Archive for Cavendish Laboratory

R.I.P. Richard Hills (1945-2022)

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on June 7, 2022 by telescoper

Yet again I find myself having to pass on some sad news. I heard yesterday that Professor Richard Hills FRS lately at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, passed away on 5th June at the age of 76. Richard was a specialist in radio and sub-mm astronomy, being heavily involved in the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) and more recently the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA; shown in the background above).

I remember two encounters with Richard particularly well.

The first was when I was an undergraduate student at Cambridge. I did a final-year theory project that involved making a computer simulation of a laser. I had to attend a viva voce examination with two members of staff after submitting my project report. Richard was the one of the pair and, although it was not his specialist subject, he seemed genuinely interested in what I’d done. He managed to ask some very searching questions at the same time as being very friendly and encouraging. I must have answered quite well because they gave me a very good mark!

The other was much more recent occasion when I gave a seminar at the Cavendish about phase correlations in cosmological fields. As an expert in interferometry he knew a lot about this from a different perspective and again he asked some very interesting questions, ending up with a discussion of the closure phase.

Richard Hills was a very eminent scientist who made a huge range of contributions to astronomy, for which he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2014. He will be greatly missed by his friends, family and colleagues in Cambridge and around the world to whom I send my condolences.

R.I.P. Richard Edwin Hills (1945-2022)

To Cambridge Again

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , on June 13, 2016 by telescoper

The annual cycle of academic life brings me once again to my duties as External Examiner for Physics at the famous Midlands University called Cambridge, so I’m getting ready to take the train there. Here’s a picture of the Cavendish laboratory where I’ll be working for the next three days:


It hasn’t changed much since I was an undergraduate there (I graduated 31 years ago), but the area around it has certainly been heavily developed in the intervening years.

Anyway, I’d better be going. Toodle-pip!

Planck, Pointillism and the Axle of Elvis

Posted in Art, Biographical, Cosmic Anomalies, Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2013 by telescoper

The reason I was out of the office yesterday was that I was in Cambridge, doing a PhD oral in the Cavendish Laboratory so the first thing to say is congratulations Dr Johnston! It was one of those viva voce examinations that turned out to be less of an examination than an interesting chat about physics. In fact the internal examiner, Prof. Steve Gull, seemed to spend more time asking me questions rather than the candidate!

Afterwards I met up with Anthony Lasenby, the candidate’s supervisor. Not surprisingly the main topic of our brief discussion was today’s impending announcement of results from Planck. Anthony is one of the folks who have been involved with Planck for about twenty years, since it began as a twinkle in the eye of COBRAS/SAMBA. I was looking forward to getting in bright and early this morning to watch the live streaming of the Planck press conference from Paris.

Unfortunately however, I could feel a bit of a lurgy coming on as I travelled to Cambridge yesterday. It got decidedly worse on the way home – it must have been the Cambridge air – and I even ended up passing out on the train from Victoria to Brighton. Fortunately, Brighton was the terminus so someone woke me up when we got there and I got home, coughing and spluttering. I suspect many cosmologists didn’t sleep well last night because of excitement about the Planck results, but in my case it was something else that kept me awake. Anyway, I didn’t make it in this morning so had to follow the announcements via Twitter. Fortunately there’s a lot of press coverage too; see the ESA site and a nice piece by the BBC’s redoubtable Jonathan Amos.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s Planck’s map of the cosmic microwave background:


It’s rather beautiful, in a pointillist kind of way, I think…

It will take me a while in my weakened state to complete a detailed study of the results – and I’m sure to return to them many times in the future, but I will make a couple of points now.

The first is that the papers and data products are all immediately available online. The papers will all appear on the arXiv. Open Access sceptics please take note!

The second is that the most interesting result (as far as I’m concerned) is that at least some of the cosmic anomalies I’ve blogged about in the past, such as the Axle of Elvis Axis of Evil and the famous colder-than-it-should-be cold spot, are still present in the Planck data:


The other results excite me less because, at a quick reading, they all seem to be consistent with the standard cosmological model. Of course, the north-south asymmetry is a small effect on could turn out to be a foreground (e.g. zodiacal emission) or an artefact of the scanning strategy. But if it isn’t a systematic it could be very important. I suspect there’ll be a rush of papers about this before long!

I’m sure to p0st much more about the Planck results in due course, but I think I’ll leave it there for now. Please feel free to post comments and reactions through the box below.