Archive for September 14, 2012


Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , on September 14, 2012 by telescoper

I’m up bright and early this morning – well, early, at least – after my long trip yesterday. I was slightly nervous about my itinerary, especially the (for me) uncharted territory at the end. As it happens, the train from Cardiff to Heathrow, direct flight from Heathrow to Phoenix and shuttle bus from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona, all went to plan. I arrived just after nine yesterday evening, tired but intact.

One thing worth mentioning is that this is the first time I’ve set foot on American soil for many years. My lamentable experience with the US Embassy in London in 2005 succeeding in putting me off visiting the States almost entirely. However, I’m told that travelling is meant to be good for me, so I decided to accept the invitation to attend and speak at the conference I posted about a while ago. One of the relics of the 2005 episode is an unused J-1 visa in my passport, and when we arrived in Phoenix I was consequently a little apprehensive about whether questions might be asked about it. That added to the usual anxiety about length of queues at Immigration. As it turned out, the staff were courteous and efficient and the uniformed officer I spoke to at the desk and who took my fingerprints etc was an enthusiastic amateur astronomer who seemed more interested in my work than in the formalities at hand. Anyway, my virgin visa attracted no comment at all.

Despite landing a bit late, I actually got through the airport in good time to catch the shuttle to Flagstaff. Phoenix, by the way, was a scorching 37 Celsius, even at 5.30 in the pip emma. I dread to think how hot it must have been at mid-day. Flagstaff is, I’m told, a bit cooler being up in the mountains although it was dark when I arrived and I didn’t really see much of the place before getting to the hotel, having a quick blog, and then crashing out.

Incidentally, the route from Phoenix to Flagstaff is north on the I-17 until it hits Route 66, subject of the famous song in which Flagstaff gets a mention:

My hotel is actually situated on Route 66, but so far there’s no sign of anything that could truthfully be described as “kicks”.

Anyway, I have to speak later today so I should probably start writing my talk.  As they don’t say around these parts, Toodle-pip!

R.I.P. Leonid Grishchuk

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on September 14, 2012 by telescoper

As I was travelling to Heathrow airport in order to fly to the USA (from where I am posting this message), I heard the sad news of the death of a dear and respected colleague, Professor Leonid Petrovich Grishchuk.

Leonid was a  Distinguished Research Professor here in Cardiff from  1995 until his retirement in 2009 and was frequently to be found in the department after that. You can read more of his scientific biography and wider achievements here, but it should suffice to say that he was a pioneer of many aspects of relativistic cosmology and particularly primordial gravitational waves. He was also a larger-than-life character,  held in great affection by many scientists and friends around the world.

My first experience of Leonid was many years ago at a scientific meeting at which I attempted to give a talk. Leonid was in the audience and he interrupted me,  rather aggressively. I didn’t really understand his question so he had another go at me in the questions afterwards. I don’t mind admitting that I was quite upset with his behaviour. I think a large fraction of working cosmologists have probably been “Grischchucked” at one time or another. Later on, though, people from the meeting were congregating at a bar when he arrived and headed for me. I didn’t really want to talk to him as I felt he had been quite rude. However, there wasn’t really any way of escaping so I ended up talking to him over a beer. We finally resolved the question he had been trying to ask me and his demeanour changed completely. We spent the rest of the evening having dinner and talking about all sorts of things and were good friends ever since. Over the years I’ve learned that this is very much a tradition amongst Russian scientists of the older school. They can seem very hostile – even brutal – when discussing science, but that was the way things were done in the environment where they learned their trade.  In many cases the rather severe exterior masks a kindly and generous nature, as it certainly did with Leonid. Leonid’s confrontational behaviour was partly sport – once you got used to that twinkle in his eye it was impossible to take offence – but partly a genuine desire to cut away the flannel and get to the heart of things. He detested bullshit and had no time for people who traded in it.

Here’s a picture of Leonid taken a few years ago with his longstanding friend Professor Kip Thorne.


Some months ago Leonid was struck down by a brain tumour, against which he struggled bravely. On Monday this week, however, the doctors were forced to admit that the treatment had failed and Leonid could not live much longer. Fortunately his death, when it came, was peaceful. He passed away in his sleep on Wednesday night.

Farewell, Leonid. We’ll all miss you.