Outreach lecture to teachers

I gave a lecture to secondary school teachers this week as part of the Goldsmith’s Company’s Science for Society Course on astrophysics.

Having heard about the Big Bang model and some of its problems from my colleague Dr David Mulryne, I was given the task of outlining how the inflationary paradigm tries to solve these problems and some of the reasons we think it is a good model of the early universe.

My slides are now available on slideshare.net. As I have mentioned before I prefer minimal text in my presentations, allowing the audience to focus on me instead of paragraphs of text on the slides.

Update 03/05/2012: Removed embedded slideshare widget to avoid having all the tracking cookies.


Big Bang Fair 2011

As part of my outreach activities this year I participated in the speed networking sessions of the Big Bang Fair held last week in East London’s ExCeL centre. I had a great time at the previous London based Big Bang Fair in 2009 and since then the event has only got bigger, louder and more impressive. The ExCeL centre is a great venue for these large scale fairs, even if someone forgot to turn off the smoke alarms during the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory stage show. But the organisers coped admirably with the ensuing evacuation and it gave us something to talk about before the day really started.

The speed networking sessions were organised by Inspiring Futures and included lots of people with different scientific backgrounds from nuclear engineers to bumble-bee psychologists (!). Groups of school kids were directed our way and given four minutes to quiz us about our career choices, subject areas and of course financial situations. On the whole the pupils seemed really interested and open to the different areas on offer. Some of course had already decided what career they want and would not be budged whether it was drama, history or theoretical physics they had opted for.

The sessions were ably organised by Ella Bujok who had to cope with missing school groups, the evacuation on the first day and the logistical problems of moving 60 children around a room in an orderly fashion every four minutes. She also kindly took the photos below for me to prove I didn’t just play in the Wallace and Gromit area all day. I tried to also get some pictures of the main arenas but it is hard to get a sense of the scale of the show from the few shots I managed to take. There are many better overviews in the Flickr page.


New paper and Pyflation software package

PyflationMy latest paper has just hit the arXiv and is now available. The paper builds on the numerical work I previously completed on cosmological perturbations beyond linear order. The new results do not assume slow-roll in the calculation of the source term for the second order equations of motion and so allow a much greater range of potentials to be analysed. The paper is called “Second Order Perturbations During Inflation Beyond Slow-roll” and already has a record on SPIRES and Inspire Beta.

Accompanying the paper is the release of the software package used to create the results. Pyflation is a Python package which calculates the first and second order perturbation results including the source term required at each time step. It requires Numpy, Scipy and PyTables and a fairly recent version of Python. The full calculation for a large range of Fourier wavemodes takes a long time on a single CPU, but there is support for splitting the calculation into many separate jobs which can be queued on a multi-core or cluster based setup. Alternatively there is also support for calculating the second order results for a single wavemode, which significantly reduces the execution time.

The Pyflation website contains all the details and download links, installation notes and links to the relevant papers. We’ve released the package under a very liberal open source license (modified BSD license) but as citations are increasingly the oil that greases the wheels of academia we ask that anyone who uses results they have obtained with Pyflation to please cite one or more of the related papers.


Checklist for arXiv submission

I am currently finishing up a paper that is about to be submitted to the arXiv and I thought I would go through the list of things I normally do just before sending the work off. It’s mainly a common sense list but in the rush to get something out it is good to have a list to work from to make sure you don’t miss anything (misspelling collaborators names is not helpful!).

  • Check bib style is correct.
    If the journal you are planning to submit to has a particular house style for the bibliography it is probably worth using it in the arXiv submission.
  • Check bibliography text is correct.
    Even though I think BiBTeX is the great, and much easier than preparing the bibliography by hand (which some people still do), there can be instances when a stray space or mistakenly capitalised letter appear. If you get your BiBTeX entries from SPIRES or Inspire this is mostly taken care of, but there is always the odd paper or book entry that you have typed in by hand. Check the final output in the paper, not just the .bib file contents. Continue reading…

Adam Christopherson awarded prestigious RAS fellowship!

Many congratulations to Adam Christopherson who has been awarded the prestigious Sir Norman Lockyer Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. The three year fellowship is awarded “to enable an outstanding research worker to conduct a self-directed programme of research in any astronomical topic”.

Adam joined Queen Mary as a PhD student a year after I did and it’s been great sharing an office with him over the past few years. Although we haven’t yet written a paper together we’ve thrown a lot of ideas around so hopefully we can work together on something soon. When it comes to listing the names I imagine he will be arguing for alphabetical order!

Adam will be taking up his fellowship in the University of Nottingham from October 2011.