The Week’s Ending
A later post than usual for a weekend. I’ve been feeling a bit fragile all day after a very late night last night “playing Bridge” (i.e. drinking and gossiping into the early hours of the morning, with the occasional hand of cards thrown in for good measure). My broadband connection has also been playing up nearly as badly as the connections in my brain, although I don’t think there’s a causal relationship between the two. Anyway, just time for a round-up of, and some reflections on, the events of the past seven days.
This has been the first week of term, so has naturally been extremely busy. I got my first week’s second-year lectures, examples sheets and handouts together last Sunday for a 9am start on Monday morning. There were 104 students on the register, and I was delighted to find that 100 of them actually showed up bright and early for the first session. The lecture wasn’t brilliant unfortunately – I misjudged how many worked examples I could fit into an hour and got a bit rushed as a consequence. Still, at least nobody threw anything at me, and I survived. At the end of the week the students were asked to hand in solutions to some problems, which most of them seem to have done. Unfortunately, however, I neglected to ask for the key to the box in which they are posted before the support staff went home at 5pm, so the scripts are still all in the box. At least that gives me an excuse for not having started to mark them yet.
I gave another lecture this week to the 4-th year Cardiff students taking the Quantum Field Theory lectures from Swansea, to try and fill in a bit of background our lot won’t have learned in other lectures on relativistic quantum mechanics, chiefly the Dirac equation. I really love that sort of stuff, so didn’t mind stepping up to do an impromptu class on it. They seemed to find it reasonably useful, although I went on a bit longer than I should.
Two other events this week in the School were a colloquium by Dr Anupam Mazumdar from Lancaster on Wednesday and a seminar by Prof. Pedro Ferreira from Oxford yesterday (Friday), both of which were related to alternative theories of gravity (i.e. modifications of Einstein’s theory of general relativity). Pedro has co-authored a comprehensive review article on such things if anyone is interested in following up the details. The basic point, however, is that standard cosmology almost all develops from the assumption that gravity and space-time are described by general relativity. That theory is well tested on solar-system scales, but independent tests on the much larger scales involved in cosmology are hard to come by. It’s clearly therefore an important goal to work towards testing alternative theories, as is the case in any scientific discipline.
As well as these specific events there was a steady stream of problems and irritations to do with the teaching timetable: rooms too small, clashes, and so on. This is part of my responsibility as Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Physics and Astronomy, and I don’t mind telling you that it’s a royal pain in the derrière. However, I think all the bugs have been ironed out and we can hopefully now carry on with a settled teaching programme into the new year.
Looking back on the week I can see so many things I would not long ago have found unbearably stressful, even going to the pub after Friday’s seminar. Such victories, however insignificant they may seem to others, have given me the confidence to face the greater challenges that I know the future has in store.Follow @telescoper