Deterministic Chaos

Yesterday was the occasion of the Annual Ball of the Cardiff  University School of Physics & Astronomy‘s Student Society Chaos held in the Cardiff Arms Suite of the Millennium Stadium. I had reservations about going because things like this always make me feel very old, but having been persuaded I was determined to have a good time. It turned out to be very enjoyable, so much so that I ended up moving on with some others to a nightclub to continue the party into the small hours. I think I kept up with the youngsters quite well, although I was well and truly knackered when I got home.

I’m also glad I didn’t disgrace myself too much, or if I did I don’t remember…

There was about a hundred people at the Chaos Ball, the vast majority of them students in the department. Not many staff members went along, although those that did all seemed to have a good time. These social events are quite tricky to pull off for a number of reasons. One is that there’s an inevitable “distance” between students and staff, not just in terms of age but also in the sense that the staff have positions of responsibility for the students. Students are not children, of course, so we’re not legally  in loco parentis, but something of that kind of relationship is definitely there. Although it doesn’t stop either side letting their hair down once in a while, I always find there’s a little bit of tension especially if the revels get a bit out of hand.

To help occasions like this I think it’s the responsibility of the staff members present to drink heavily in order to put the students at ease. United by a common bond of inebriation, the staff-student divide crumbles and a good time is had by all.

A couple of other incidents that happened this week serve to illustrate related issues. On Thursday we had to evacuate the building because the fire alarm went off. It turned out that some work being done on the roof had triggered a smoke detector. Although it wasn’t a real emergency, four fire engines arrived and we all stood outside for the best part of an hour while they figured out what had happened and, curiously, how to switch the alarm off.

The fire alarm had gone off, the fire brigade had turned out, but there was no fire to be seen. I joked that the only possible explanation of this state of affairs was that there must be a dark fire…

Standing outside, staff and students chatted casually while waiting to be let back into the building. It was sunny, which added to the conviviality. I realised, though, that I’d  never really spoken to many of my students like that before, i.e. outside the lecture  or tutorial. I see the same faces in my lectures day in, day out but all I do is talk to them about physics. I don’t know them at all. It’s strange.

The other thing was yesterday morning where I was giving one of my first year lectures on Astrophysical Concepts, a course which I really enjoy teaching. The topic was supernovae and it’s a lecture which I always end by doing an impersonation of a supernova explosion. If you want to see it, you’ll have to sign up for the course.

I was doing my PhD in 1987 when a supernova (SN1987A) went off in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It was  a hot topic for a while and I mentioned in my talk. I started to say “Some of you will remember…” then I suddenly realised to my horror that in 1987  nobody in my class had yet been born…

3 Responses to “Deterministic Chaos”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Tempus fugit indeed. I was at the University of Sydney when SN1987a went off, and had a good view. Peter, how loud can you shout BANG?

    Army officers traditionally drink in different pubs from the men they command, and it seems to work pretty well.


    • telescoper Says:

      So indeed do the NCOs, who I supposed must be postgraduates!

      I’m not sure how many decibels I can produce, if that’s what you mean. The loudness of the Big Bang, of course, can be measured quite accurately. It’s about 115db. Loud, but not ridiculous.

  2. […] dry cleaners on the way home. It being good weather I thought I’d wear it for Friday’s annual Chaos Ball. I don’t know how widespread this usage is, but in Britain I’ve always thought the […]

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