Prof. Peter Higgs been recognised in the New Year Honours

Prof. Higgs, whom the Higgs boson is named after, is now a member of the Order of Champions of Honour. The honour has no title, but consists of the Sovereign, plus no more than 65 Companions of Honour.

Higgs Prof. Higgs

Other Companions of Honour include Prof. Stephen Hawking and Sir David Attenboroug.

The Higgs Boson
Prof. Higgs developed the idea of electroweak symmetry breaking to explain the masses of the Z and W bosons [1]. The Higgs-Kibble mechanism gives rise to the mass of all the massive elementary particles and predicted the existence of a new particle given the title “the Higgs boson”.

higgs simulationComputer simulation of particle traces from an LHC collision in which a Higgs Boson is produced. © CERN. Image credit: Lucas Taylor

Only recently at the LHC has there been evidence that the Higgs boson is realised in nature. CERN announced on 4 July 2012 that they had experimentally established the existence of a Higgs-like boson and that further study is needed to established if this really is a standard model Higgs boson, [2,3].

The Nobel prize?

Is a Nobel prize in Physics the next big award for Prof. Higgs? We will have to wait and see.


[1] Peter Higgs, Broken Symmetries and the Masses of Gauge Bosons, Physical Review Letters 13 (16): (1964) 508–509.

[2] The ATLAS Collaboration, Observation of a new particle in the search for the Standard Model Higgs boson with the ATLAS detector at the LHC, Phys.Lett. B716 (2012) 1-29. (arXiv:1207.7214 [hep-ex])

[3] The CMS Collaboration, Observation of a new boson at a mass of 125 GeV with the CMS experiment at the LHC, Phys.Lett B716 (2012) 30–61. (arXiv:1207.7235 [hep-ex])

The Order of Champions of Honour

Prof. Higgs Website at the University of Edinburgh

Government boost to graphene research

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced a £21.5m investment fund to boost the development of the new wonder material graphene.

The £21.5m investment fund would aim to take the technology from the lab to the factory floor.

George Osborne

Graphene is a material made carbon atoms arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern, similar to graphite, but in a one-atom thick sheet. Graphene has many unusual electrical and mechanical properties that make it interesting from a fundamental science point or view, but also lend this wonder material to applications.

Image courtesy of AlexanderAlUS

Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both based at the University of Manchester won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for demonstrating some of the properties of graphene.

Andre Geim

EPSRC identified the most promising graphene-related research projects in British universities that would benefit from state funding.

For example, Cambridge will receive more than £12m for research into graphene flexible electronics and opto-electronics. Other UK universities, including Manchester will also receive money.

We need to support our universities, they’re one of the jewels in the crown of the British economy

George Osborne

BBC News

Snakes Physicists on a plane

on a plane

Physicists from Japan have grown crystals in near zero gravity by using a diving airplane [1]. The idea was to examine crystal growth under such conditions to uncover phenomena usually masked by gravity’s effects.


For more details follow the link below or the original paper cited.

This man had nothing to do with it…

Samuel L. Jackson

IOP News Physics on a plane: crystals made under zero gravity

[1] Takuya Takahashi, Haruka Ohuchi, Ryuji Nomura and Yuichi Okuda, Ripening of splashed 4He crystals by acoustic waves with and without gravity, 2012 New J. Phys. 14 123023 (link)

Physics World's favourite images of 2012

Physics World (IOP’s magazine) have collated 12 images that demonstrate the visual beauty that can be found in physics.

My personal favorite is this the Weaire–Phelan foam, which I reproduce below.


The Weaire–Phelan foam is believed to be the lowest energy structure for a foam formed of equal-volume bubbles. The foam was created using a special template in a solution of water and Fairy Liquid, with bubbles being introduced by releasing nitrogen gas from a glass capillary. The resulting foam was photographed using a digital SLR camera.

Our favourite pictures of 2012 (Physics World)

IOP Special Report on India

As we are all aware India has one of the fastest growing and largest economies in the world. The economy of India is the tenth-largest in the world by nominal GDP and the third largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) (see here).

Indian scientists are not short of money. They have a space program (Indian Space Research Organisation) as well as a nuclear arsenal.

On that note, Great Britain will be phasing out financial aid to India by 2015, instead focusing on technical assistance (BBC News). To me personally, that makes sense and will be of benefit to both Indian and British scientists.

The IOP Report
The Institute of Physics (IOP) have written a report on India.

For today’s leading physicists in India, money for research is thankfully not in short supply. But as this Physics World special report makes clear, what India currently lacks is a critical concentration of highly capable scientists who can really make the country a world leader in research and boost the nation’s innovation. This special report shows, however, that India is starting to tap the country’s true potential through a series of bold educational initiatives and novel research facilities. I hope you find this report stimulating and please do e-mail your comments to

Matin Durrani, Editor of Physics World



Special Report India

Physics World’s special report discovers that India is starting to tap the country’s true potential through a series of bold educational initiatives and novel research facilities.

Stephen Hawking wins special physics prize

Special Fundamental Physics Prizes have been awarded to a team of seven scientists who led the efforts at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and, separately, to Stephen Hawking for his discovery that black holes radiate.


These two awards highlight how strong a role British physicists play on the world stage. From the three British-based physicists leading efforts at LHC – Lyn Evans, Michel Della Negra and Tejinder Singh Virdee – to Stephen Hawking, we should rightly cherish our nation’s strength in physics.

Professor Sir Peter Knight, President of the Institute of Physics.

Black holes are not black!
In 1975 Hawking published a paper with a rather surprising result: if one takes into account quantum theory black holes are not quite black. Rather, a black hole glows slightly due to “Hawking radiation”, which consists largely of photons and to a lesser extent other particles.

The corresponding temperature is

\(T \approx \frac{1.227 \times 10^{23} }{M}\) Kelvin, and here the mass is in KG.

Because of this, the temperature would only be significant for very light black holes. For example, a 30 solar mass black hole has a temperature of about \(2\times 10^{{-}9}\) Kelvin and the corresponding luminosity is about \(10^{{-}31}\) Watts. Bigger black holes would hardly radiate at all. This would be completely swamped by other sources of radiation including the CMBR.

Evaporation of a micro black hole
Black holes get the energy for the Hawking radiation from their rest mass. So, assuming nothing is falling into the black hole, a radiating black hole will be loosing mass. For astrophysical black holes this loss will be miniscule. The evaporation time for a black hole of 30 solar masses is about \(10^{60}\) times the age of the Universe!

For much much smaller black holes Hawking radiation could lead to compete evaporation. For example, a black hole with the mass of about a mountain could evaporate in a time scale that is less than the age of the Universe.

However, no-one is really sure what happens to a black hole near the end of its evaporation.

The black hole information paradox
Classically, there are only three things we can know about a black hole; its mass, its angular momentum and its electric charge. These are the only parameters that describe a classical black hole. I paraphrase this as “black holes do not care what they eat”.

No matter what properties the matter that falls into a black hole has, say baryon number or lepton number, the black hole classically only cares about the mass, angular momentum and electric charge. All the other information is hidden inside the black hole away from the rest of the Universe.

So now suppose our black hole evaporates and disappears. An important property of Hawking radiation is that it is thermal: that is completely random. The information content of a black hole (what it has eaten!) appears to be lost when it dissipates.

What happens to this information is a far from understood question in physics.

Hawking’s work on black hole radiation has posed more questions about nature than it has really answered. That is the true sign of great work.

Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation News

IOP News

Sir Patrick Moore passes away

Today at 12:25 Sir Patrick Moore passed away peacefully at his home in Selsey, West Sussex.


Patrick presented the BBC’s The Sky At Night for over 50 years, making him the longest-running host of the same television show in history.

He counted himself as a writer and broadcaster first and foremost, but as Britain’s most recognisable scientist for more than 50 years, he inspired countless people to take up astronomy as a hobby or astrophysics as a career.

Chris Lintott

Astronomy has lost one of its heroes and the country has lost an institution. Our thought are with his friends and family.


BBC News report

Sir Patrick Moore: Chris Lintott’s tribute

IOP's Response to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement

“George Osborne, Vince Cable and David Willetts clearly recognise the value that science can unlock for society, but it’s important to remember that investment in science is a long-term commitment. It starts in schools, through higher education into research and to industry, but the pay-off is that we know it delivers growth and jobs to the UK.”

Response to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement

Deloitte Report – Measuring the Economic Benefits of Mathematical Science Research in the UK

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) published a report it commissioned from Deloitte. This report is the first study of its kind to quantify the economic value of mathematics research in terms of the employment and its contribution to the UK economy.

The report estimates the contribution of mathematics to the UK economy in 2010 to be

  • 2.8 million in employment terms
  • and £208 billion in terms of GVA

That is about 10% of all jobs in the UK and 16% of total UK GVA.


Economic growth

Mathematics helps drive economic growth across wide sectors including finance, computer services, pharmaceutical and defense. As science and engineering, as well as other sectors for example banking, collate and wish to analyses larger and larger data sets, mathematics and statistics will become ever more vital to this country’s economy.

Without mathematics there would be no smart phones, MRI scanners, new medicines, aeroplanes or bank accounts.

Deloitte Report

Weather forecasting

Weather forecasting relies on heavy mathematical tools and extensive computation. Mathematicians play a rather pivotal role in weather forecasting and modelling.

Around 2,000 mathematicians are employed by the UK Met Office to analyse and evaluate vast amounts of atmospheric trends and information.
The UK is regarded in the meteorological industry as a talent hub with many institutions choosing to locate research facilities in the

Deloitte Report


Mathematical sciences research: leading the way to UK economic growth

An executive summary can be found here (opens PDF)

Learning R

I have decided to improve my computer skills and in particular learn a little R.


R is a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics. It is a GNU project which is similar to the S language and environment which was developed at Bell Laboratories (formerly AT&T, now Lucent Technologies) by John Chambers and colleagues.

This sounds great. According to the R website, R is an integrated suite of software facilities for data manipulation, calculation and graphical display. What makes R useful to me is the fact that it is a programming language (conditionals, loops, recursive functions etc) with built-in operators for calculations with matrices.

Other people like R for its data handling and analysis tools.

Some graphics

Among other things, R is quite good with graphics. Look at this example taken from the R website.




Along side R, I will be using RStudio.

RStudio is a free and open source integrated development environment for R. You can run it on your desktop (Windows, Mac, or Linux) or even over the web using RStudio Server.

My Plans

So, learning R is going to be a weekend project for fun, rather than a serious project. As I manage to develop some code, hopefully with some nice graphics, I will post them here. I imagine a lot of the code will be adapted from peoples existing codes and I will try to give credit as best I can.

If you know of any good resources to help me learn R, then please feel free to share them here. As I find useful websites I will link to them.


The R Project for Statistical Computing

RStudio IDE