Professor Jeff Forshaw wins Kelvin medal and prize

jeff Professor Jeff Forshaw of the University of Manchester has won the 2013 Kelvin medal and prize awarded by the Institute of Physics. The medal is for Prof. Forshaw’s wide-reaching work aimed at helping the general public to understand complex ideas in physics.

Prof. Forshaw has written two popular science books; “The quantum universe” and “Why does E=mc^2”, both with Brian Cox.


2013 Kelvin medal and prize, IOP website

Jeff Forshaw’s homepage

Professor Copeland wins Rayleigh Medal and Prize

ED Professor Edmund Copeland of the University of Nottingham has won the 2013 Rayleigh Medal and Prize as awarded by the Institute of Physics.

Professor Copeland was awarded the prize for his work on particle/string cosmology from the evolution of cosmic superstrings, to the determination of the nature of Inflation in string cosmology and to constraining dynamical models of dark energy and modified gravity.

A personal note
I first met Professor Copeland back in 2005 when was at the University of Sussex. I was there studying for my masters degree. He then, in the same year moved to Nottingham to establish the Particle Theory Group.

2013 Rayleigh Medal and Prize, IOP website.

Prof. Copeland’s homepage

Policja Robots

polish police The Policja (Polish police) were in plac Zamkowy on Saturday showing off some of their equipment including cars, motorbikes and two of their bomb squad robots.

Here are some photos of the said robots…


This was quite an impressive robot and the largest of the two on display.

Here is the same robot with one of its operators.

This is the smaller of the two robots. One of the operators was demonstrating the use of this robot in picking up small packages.

The smaller of the robots again.

bomb suit
This is one of the police’s bomb suits.

Controversial topics in Wikipedia

wiki Yasseri, Spoerri, Graham and Kertèsz [1] have analysed page edits of Wikipedia entries to find the most controversial entries. Many entries in the open encyclopedia are only locally debated, for example in Romania the Universit­atea Craiova football team is a hot topic!

The researchers concentrated on finding the entries which editors scrapped about in order to find controversial subjects. This is believed to be more reliable than simply concentrating on those that have changed a lot

There are of course things that are more universally controversial and receive lots of edits. The top 10 “touchy” subjects according to the research are;

  1. George W Bush
  2. Anarchism
  3. The Prophet Muhammad
  4. World Wrestling Entertainment employees
  5. Global warming
  6. Circumcision
  7. The United States
  8. Jesus
  9. Race and intelligence
  10. Christianity

The most controversial
Millions of articles from 10 different language versions of Wikipedia were analysed. English, Spanish, Persian, Arabic and Czech editions were among those studied. Across all the languages the most controversial entries were found to be;

  1. Israel
  2. Adolf Hitler
  3. The Holocaust
  4. God

I would say no real surprises here.

[1]Yasseri T., Spoerri A., Graham M., and Kertèsz J., The most controversial topics in Wikipedia: A multilingual and geographical analysis. In: Fichman P., Hara N., editors, Global Wikipedia:International and cross-cultural issues in online collaboration. Scarecrow Press (2014). (arXiv:1305.5566v2 [physics.soc-ph] )

Do all useful mathematical ideas really come from physics?


Image by Saeed.Veradi

Some one once remarked to me that all the important ideas in mathematics come from physics. After a little thought I tend to agree, and for sure many important topics in mathematics have their roots in physics or at least quickly found applications in physics.

Below are some examples of the branches of mathematics that have clear physical applications as well as being of independent interest. The list is by no means complete, in no particular order and will reflect my own interests. Also I will not be at all technical here.

The theory of partial differential equations
This is just so encompassing, I was not sure how to include it! A partial differential equation (PDE) is a differential equation in unknown multivariable functions and their partial derivatives. PDEs are used to model a huge range of phenomena such as sound, heat flow, electromagnetic waves, fluids, the vibrating string, classical fields, superconductivity and so on.

As many branches of mathematics employ tools from differential calculus just about every mathematician will come across a PDE of some kind in his work. I cannot begin to list where the theory PDEs come in useful.

What should be remarked is that not all PDEs have nice solutions that can be expressed in terms of elementary functions. One will often need to turn to numerical methods to solve PDEs.

All the other branches listed below have some interface with PDEs as they are so universal.

Symplectic geometry and classical mechanics
Symplectic and Poisson geometry is essentially the study of manifolds equipped with Poisson brackets; that is a particular kind Lie algebra structure with a Leibniz rule. The study of such structures is fundamental in understanding the Hamiltonian formulation of classical mechanics; classical phase spaces carry such Poisson brackets.

Such geometries have become a large subject of study and also have found applications in diverse areas of mathematics. For example, geometric representation theory, non-commutative geometry, integrable systems and the theory of Lie algebroids have found much use for ideas found in Poisson geometry.

Riemannian geometry
This is loosely the study of spaces, that is manifolds, with the local notion of the length of a path as well as areas and volumes. One should think of Riemannian geometry as a very broad generalisation of the geometry of surfaces in \(\mathbb{R}^{3}\).

Although Bernhard Riemann’s initial work on the subject predates Einstein’s special and general relativity, Riemannian geometry is fundamental in the formulation of relativity. Indeed general relativity, that is Einstein’s theory of gravity as the local geometry of space-time, remains a large motivator for the study of Riemannian geometry.

One should also note that Riemannian geometry has proved useful in group theory, representation theory, algebraic topology and so on.

Functional analysis
Here we have the study of vector spaces equipped with some extra structure such as an inner product or a norm, and operators on such vector spaces. Such structure allows one to think about limits. Functional analysis has its roots in the study of function spaces and transformations on them like the Fourier transform. The main focus of functional analysis is the extension of the theory of integration and probability to infinite dimensional spaces.

The notion of a Hilbert space, which is an infinite dimensional vector space with an inner product, if fundamental in non-relativistic quantum mechanics. Spectral theory of operators on Hilbert spaces, which is part of functional analysis is very important in quantum physics. In particular the algebras of operators on such spaces is deeply linked with physics…

Operator algebras
Really this too can be seen as part of functional analysis. An operator algebra is (loosely) an algebra of linear operators on an infinite dimensional vector space. From a physics point of view operator algebras are found behind the quantum statistical mechanics, axiomatic quantum field theory and non-commutative generalisations of space-time.

Group theory
Group theory can be thought of as the abstract study of symmetry. Many physical systems exhibit symmetries, such as crystal lattices, molecules as well as the much more complicated symmetries that can be found behind electromagnetic theory. The representation theory of groups, “representing groups by linear operators on a vector space”, has fundamental applications in physics and chemistry. For example, all the fundamental particles in nature are classified by the representations of the Poincare group, which is the group describing the symmetries of flat space-time.

Group theory itself is a huge subject, which applications throughout pure and applied mathematics. For example, group theory has been very influential on the development of differential geometry and abstract algebra.

Combinatorics is the study of finite or countable discrete structures. Loosely combinatorics is about counting the number of elements of some structure. The Fibonacci numbers are a classical example here.

Combinatorics has strong applications in algebra, probability theory, number theory and topology. From the physics side of things we see combinatorics appearing in statistical mechanics and quantum field theory.


sign I have just returned from the XXXII Workshop on Geometric Methods in Physics. The work shop was a great experience and I enjoyed myself very much; maybe all the Polish Vodka helped!

The village of Białowieża is located in north-east of Poland in the Podlaskie Voivodeship, very close to the border with Belarus. The village is located in the middle of the Białowieża Forest.

Here are some photos that I took…

Here are the main gates to the park. They lead to a small bridge across the small river and the lake.

When on an afternoon excursion we visited the forest itself. Here is one of the few remaining old oak trees left.

creepy tree
This tree is to be found just out side the guest house I was staying at. I think it looks rather creepy and reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “fear of the dark” album cover.

The wildlife
The area is known for it’s wildlife including bison. I did not see any bison, but I did see plenty of mosquitoes! I also found plenty of common frogs in the forest.

The common frog, Rana temporaria.

Also very common are the white storks.

This stork was searching for food in the back garden of the guesthouse I was staying at.

They can be found nesting during the summer on top of houses and telegraph poles. The birds are encouraged by the local to nest and they seem largely appreciated. The storks are not exactly shy birds, but they are easily spooked.