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    Archive for the 'Maths and Physical Sciences' Category

    UCL’s got talent: a microcosm of communications brilliance

    By Ruth Howells, on 8 April 2014

    Michael Arthur

    What do a supernova discoverer, a sex researcher, a chemistry demonstrator, a doctor of fluid dynamics, a materials scientist/engineer, a toilet festival and a history project about slave ownership have in common?

    As well as being a brilliant microcosm of the breadth of activity and expertise bubbling away at UCL, they were all recipients of UCL Communications & Culture Awards at an event on 2 April in the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre.

    Organised by UCL Museums and Public EngagementUCL Communications and Marketing and the UCL Development and Alumni Relations Office, this is the first time that the awards have taken place.

    They were designed to recognise the hard work that the UCL community put in to sharing their research, teaching and learning through media and cultural partnerships – to include activities such as television, radio, blogging, festivals, public events, arts projects and exhibitions.

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    Steven Chu – challenges and opportunities of climate change

    By Oli Usher, on 1 April 2014

    I’m sure Malcom Gladwell has something to say about Steven Chu. He is improbably successful in two totally different fields, and part of me wonders how he ever found the time to do it.

    Steven Chu

    Steven Chu. Photo: US Department of Energy

    No sleep, perhaps?

    Part-way through a stellar academic career in physics (including a Nobel Prize before he hit 50), Chu took a leave of absence.

    In his four-year sabbatical, instead of sailing around the world or learning the violin like normal people might, he went to work for Barack Obama, serving as his Secretary of Energy until 2013, before heading back to a post at Stanford University when he was done.

    In London to examine a physics PhD – Chu’s expertise is in laser cooling – he dropped by to offer a public lecture (Harrie Massey Lecture Theatre, 19 March) to a packed auditorium at UCL.

    The topic: the challenges and opportunities of climate change – a subject he grappled with in his time in public office.

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    Elegy for a password

    By Kira McPherson, on 31 March 2014

    We were gathered there on 25 March to commemorate “the end of an era in research” – the death of the password.

    Professor M. Angela Sasse ably led the service (disguised as a Lunch Hour Lecture), the tone of which was sombre if not exactly mournful. Everybody seemed to agree that it was the password’s time to go.

    For me, her lecture was an interesting lesson on the intersections between technology and human fallibility, and in particular, how the development of the former can outpace the latter.

    This is particularly true of computer authentication systems, which most of us use in the form of passwords; the jumble of letters, numbers and symbols of a designated length needed before you can check emails.

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    On supernovae and serendipity

    By Oli Usher, on 24 March 2014

    Fresh from his discovery in January of Supernova 2014J while at UCL’s University of London Observatory, Dr Steve Fossey spoke about ‘Supernovae and serendipity’ at a Physics Colloquium on 12 March.

    When introducing Dr Fossey, the observatory’s director Professor Ian Howarth explained how he wanted to set some facts straight.

    Supernova 2014 J Seen by UCL's observatory

    Supernova 2014 J seen from UCL’s observatory
    Credit: UCL Phyics & Astronomy

    The discovery of Supernova 2014J was no fluke, he said, and the press release that said it was a happy accident (written by yours truly) was wrong, along with all the coverage that followed.

    Like all good jokes, this one had a large kernel of truth (so Ian, if you’re reading, no hard feelings!): even if first chancing upon the supernova was a stroke of luck, what happened next, both on the night of the discovery at UCL and in the days that followed at observatories around the world, was not.

    I bring this up because the story of what happened after the discovery is in many ways more interesting than what happened on the night.

    Supernovae, Dr Fossey explained, are all caused by a star becoming unstable and exploding, but the reasons for the instability, and the properties of the explosion, vary. And in those variations lie this one’s importance.

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