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April 2016 Archives

I didn't actually intend to visit the Synchrotron. I didn't actually know it was right next door (honestly - I don't exaggerate) to the Centre for Biomedical Imaging at Monash University in Melbourne until I arrived there on Monday. Somehow I managed to get myself tagged onto a tour with a group of students.

The synchrotron is a machine for producing broadband high energy X-rays (plus a lot of other lower energy electromagnetic radiation) for a variety of purposes - what they are used for depends on who has set up their experiment at the time. Electrons are accelerated to high energies, and then when they are bent they emit high-intensity broadband radiation in a very narrow beam- very useful stuff for physicists. We saw a bit of the gear needed to do the job - lots of magnets and electromagnetic cavities for accelerating the electrons with alternating electromagnetic fields. What I loved was the method for tuning the cavities. Someone would adjust them by punching tiny dents into the side of the metal (lots of copper here) at the right places - a low technology solution to a high technology problem.

What was I doing next door? I was in Melbourne last week visiting some potential collaborators. This coming week I'll be talking with some more - this time in Perth. I took the opportunity today to travel out to Rottnest Island and see the quokka (what's a quokka?) - a beautiful day trip from the city. But back to work on Tuesday.

 

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Seen on a notice at a Cambridge Cafe:

Waipa District Council. Permit to occupy pavement space. This is to certify that **** has been approved to occupy 15.000000 metres squared of pavement space. 

I might not have got the exact words right, but I certainly counted the number of zeros after the decimal point. 

The cafe will be delighted, I'm sure, to know they can occupy 15.000000 metres squared of space as opposed to 14.999999. That extra square millimetre will make all the difference to their before-tax annual profit. Perhaps they'll be disappointed they hadn't applied for 15.000001 metres squared. 

Presumably Waipa District Council, when they come round to check that this cafe is abiding by the rules of its various permits, will be measuring each linear dimension of the tables and chairs to the nearest millimetre. 

 

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There's been a lack of any activity from me for the last few weeks. This is mostly down to teaching overload at university. About 50% of my year's teaching comes in the first half of our first semester, which leaves me pretty-well no time to do anything else. Writing in a blog is the least of my priorities at the moment, I'm afraid.

That doesn't mean I'm not taking note of physics when it arises. On Monday night I was supervising a test - it was the loudest one I've ever experienced (save the 'test you can talk in'). That was down to 180 students shuffling pieces of paper about in a concrete-walled, concrete floored lecture theatre. With the sound reflected so nicely off the rigid walls (having a very different acoustic impedance from that of air) each turn-of-the page would have been heard several times before its energy finally decayed away. Couple that with a test script that in hindsight was badly formatted and required the students to keep turing to the back to look things up in a table, and there was a real hubbub of paper noise. The sign 'Quiet Please, Examination in Progress' on the door was quiet pointless.

Back some time later...

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