Sick — the prescription you need

Sick_1The blog has taken a back seat over the last month due to the fun and frolics of the day job so apologies to regular readers (both of you) for the lack of rambles and rants of late. I just had to break radio silence this morning, however, to strongly and enthusiastically recommend that you go see Shey Hargreave‘s affecting, compelling, and downright wonderful Sick “a storytelling show… documenting one receptionist’s journey through four years of austerity”.

I went to see Sick at the Nottingham Arts Theatre last night and it was one of the most moving and entertaining shows I’ve seen. Ever. Shey’s performance — a one hour monologue that seemed to fly by in five minutes because I was so caught up in the story — is entirely believable because it draws from her experience of, as Shey herself puts it, the “organised chaos of an emergency medical unit” when she worked as a clerk in the NHS from 2013 to 2017.

Nottingham’s LeftLion’s review of the show captures what makes it so very special:

Littered with well timed jokes and frequently laugh out loud funny, whilst telling tragically sad stories, SICK is a bizarrely charming and entertaining show. A bittersweet study of what makes us human, and a funny and approachable call to political arms told in Hargreaves’ appealing, warm and honest style.

I should come clean at this point and admit that I’ve known Shey for a number of years. We’ve worked together, along with Charli Vince and Brigitte Nerlich, on a graphic novel, Open Day (which we’re hoping will be published in the not-too-distant future. More about that in due course. Charli and Brigitte have both previously blogged about Open Dayhere and here.)

IMG_6493I knew from her Open Day script that Shey is a talented and engaging writer but I was delighted to find out last night that she is also an exceptional actor. The audience was rapt throughout — alternately chocking back tears and laughing out loud. That ability to connect so well comes from the compelling honesty of Sick; as Shey puts it in a wonderfully named podcast about the show, “It’s fucking hard sometimes” to perform a piece that is based on, at times, harrowing real-life experiences. What was remarkable about last night was Shey’s ability to not only balance that sadness with laughter but to blend perceptive political analysis (NHS funding, Brexit, nationalism…) seamlessly into the narrative.

There are still a number of dates left on the Sick tour (including another date in Nottingham Arts Theatre tonight.) You owe it to yourself to go. I guarantee you’ll have, in Shey’s words, “a Right Good Time.”

“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.)

Debunking sexist pseudoscience: A masterclass

OK, Mr. Young. Here you go. Every single one of Strumia’s breathtakingly vacuous and faux-scientific arguments categorically dissected and demolished: https://www.particlesforjustice.org/ 

Now, how about you return the favour? The next time you start clutching your pearls and feverishly scribbling some tired, cliched, uninformed, hyberbolic shite about how “leftists”/”cultural Marxists”/”the PC brigade” are taking over our universities and indoctrinating our children — “Won’t someone think of the children?!”  — why not do a modicum of homework? Don’t credulously believe every piece of bad science you’re told just because it neatly aligns with your ideological prejudices.

Politics. Perception. Philosophy. And Physics.

Today is the start of the new academic year at the University of Nottingham (UoN) and, as ever, it crept up on me and then leapt out with a fulsome “Gotcha”. Summer flies by so very quickly. I’ll be meeting my new 1st year tutees this afternoon to sort out when we’re going to have tutorials and, of course, to get to know them. One of the great things about the academic life is watching tutees progress over the course of their degree from that first “getting to know each other” meeting to when they graduate.

The UoN has introduced a considerable number of changes to the “student experience” of late via its Project Transform process. I’ve vented my spleen about this previously but it’s a subject to which I’ll be returning in the coming weeks because Transform says an awful lot about the state of modern universities.

For now, I’m preparing for a module entitled “The Politics, Perception and Philosophy of Physics” (F34PPP) that I run in the autumn semester. This is a somewhat untraditional physics module because, for one thing, it’s almost entirely devoid of mathematics. I thoroughly enjoy  F34PPP each year (despite this amathematical heresy) because of the engagement and enthusiasm of the students. The module is very much based on their contributions — I am more of a mediator than a lecturer.

STEM students are sometimes criticised (usually by Simon Jenkins) for having poorly developed communication skills. This is an especially irritating stereotype in the context of the PPP module, where I have been deeply impressed by the quality of the writing the students submit. As I discuss in the video below (an  overview of the module), I’m not alone in recognising this: articles submitted as F34PPP coursework have been published in Physics World, the flagship magazine of the Institute of Physics.

 

In the video I note that my intention is to upload a weekly video for each session of the module. I’m going to do my utmost to keep this promise and, moreover, to accompany each of those videos with a short(ish) blog post. (But, to cover my back, I’ll just note in advance that the best laid schemes gang aft agley…)

Lilian Greenwood explains why she resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet

I should have posted the link before now, but rather late than never. Lilian Greenwood is my MP and is someone for whom I have a huge amount of respect. Lilian’s speech to the Nottingham South Labour Party membership was honest, passionate (in the true sense of the word), and compellingly reasoned.

As I’ve noted previously, I’ve been bitterly disappointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s performance as Labour leader (and I’m saying that as someone who joined the Labour party to vote for Corbyn). That someone with the credibility and commitment of Lilian Greenwood was among the first to resign from the Shadow Cabinet speaks volumes.