Archive for January 22, 2012

Serious Brain Power – a reminder!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on January 22, 2012 by telescoper

I’ve posted already about this initiative, but there’s no harm doing a bit of re-advertising on behalf of Cardiff University’s new recruitment campaign which has the slogan Serious Brain Power.  A major initiative is under way to attract high quality researchers to Cardff (either at Chair level for established academics or at the level of a Fellowship for those earlier in their careers)  across a range of academic disciplines, including STEM subjects.

In the School of Physics & Astronomy we’ve already appointed four new lecturers in Physics over the last year, and will also be joined by a new Professor of Experimental Physics next year, all independently of this scheme, but it would be great if we could attract even more excellent new people into the School via the new initiative; for an advert see here.

At fellowship level the positions  provide a greater degree of independence than a normal postdoctoral research assistantship, including the possibility to direct one’s own research programme. The number of  similar positions funded by research councils  is  dwindling owing to cutbacks in the research council budgets, making such a post a particularly valuable and attractive proposition.

Although this is a personal blog, and therefore not officially part of the recruitment campaign, it occurred to me that readers of this blog might well be interested in these opportunities, hence the reason for posting this message. Applicants for astronomy and cosmology would be welcomed,  by me at any rate! It’s a rare opportunity to join a Physics department that’s actually growing in size…

To find out more about the Fellowships and Chairs, see here. Feel free to contact me informally if you have any questions, and  please also feel free to pass this on to anyone you think might be interested!

Dead of Night

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on January 22, 2012 by telescoper

It not being possible to watch Match of the Day last night – I didn’t particularly want to watch the horror story of Newcastle’s 5-2 drubbing by Fulham – I rummaged around in my stack of DVDs of old films and came up with Dead of Night. I was actually very happy to have the excuse  to watch this classic British horror film for the umpteenth time. I’ve actually blogged about a bit of this film before. There is a sequence (to me by far the scariest in the  film) about a ventriloquist who is gradually possessed by his evil dummy which came up in a post I did about Automatonophobia some time ago.

Anyway, Dead of Night was made in 1945 by Ealing Studios and you only have to watch it to appreciate why it its held in such high regard by critics to this day. Indeed you can see ideas in it which have been repeated in a host of subsequent (and usually inferior) horror flicks. I’m not going to spoil it by saying too much about the plot. I’m sure there are many (younger) readers who have never heard of this wonderful film and I don’t want to spoil their enjoyment of it by giving away too much. I would say though that it’s basically a portmanteau film, i.e. a series of essentially separate stories (to the extent of having a different director for each such segment) embedded within an overall narrative. It also involves an intriguing plot device similar to those situations in which you are dreaming, but in the dream you wake up and don’t know whether you’re actually awake or still dreaming…

Anyway, you can watch the whole film on Youtube if you like but you have to keep clicking through the different sections used to be able to watch it on Youtube, but it’s sadly now been removed

It’s the “dream-within-a-dream” structure – what physicists would call a self-similar hierarchy – of the overall framework of this movie that gives it its particular interest from the point of view of this blog, because it played an important role in the evolution of theoretical cosmology. One evening in 1946 the mathematicians and astrophysicts Fred Hoyle, Hermann Bondi and Tommy Gold went to see Dead of Night in Cambridge. Discussing the film afterwards they came up with the idea of the steady state cosmology, the first scientific papers about which were published in 1948. For the best part of two decades this theory was a rival to the now-favoured “Big Bang” (a term coined by Fred Hoyle which was intended to be a derogatory description of the opposing theory).

In the Big Bang theory there is a single “creation event”, so this particular picture of the Universe has a definite beginning, and from that point the arrow of time endows it with a linear narrative. In the steady state theory, matter is created continuously in small bits (via a hypothetical field called the C-field) so the Universe has no beginning and its time evolution not unlike that of the film.

Modern cosmologists sometimes dismiss the steady state cosmology as a bit of an aberration, a distraction from the One True Big Bang but it was undeniably a beautiful theory. The problem was that so many of its proponents refused to accept the evidence that they were wrong.  Supporters of  disfavoured theories rarely change their minds, in fact. The better theory wins out because younger folk tend to support it, while the recalcitrant old guard defending  theirs in spite of the odds eventually die out.

And another thing. If Fred Hoyle had thought of it he might have  called the field responsible for creating matter a scalar field, rather than the C-field, and it would now be much more widely recognized that he (unwittingly) invented many elements of modern inflationary cosmology. In fact, in some versions of inflation the Universe as a whole is very similar to the steady state model, only the continuous creation is not of individual particles or atoms, but of entire Big-Bang “bubbles” that can grow to the size of our observable Universe. So maybe the whole idea was actually right after all..