Archive for University of Bath

Critical Masses

Posted in Education, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , , on January 26, 2013 by telescoper

One of the interesting bits of news floating around academia at the moment is the announcement that my current employer (until the end of next week), Cardiff University is to join forces with the Universities of Bath, Exeter and Bristol in an alliance intended to create a ‘critical mass of knowledge’ and help Cardiff  ‘better compete for more research income’ (apparently by pretending to be in England rather than in Wales).  How successful this will be – or even what form this alliance will take – remains to be seen.

There’s been a lot of gossip about what inspired this move, but it’s not the first attempt to create a collaborative bloc of this kind. Last year five universities from the Midlands announced plans to do something similar. The “M5” group of   Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick got together primarily to share infrastructure in order to help them win grants, which is probably what also lies behind the Cardiff-Bath-Exeter-Bristol deal.

Of course there are also a myriad  alliances at the level of individual Schools and Departments. I’ll shortly be joining the University of Sussex, which is a major player in SEPNET – the South-East Physics Physics Network which was set up with help from HEFCE There are other such networks in England, as well as SUPA in Scotland, funded by the devolved Scottish Funding Council. Attempts to form a similar arrangement for Physics in Wales were given short shrift by the Welsh Funding Agency, HEFCW. The inability or unwillingness of HEFCW to properly engage with research in Wales is no doubt behind Cardiff’s decision to seek alliances with English universities but I wonder how it will translate into funding. Surely HEFCE wouldn’t be allowed to fund a Welsh University, so presumably this is more aimed at funding from the research councils or further afield, perhaps in Europe. Or perhaps the idea is that if GW4 can persuade HEFCE to fund Bath, Bristol and Exeter, HEFCW will be shamed into stumping up something for Cardiff? Sneaky.

Anyway, good luck to the new “GW4” alliance. Although I’m moving to pastures new I’ll certainly keep an eye on any developments, and hope that they’re positive. The only thing that really disturbs me is that the name “Great Western Four” is apparently inspired by the Great Western Railway, now run by an outfit called First Great Western. My recent experiences of travelling on that have left a lot to be desired and I’m sure the name will have negative connotations in the minds of many who are fed up of their unreliable, overcrowded, overpriced and poorly managed services. They say a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but so far this is only a name – and one with a distinctly questionable odour.


Our Place in the Universe

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 10, 2010 by telescoper

Just a quick post to plug a forthcoming lecture entitled Our Place in the Universe by my former PhD supervisor, Professor John D. Barrow.

This lecture is one of a series held jointly between the University of Bath and the William Herschel Society. In fact, I gave the corresponding lecture last year on The Cosmic Web, a podcast of which is available here. It doesn’t seem like a whole year has passed since I blogged about that event!

John Barrow’s lecture will take place at 7pm on Thursday 11th November, at the Claverton Campus of the University of Bath. For further details, see the link above. I realise that it’s a bit far for local Cardiff people to get there and back in the evening, but there might be a few readers of this blog who can make it there. John is an excellent public speaker and I’d encourage anyone who can go to do so, as I’m sure it will prove very rewarding.


Aquae Sulis

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2009 by telescoper

Just time for a quick post this lunchtime, in between a whole day of meetings with students about projects and other things. This afternoon I have to whizz off to the fine city of Bath where this evening I am giving a public lecture jointly organized  by the University of Bath and the William Herschel Society (which is based in Bath).

The title of my talk is The Cosmic Web, and a brief outline is as follows.

The lecture will focus on the large scale structure of the Universe and the ideas that physicists are weaving together to explain how it came to be the way it is.

Over the last few decades astronomers have revealed that our cosmos is not only vast in scale – at least 14 billion light years in radius – but also exceedingly complex in texture, with galaxies and clusters of galaxies linked together in immense chains and sheets tracing out an immense network of structures we call the Cosmic Web.

Cosmologists have developed theoretical explanations for its origin that involve such exotic concepts as ‘dark matter’ and ‘cosmic inflation’, producing a cosmic web of ideas that is in many ways as rich and fascinating as the Universe itself.

The University of Bath website has more details of the talk, and I think they are going to do a podcast too. I’ll actually be doing a recap in a couple of weeks’ time in Bristol at an event for the Institute of Physics, of which more anon.

Bath is only about an hour from Cardiff by train and I’m very much looking forward to this trip as I have never been to the University of Bath before.I remember from my schooldays that the Romans named the place Aquae Sulis (or, as my Latin teacher Mr Keating who couldn’t pronounce his esses would say, Aquae Thulith).  The local waters were famous for their healing powers even before the Romans got to England, and the Celtic inhabitants attributed this to a deity they called  Sulis. The Romans kept the name, although they decided that Sulis was actually their goddess Minerva in disguise. The Romans were good at appropriating local traditions like that.

The only potential fly in the ointment is the British weather, which has been terrible over the last week or so and further deluges are forecast this afternoon and evening. As I write, though, it’s actually fine and sunny and the weather map suggests the worst of the current band of rain has passed to the north of here. I hope I’m not tempting providence, and that there won’t be too much of the aquae heading in my direction!