Archive for May 12, 2011

Of Many Worlds in this World

Posted in Poetry with tags , on May 12, 2011 by telescoper

Just like as in a Nest of Boxes round,
Degrees of Sizes in each Box are found:
So, in this World, may many others be
Thinner and less, and less still by degree:
Although they are not subject to our sense,
A World may be no bigger than Two-pence.
NATURE is curious, and such Works may shape,
Which our dull senses easily escape:
For Creatures, small as Atoms, may be there,
If every one a Creature’s Figure bear.
If Atoms Four, a World can make, then see
What several Worlds might in an Ear-ring be:
For, Millions of those Atoms may be in
The Head of one small, little, single Pin.
And if thus small, then Ladies may well wear
A World of Worlds, as Pendents in each Ear.

by Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne. Her remarkable book The Blazing World was one of the first ever works of science fiction.

Local Matters

Posted in Education, Finance, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , on May 12, 2011 by telescoper

I think I’ve caught up with most of the signficant things that happened during my travels, so I thought I’d end this series of updates with some local news from Cardiff (and Wales generally).

First, I can pass on some information relating to the  number of potential students applying to study Physics (and related subjects) this forthcoming academic year (2011/12) in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University.  I blogged about this a few months ago when it became obvious that we were having a bumper year. As it turns out, we finished with applications up by a whopping 53% on last year.

Second, and related to the first item, the detailed allocations of university funding in Wales have finally filtered down all the way from HEFCW, through the Cardiff University management, and onto individual schools.  As it happens, this has also turned out not too badly for us here in Physics & Astronomy. For various reasons we’ve finally been given the increase in student numbers that we have been requesting for some time without success. In fact we’ve been given an extra 60 funded places, which is a significant uplift in our quota and a much-needed financial boost for the School. This has happened basically because of HECFW‘s desire to bolster STEM subjects as part of a range of measures related to the Welsh Assembly Government’s plans for the regions.

Unfortunately the admissions team have so far been proceeding on the basis that demand would exceed supply for this year so has set our undergraduate offers rather high. In order to fill the extra places that have been given to us late in the day, even with our vastly increased application numbers we may have to go into the clearing system to recruit some of the extra bodies. We’ll have to wait until the A-level results come out in August, however, before we know what the situation really is.

It would have been a lot easier if we’d known the rules at the start of the game, rather than near the end, but that’s the way it goes when politicians start tinkering with things…

We will have to lay on extra tutorials and laboratory sessions to cope with the anticipated increase in student numbers, which will be a bit of a struggle, but the extra money they bring in should keep the wolf from the door for a while.

Another thing worth mentioning concerns research in Wales. In the run-up to the Welsh Assembly elections, the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE) produced a couple of interesting documents. One was about science policy in the devolved nations and the other was a comparison of STEM subjects across the UK.

These documents make it clear that Wales lags far beyond England and (particularly) Scotland in terms of investment in, and productivity of, its scientific research.  In its  recommendations for Wales, CASE included

    • The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales must increase its investment in research – as well as improving the research base directly, this investment should bring more success in winning competitive, UK-wide funding. The indirect costs of charitably funded research should continue to be covered.
    • Policies should continue to build up the critical mass of research through collaboration, including with overseas researchers or businesses.

As I reported recently, we (Cardiff, Swansea and Aberystwyth) have tried to persuade HECFW to fund a Welsh physics initiative, intended to achieve precisely what CASE suggests. Unfortunately HECFW turned our bid down. At least for the short term, additional investment in physics research is clearly not on the agenda for HEFCW.  There’s not much sign of it happening in the future either, but we will have to wait and see…