (Fortunately, my voice is now rather less croaky — it spent most of Sunday recuperating from my hollering along to “Wheels Of Steel”, “Dallas 1 pm”, “Strangers In The Night” and a bevy of other (head)banging metal classics…)

Up before Biff and the Barnsley boys, we had the classic rock of Wayward Sons, fronted by Toby Jepson, the erstwhile Little Angels frontman. (Bonus review points before they played a note for wandering on stage to the strains of Johnny Cash’s “I Shot A Man In Reno”). As a thrash metal fan in the late eighties I had to keep my penchant for Little Angels material well under wraps — “Too posh to mosh” and all that — but I always had a soft spot for Jepson’s voice. (After all, he comes close to Geddy Lee’s stratospheric vocal register at times. Even now in the throes of middle age. Bastard.) She’s A Little Angel is still very welcome indeed when it appears on shuffle on my phone.

But Wayward Sons aren’t about capturing Mr. Jepson’s past glories — they’re a much more seventies-style hard riffing, hard rocking band with none of the hair metal pretensions of Little Angels. Their down to earth rock ‘n’ roll is imbued with a wonderfully infectious sense of enthusiasm, some beefy Bonham-esque backbeats, and even a very welcome Thin Lizzy feel at times. Last year’s “Until The End” is as good an introduction as you’ll get…

I’ll definitely be looking out for Wayward Sons in the future — high octane rock with a sound that may well not be fashionable ever again. But that’s just the way we like it.

Doro Pesch, the long-crowned Queen of Metal, was next to tread the Royal Concert Hall boards. I’ve never been a fan, I’ve got to admit, but Doro deserves quite some respect for flying the metal flag so loyally for quite this long. And she and her band certainly can command a crowd…

Doro’s set took the Spinal Tap influence and, it’s got to be said, cranked it far beyond 11. Here are the lyrics for the chorus of the closing song of the set, “All For Metal”…

Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh
All for metal (Metal)
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh
Gods of metal (Metal)

How much more metal could this be? None. None more metal. (Metal)

And then it was time for the main event. Saxon were not only one of the first metal bands I got into but were a formative part of my musical education back when I were a lad. I distinctly remember feeling rather pleased with myself when I nailed the riff for “Strong Arm Of The Law” as a fledgling guitarist — one of the first “proper” guitar parts I learned — after rewinding and replaying the cassette of the album for what seemed like weeks (but was probably months). Here’s that riff reverberating across the Concert Hall on Saturday night…

Classic old school metal tunes were mixed with Saxon’s newer (and rather heavier) material. I’ll be brutally honest, however — I was there for the nostalgia trip. Kudos to Biff and the boys for not resting on their laurels and continuing to write and perform new material, but give me “And The Bands Played On” over “Sacrifice” any time. Fortunately, they did. Better still, the Barnsley ‘bangers closed their fan-pleasing set by belting out this anthem for the NWOBHM generation…

I can’t hear you…

Where were you in ’79 when the dam began to burst?
Did you check us out down at the local show?
Were you wearing denim, wearing leather?
Did you run down to the front?

Did you listen to the radio every Friday night?

Decades of Aggression

Slayer_1.JPG

“SLAAAYERRRGGGHHH!”

Ahhh, the comforting sound of the hirsute and happily inebriated Slayer fan at full bellow in their natural environment. Walking to the SSE Arena from Wembley Park tube station on Saturday evening, the streets were alive (undead) with the sounds of the Slayer swarm. I was in London, with my friend (and fellow physicist) James Theobald, his 11 year-old son, Jonathan, and twelve thousand or so other thrash metal fans for this:

SlayerTicket

Billed as The Farewell Tour, Slayer are retiring their plectrums, profanity, and pentagrams for a life of quiet reflection. Maybe. Given that Sabbath completed what seemed to be their fifth or sixth farewell tour a couple of years back, and that Ozzy has recently said that his “No More Tours” tour doesn’t actually mean that there will be no more tours (naturally), you’ll excuse my lack of surprise if Slayer give in to temptation and are reborn a few years hence.

Regardless of whether or not the bell truly has tolled for Slayer, it’s been a couple of years since I last did a review of a gig and there was no way I was letting this one go without putting pixels to screen.  Dom Lawson, one of the very best metal writers there is [1], reviewed Slayer’s performance in The Guardian [2] the day after the gig. He nailed it:

But tonight is all about the band that created one of metal’s most unarguably flawless albums, Reign in Blood (1986). From the discordant malevolence of their trademark riffs to the reliably unapologetic grimness of the lyrics, Slayer’s sound is seminal and ageless.

And here’s one of those seminal tracks [3]… (Some would say the seminal track.)

But Saturday night wasn’t all about Slayer. We also had three other major metal bands to whet our palette — sorry, assault our eardrums — before Araya, King, Holt [4], and Bostaph unleashed their demons. First up was the old school death metal of Obituary. Unfortunately, I’ve always found the Floridian deathsters to be rather one dimensional. (Perhaps it’s got something to do with the Tampa climate not exactly being conducive to metal. It’s not the sodden, grey landscape of Birmingham, after all.) “Slowly We Rot” hit the spot, however.

Up before Slayer were Lamb Of God. I’m again not a massive fan but they’re certainly an impressive metal machine; their drummer, Chris Adler, is worth the price of admission alone…

There are very, very few modern metal drummers who can match Adler’s proficiency, power, and prowess on double bass drums. And his band certainly can incite some fascinating non-equilibrium crowd dynamics (of a type discussed in a classic Physical Review Letter a few years back)…

I was, however, especially keen to experience Anthrax bringing the noise before they had to cede the stage to Lamb Of God. One of the Big Four of thrash metal, the New Yorkers were my “gateway” in the eighties from classic metal and NWOBHM (like Priest, Maiden, and Dio) to the heavier, darker, faster side. I didn’t “get” Metallica on the first, second, or even third listen — they were an acquired taste — but Anthrax I loved from the start, not least because of Joey Belladonna’s melodic and powerful vocals. (Scott Ian’s fandom for 2000 AD, a comic I devoured throughout the eighties and much of the nineties, also didn’t exactly put me off…) So it was wonderful to see Anthrax firing on all cylinders last Saturday, despite (a) them not playing I Am The Law (sob), and (b) Scott Ian berating those of us in the nosebleed seats for a certain lack of allegiance to the metal cause…

I’ll transcribe the key sentence from Mr. Ian’s rebuke, for those of you who may not have quite discerned what he said in the video above: “For those of you in the seats, stand the f**k up, you’re embarrassing yourselves“.

I dutifully got to my feet, suitably shame-faced.

Anthrax.jpg

Thanks to Taj Panesor for the wonderful shot of Anthrax in full flow above.

I’m writing this on the day of the US midterms. In an era when prejudice and hatred are stoked up on a daily basis in an increasingly polarised sociopolitical landscape, the lyrics of Anthrax’s Indians ringing out through the arena on Saturday night really paid testament to the cathartic power of music (be it metal or any other lesser variant)…

Territory, it’s just the body of the nation
The people that inhabit it make its configuration
Prejudice, something we all can do without
Flag of many colors is what this land’s all about

Or, as the Lemmy-endorsed — and what greater accolade could a metal/rock band have? – Skunk Anansie put it, Yes, It’s Fucking Political


 

[1] …although it’s a close run thing between Lawson and Andrew O’Neill, author of the fabulous “A History of Heavy Metal“. Even if you pull out the old air guitar only very occasionally, you owe it to yourself to get hold of O’Neill’s hilarious overview of the evolution of metal. Sample quote:

There are two types of people in the world: people who like heavy metal, and dicks. (Don’t worry if you fall into the latter category; I’m very persuasive.)

[2] Slayer in The Guardian.

Slayer. In. The Guardian.

Let that sink in, old school metal fans…

[3] It is verboten to write a review of any metal concert/album/song that does not include the word “seminal”. (Similarly, every physicist is contractually obliged to mention Feynman in every lecture they deliver.)

[4] Gary Holt is also with Exodus. I owe Gary and his bandmates a huge debt of gratitude because they were one of three bands who allowed the use of their lyrics in “When The Uncertainty Principle Goes To 11” free of charge. Other bands — well, more correctly, other publishers — charged up to $750 for the privilege of using a single line of lyrics as an epigraph at the start of a chapter.

Science Friction Braves The Pit Again

A very short post to say a massive thank you to Natasha Mitchell and Raphael Dixon (of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) for putting together the video trailer below. As Natasha put it, “Watch until the very end if you’re the real deal .”

Science Friction in the moshpit

I had such a great time chatting with Natasha Mitchell, host of the Australian Broadcasting Company’s wonderful Science Friction programme, about metal, moshers, and mechanics (of the quantum variety)[1]…

Wonderful choice of an enthusiastically headbanging L7 for Natasha’s tweet there. L7 may not have been metal but they rocked a hell of a lot harder than some metal bands whose gigs I’ve attended. (In case the link in the tweet doesn’t work, the podcast of the interview is here.)

Also not metal — but one of my favourite bands nonetheless — is the quintessentially British XTC. Science friction burns my fingers

[1] Dammit. Now kicking myself not to have worked a suitably strained reference to quantum mechanix into the interview…

 

A Night (of entanglement) At The Opera

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I’m looking forward immensely to participating in the entangled arts-science event described below. (Thanks to Harry Moriarty (no relation), Impact Officer for the Faculty of Science, for the press release.)

Entanglement! An Entropic Tale is described as “the Romeo and Juliet of particle physics”. Join us at 7pm on the 27th November for this exciting and unusual performance representing physics (including Parallel Universes, Black Holes and Hawking Radiation) through an opera exploring life and death, creation and destruction, and the importance of living life in the present.

First performed at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Opening Festival earlier in the year, this is a one-off performance at The University of Nottingham Lakeside Arts.

The event begins with a an introduction by Gerardo Adesso of the Quantum Correlations Group in Mathematical Sciences and followed by a Q&A panel session with Gerardo Adesso, Philip Moriarty (School of Physics and Astronomy), and Roxanne Korda and Daniel Blanco (Infinite Opera).

Tickets are priced at £8 for students and can be booked via Lakeside Arts.