Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Change of scenery

I should have reported this a while ago, but better late than never: I have moved to a new job, at a new institution, in a new country. In fact since the 1st of October this year I have been employed by the Institute for Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, where I now hold a Marie Skłodowska-Curie individual fellowship and the ICG's Dennis Sciama fellowship (though unfortunately I do not get paid two salaries at once!).

It's partly a sign of how much I have been neglecting this blog in recent times that I've only just got around to posting about this now, nearly a month after arriving here. But it is also partly due to the fact that I am still waiting for a functioning internet connection in my new home, so any blog postings must be done while still at my desk!

Anyway, I'm very excited to be working here at the ICG, because it is one of the leading cosmology institutes in the UK, and therefore by extension in Europe and also the world. The institute directors mentioned several times during staff induction meetings the statistics for how much of the research output here was graded "world-leading" or "internationally excellent" in the recent UK REF review — but I forget the numbers. In any case what's more important is that the ICG is home to world experts in many of the fields that I work in, and — crucially — that it is a very large, exciting and young department, with around 60 members, of whom 20 or so (20!) are young postdoctoral researchers, and another 20 are PhD students.

Since I like including pictures with my posts, let me put some up of the famous names associated with my fellowships. Here is Marie Curie, from her 1903 Nobel Prize portrait:

"Marie Curie 1903" by the Nobel foundation. (Public domain)
and here is Dennis Sciama:

Marie Curie is of course justly famous around the world and I'm sure everyone reading this blog is aware of her fantastic achievements — two Nobel prizes, in two different sciences, first woman to win a Nobel prize, discoverer of two elements, the theory of radioactivity, and so on.

Dennis Sciama is perhaps not quite so well known to those outside cosmology, but my what a towering figure he is within the field, and in the history of British science. Even the list of his PhD students reads like a who's-who of modern cosmology: Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, George Ellis, Gary Gibbons, John Barrow, James Binney ...

The ICG in particular seems to have rather a fondness for Sciama — in addition to the fellowship I've already mentioned, we work in the Dennis Sciama building, and many of us make use of the SCIAMA supercomputer. I was a little puzzled by this, because although Sciama moved from Cambridge to Oxford to Trieste during his career, I wasn't aware of any special link to Portsmouth.

In fact the answer appears to be that a large proportion of the staff at the ICG happened to be (academically speaking) his grandchildren, having received the PhDs under the supervision of George Ellis or John Barrow. That, and the fact that it is always nice to name new buildings after really famous people!

Anyway, this will hopefully mark the start of a rather more regular series of posts about cosmology here — for one thing, my Marie Curie proposal included a proposal included a commitment to write short explanations of each new paper I produce over the next two years!

PS: A small factoid that caught my attention about Dennis Sciama is that although born in Manchester, his family was actually of Syrian Jewish origin. They originally came from Aleppo, in fact, though his mother was born in Egypt. In light of recent events it seems worth pondering on that. 


  1. Congratulations on the fellowships, and the choice of institute. And do keep the teeming millions posted on what you accomplish while there!

  2. "A small factoid that caught my attention about Dennis Sciama is that although born in Manchester, his family was actually of Syrian Jewish origin. They originally came from Aleppo, in fact, though his mother was born in Egypt. In light of recent events it seems worth pondering on that."

    True but irrelevant to recent events?

    I'm not opposed to immigration per se. (I could say "as an immigrant myself", but of course it is possible to be hypocritical, but even if not, being an immigrant doesn't automatically mean that one is "for" immigration any more than not being an immigrant automatically means that one is "against" immigration.) I think the best policy lies somewhere between "kill all foreigners" and "open all borders with no controls whatsoever". Where exactly the best policy lies is a subject of debate. Unfortunately, many people who don't hold either of the extreme positions are often caricatured as such by those whose position is also not extreme but slightly different. (Just to be clear: I am not accusing you of this!)

    Sure, Sciama and many other good scientists and good people were immigrants, or children of immigrants, and of course people move from country to country in academia and often end up outside their original country (and are often quite happy with this). But I don't see that it is relevant to the current situation in Europe at the moment. Someone from the "other side" could find an example of an immigrant, perhaps even a refugee, perhaps even someone granted asylum who was persecuted for his political beliefs in his home country, who not only committed crimes but abused the hospitality of his adopted country in the process. Such examples don't mean that one should stop all immigration, and conversely positive examples don't mean that one should necessarily allow more immigration. Sure, it demonstrates that not all immigrants are stupid, but anyone who believes that is beyond hope anyway.

  3. Good stuff Sesh. You'll doubtless be aware of things like . Space has its vacuum energy which has a mass equivalence, and there's a lot of it about. And space, of course, is *dark*.
    John Duffield

    1. You seem to be implying dark energy = dark matter. No, it is not. (And if it were, don't you think that someone else would have though of this before you?) The paper you cite has little, if anything, to do with your claim, which you have been spreading around the blogosphere for a while now.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Phillip: dark energy is not dark matter, and I've never said it was. I referred to the above paper because one of the authors is David Wands at the Portsmouth ICG. I think it's the sort of thing Sesh might be interested in, particularly since Einstein described a gravitational field as space that was "neither homogeneous nor isotropic".
    John Duffield. (NB: I don't know why my name is appearing as The Universe).

    1. What, then, is your comment supposed to mean? And what relevance does the Einstein paper have to your comment, or to the Wands paper?

  6. Unfortunately not that much postings yet ....