Archive for October, 2011

Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 68

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , on October 26, 2011 by telescoper

I keep getting told off for not having enough female lookee-likees, so how about this one? I’m struck by the resemblance between astronomer Catherine Heymans and singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. I wonder if by any chance they might be related?

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University Admissions in Uncharted Territory

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on October 26, 2011 by telescoper

It turns out I have a few minutes spare before going to our staff Away (half) Day this afternoon, so I thought I’d pass on another interesting bit of news that came out this week.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Services, known to all and sundry as UCAS, has released some interesting statistical information on numbers of applicants to UK universities and how this compares with the corresponding stage in the admissions timetable last year.

We’re still very early on in the process so it would be unwise to read too much into the figures available so far. The big question, however, is whether the ConDem government’s decision to raise fees for university students to £9K per annum has had any effect on the number of students applying. In fact the headline figure is that after several years of growth in overall applicant numbers, the figures for 2012 entry are down 9% on last year. Still early days, of course, but it does look like the new fee levels may be having the deterrent effect we all expected.

Another interesting thing that struck me, from Table 6 of the UCAS analysis, is that the number of students applying to study courses in the physical sciences (including Physics & Astronomy) is down by just 1.6% on the same stage last year, compared to an average of 7.9% across all subjects. (Note that this is not the same as the 9% mentioned above, because students get more than one choice of course..).

Of particular interest to us in Wales is the breakdown of applicants by domicile and choice of institution.  From Table 4 we see that the number of English students applying to Welsh Universities is down 13.4%, while the number of Welsh-domiciled students applying to study in England is down by only 4.3%. If this differential persists then it will have a big impact on the Welsh Higher Education sector, because of the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to cut funding for Welsh Universities in order to pay for its  subsidy for  Welsh students wanting to study in England.

It’s too early to predict what will happen to overall student numbers for 2012/13, but I’m sure planning officers in universities all around the UK will be looking at the interim figures with a considerable degree of anxiety.

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on October 26, 2011 by telescoper

No time for a post of my own today – it’s our “Staff Away Day” (which owing to budget cuts is only half a day and is being held in Cardiff, at the Millennium Stadium). Anyway, I was going to pass on the same rumours that Andy Lawrence is writing about, and he knows more about this than I do, so over to him for the ongoing ramifications of JWST…

Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 67

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , , , on October 25, 2011 by telescoper

I’m struck by the remarkable similarity between Dr Marek Kukula, “Public Astronomer” at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and Constable Kevin Goody, as played by actor James Dreyfus in the popular situation comedy The Thin Blue Line. I wonder if by any chance they might be related?

Marek Kukula

Kevin Goody

A Big Idea

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 25, 2011 by telescoper

I thought I’d share this, part of the Big Ideas series produced by Cardiff University, because it features our own Haley Gomez:

In the video Haley explains how enormous quantities of dust have been found by astronomers in the School of Physics & Astronomy. We just can’t get the cleaning staff, you see. In fact more recently there have also been discoveries of damp, mould, crumbling ceilings and broken windows.

I don’t want to steal Haley’s thunder in any way, but I should mention that an even more startling discovery has recently been made elsewhere in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University. In my office, in fact.  Not  dust, but anti-dust!

A-Level Further Mathematics Examination, 1981

Posted in Education with tags , , on October 24, 2011 by telescoper

I’ve been forcibly evicted from my office this afternoon while a highly-trained operative of Cardiff University’s esteemed Estates Department replaces a broken window. It’s been broken since I moved into the office, about four years ago, by the way, but you can’t rush these things. Anyway, having been forced to change location I took the opportunity to decamp to the upstairs computer room wherein our departmental scanner resides and occupied myself with the task of scanning in yet another of the old examinations I took when I was in school. This one is the Further Mathematics examination, consisting of two papers each of three hours’ duration: Paper 1 is entirely Pure Mathematics; Paper 2 contains a mixture of Pure and Applied Mathematics, and Statistics.

Looking back on the paper now, thirty years after I first saw it, it seems to me that the Applied Mathematics questions (6-11 on Paper 2) actually look quite tough by the standard of 1st year undergraduate examinations in mechanics. However, I’ll leave it to you to comment on whether you think it’s harder, or easier, or about the same, compared to current A-levels in Further Mathematics. I’d also be interested in knowing whether there’s anything on these papers that isn’t on the syllabus nowadays.

The comments box awaits…

Another Crossword Competition

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on October 24, 2011 by telescoper

Flushed with success after winning a prize in the Saturday Independent crossword competition (even if it is yet another dictionary) and flying high at No. 6 in the Azed Annual Honours List I thought I’d have another go at setting a puzzle for my readers. There were some complaints that my last crossword was too difficult, so here is a slightly simpler one for you:

Across                                                       Down

1  Current symbol for ego?                    1  One visual organ, we hear