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Issue Two: Summer 2003
Welcome to the second (summer) issue of the Departmental Newsletter which
now has a name. Barrie Jones suggested that we name it after a former OU
Physics Student magazine 'Focus' and so, reviving a tradition, and since it gives
us a 'focus' for departmental news and information, the name seems most
So without further ado into 'Focus' where the results of several internal meetings
are reviewed. Special articles include a very informative review of their research
by David Broadhurst and Sven Braeutigam and tales from South Africa by Ben
Next issue will appear towards Xmas so enjoy the long summer nights as they get
shorter ......
Nigel Mason
Head of Department’s column
Summer is one of those periods that highlight the special nature of the Open
University Physics and Astronomy Department. There are, of course, all the usual
pleasures and responsibilities of holidays and conferences, but just when
academics elsewhere are finishing their exam boards and freeing themselves
from student focussed work, at least until the A-level results are published, OU
academics are looking forward to summer-time Residential Schools and the
chance to find out at first hand how the students are getting on with the courses.
Residential Schools also provide a greatly valued opportunity to meet again with
AL colleagues, new and old, and to learn what has been happening in the host
universities over the past twelve months.
This year those summer meetings will be especially valuable. Members of staff
are always seeking ways of improving the courses and the student experience,
but this year has seen more emphasis than ever on increasing the proportion of
students who, having registered on a course, remain active students of that
course right up to the end - including the final exam. The comments that
students make at Residential Schools, and the collective wisdom that emerges in
July and August from conversations with both staff and students, can have a
powerful effect on course improvements that only become apparent a year or
so later.
Although student demand for Physics and Astronomy courses is as strong as ever,
the sad fact is that retention on some of our courses has been slowly declining.
This is widely thought to be an almost inevitable consequence of the pace and
intensity of modern life. OU students, most of whom have full-time jobs as well as
family and other commitments, are increasingly time-poor, even though they
may be knowledge-hungry. For them, striking the right balance between home,
family, work, leisure and OU study is a difficult challenge. It is therefore
particularly important that we should do all we can to make clear to students
both the benefits and the costs of OU study. I’m thinking here not of the money
cost - the OU has always been a bargain in those terms - but rather the cost in
terms of time and effort.
Already this year the staff of the Physics and Astronomy Department have been
modifying courses and publicity materials to smooth still further the path that
leads from registration to examination, and to make even clearer the level of
commitment our courses demand. Students are also being provided, for the first
time in many cases, with information about the adverse financial consequences
for the Department when they fail to sit their exams. However, there is always
scope for further improvement and it is during the summer, when contact
between staff and students is easiest, that new ideas are most likely to be
generated and new initiatives spawned.
Stuart Freake, in his role as Director of Teaching has already been involved in a
number of meetings about the improvement of retention, and will doubtless be
involved in many more before the year is out. Stuart is plentifully supplied with
statistics about recruitment and dropout, but like all of us he is well aware that
there are ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’. However, he is also aware that in
addition to ‘stats’ and ‘untruths’ there are ‘things I heard at Residential School’,
and that the last of these can, when properly considered, be the most valuable
of all in ensuring that our policies and practices are best suited to the needs of
our students.
A happy, enjoyable and successful summer to you all.
Robert Lambourne
Head of Department
30th June 2003
Message from Director of Research
As you are aware the last few months have seen a major review of research
within the university and the continued development of a research strategy. The
review and unfolding strategy is aimed at ensuring that the Open University will
be competitive in the future RAE exercise. This requires some fundamental
revision of the way in which we conduct research and how it is supported at
Departmental, Faculty and University level. Changes not all will find easy nor
agree with.
Personally I welcome the opportunity to embrace change believing that the OU
has been slow to recognize the need for change and the harsher more
competitive nature of Higher Education and research in the UK. Other Universities
began their reviews and began to make plans for the next RAE over a year ago,
swiftly digesting the consequences of their 2001 RAE scores and taking action to
invest in their developing areas and deciding how they would fit into the new
emerging hierarchy of UK HE Research. The OU has been slow to tackle issues
and determine its future course of action. The last six months have consequently
seen a lot of talk and paper flying around but to my point of view not yet
enough action and there are I am afraid too many areas where the new realities
have to be recognized. However these critics should not be laid at Physics and
Astronomy which at its recent staff meeting demonstrated that it was ready to
play a full role in the necessary transformations. That the department should
unanimously agree a new research strategy (see below) so quickly is testimony
to the solidarity and camaraderie of the Department.
The new strategy calls for all staff judged to be research active to submit once a
year a research plan which will benchmark their plans and allow timetabling to
be arranged so as to allow staff to fulfil those aims (this follows a document
circulated some years ago by Andy Norton while DOR). Thus in the next session it
will be possible to request time for the preparation (and conduct) of major
research programmes. For the RAE (and more urgently for the likely internal
audit) it will be necessary to collate more information on research grants
received, papers published and conference talks given, all of which should be
reported in this Newsletter. However we will also need to record our failures (e.g.
grants applied for and not gained) thus in future the DOR is asked to keep
copies of ALL grant applications and I thank those of you who have already
passed copies of grants received and applications made to Yvonne. If you have
not done so could I ask you to do so asap.
Next year we will face our first Department budget cut as the Faculty seeks to
rearrange our finances. However some of these cuts are more reorganisational
for example with parts of the seminar programme now being arranged through
the ‘Interdisciplinary Centre of Astrobiology’ and the ‘Centre for Atomic and
Molecular Engineering’ which will have their own budgets.
Perhaps the most direct loss will be in grants to attend meetings etc. In the past
these have been rather generous (at least in relation to UCL where the
Department gave staff no support!). There are several schemes for supporting
both students and staff at conferences and for arranging bilateral scientific
exchanges, the latter bringing income that may be counted towards RAE. Thus I
would urge staff to explore alternative funding mechanisms to support
conference travel and research collaborations, for example the Royal Society
supports conference attendance; the Institute of Physics and Royal Society of
Chemistry student travel. Likewise there are a myriad of schemes for linking
researchers in different countries for single or multiple visits. Having reviewed OU
research applications (and support) it is obvious we are not as active as some
other places in seeking such small grants. Therefore I will compile a list of
possible sources of collaboration funding. However I would remind physicists that
the EPSRC supports such visits and even conferences with small grants often
being decided in the office if two referees are supportive (one of which you
nominate). My experience is that referees are nearly always supportive of small
grants (even if they are for multiple trips and the sums are a few thousand!).
Likewise the British Council is an often neglected source of funding providing
grants for multiple visits over one or two years.
To many this may sound like I am telling you how to ‘suck eggs’ but it is clear
from the records that the OU in general is not good at applying for small grants,
tending to put its faith in large (and more completive) grants and relying on
internal funds for ‘small scale’ support. Internal funds will become more restrictive
over the next few years and certainly more targeted to areas with a strategic
goal, perhaps applying formulae that are active elsewhere where the university
only provides matching funding for staff/students who gain support externally.
This said as DOR I will still call for requests for support for the forthcoming year to
be drawn from the Departmental grant.
Finally amidst these events we have much to celebrate! We have had new grant
success with Sean being awarded a major PPARC grant and I have been
fortunate to gain European funding that will see the OU the co-ordinator of 4
major research programmes bringing staff and a large number of visitors to the
Department. Jonathan Underwood has arrived as a new lecturer and already is
demonstrating that he will be an excellent addition to our research and
teaching. We have recruited four high quality PhD students with a fifth to be
appointed. Three postdoctoral students are arriving to add to the research
vitality of the Department.
And…. We can look forward to hosting QuAMP, the UK’s major conference in
Quantum, Atomic, Molecular and Plasma Physics September 7 -12, 2003, with
the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) to follow next March, both of which will
give the Department and OU valuable exposure! WASP, the project to search for
extrasolar planets, is about to go live and we are purchasing a second camera
to double our input into this exciting programme. The first of the new physics labs
is about to be opened with construction of the others beginning in September
when the New Centre of Atomic and Molecular Engineering (AME) will also be
launched, joining the Interdisciplinary Centre for Astrobiology (ICA) as a focal
point for Departmental and OU research.
Thus, all in all, perhaps it hasn’t been such a bad few months after all, but there is
still more to be done….
Centre of Atomic and Molecular Engineering to be known as ‘AME’
Following the meeting on June 25th at which some 30 academic staff attended it
was decided that such a Centre would be established. Co-ordination of
activities would be initially directed by Professor N St J Braithwaite (Materials
Engineering); Professor N J Mason (Physics and Astronomy) and Professor D E G
Shuker (Chemistry). These people will form the Steering Committee and will meet
regularly to discuss how to develop the research activities of the Centre, facilities
and co-ordination activities (including visitors and seminar programme). At a
meeting of the Steering Committee on July 1st they drew up the following as an
introduction to the aims, objectives and procedures for a Centre of ATOMIC
Aims: To bring people together from different disciplines, with common interests
and common goals, to manipulate and probe matter at the atomic and
molecular level. This will include the study of:
Physical and chemical processing at the nanoscale
The interaction of electrical plasmas with surfaces
Electron and photon induced processes at the molecular level and
Physical and chemical modification of single biological molecules
Actions: To achieve these aims we will:
Encourage the crossing of traditional boundaries in the promotion of
interdisciplinary research and training
Become the focus for international collaborations in areas of Atomic and
Molecular Engineering
Seek to influence the development of Atomic and Molecular Engineering
through both academic research and industrial application
Develop our resource base through shared facilities and collaborative
bids to external agencies
Organise symposia and seminars to facilitate the exchange of ideas
Participants: These will include staff from the Departments of Applied
Mathematics, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Materials Engineering and Physics
and Astronomy.
Members of the Centre will:
 Be actively engaged in research and communication of its results
 Seek to secure national and international funding
 Attract high quality visiting scientists, research fellows and postgraduate
 Generate intellectual property
 Explore ways to enhance their research through collaboration with
industry and business
The Centre will be formally established through the creation of a Website and
announcement at the national EPSRC-funded conference on Quantum, Atomic,
Molecular and Plasma Physics (QuAMP) to be held at the Open University
September 7-12, 2003. A Seminar programme will begin fortnightly from Tuesday
September 30, 2003. Each seminar will be followed by a meeting to discuss
research focus, funding opportunities, research strategy.
In preparing for the last RAE, the Department developed a detailed Research
Plan setting out agreed ‘Guidelines’ and ‘Actions’. That plan also included
specific ‘Targets’ for an average submitted academic relating to numbers of
refereed publications, external grant income over a five year period, numbers of
research students and PDRAs, and numbers of visiting fellows and/or established
external collaborations. The Department will need to develop a similarly detailed
plan in preparation for the next research assessment - once its rules are known.
The academic staff of the Department (joined by two Professors of Applied
Maths) met to discuss research strategy on June 3rd at Cofferidge Close, Stony
Stratford. The following points are put forward as a summary of that meeting and
were discussed at the Departmental meeting on Thursday, June 12th. Henceforth
these points should be adopted as the basis for a research strategy for the
Department of Physics and Astronomy.
1. The Department of Physics and Astronomy believes the maintenance and
development of a strong research portfolio is essential to the ability to
provide high quality and up-to-date teaching in Physics and Astronomy
within the Open University programme.
2. In view of the proposals of the Robert’s report on research assessment in
higher education in the UK, the Department of Physics and Astronomy will
seek to ensure that its staff shall be assessed at RQA level under the
anticipated Physical Sciences panel.
3. Submissions for RQA should be within the sub-panel responsible for Physics
(or both the physics sub-panel and Astronomy, if separate panels are
established in each of those areas).
4. Physics and Astronomy based research should form the strongest strategic
alliances both within and outside the Open University to maximise its RQA
5. Given the requirement to submit 80% of research staff, the role of Staff
tutors should be clarified with the University. The ability of staff tutors to
pursue scholarship (if not active research) must however be maintained.
6. That in order to strengthen its research portfolio (and maintain the ability to
fulfil current teaching strands) the Department of Physics and Astronomy
will require the appointment of further academic staff. This should include
the active recruitment of young researchers capable of obtaining
personal research fellowships. Postgraduate and PDRA numbers must
likewise be raised by attracting external funds and seeking to attract
international candidates.
7. That Departmental staff will seek to further strengthen the support of
research through increased applications to national and international
funding bodies while also seeking to diversify the sources of funding.
8. That the Department will, in conjunction with the Faculty and the
University, seek to raise the profile of its research both nationally and
internationally through playing an active role in the new Interdisciplinary
Centres, hosting national and international meetings (subject to adequate
provision of resources) and by supporting/encouraging its staff to serve on
governmental, funding and scientific bodies.
9. That in pursuit of research excellence the Department will review the
allocation of teaching and administrative duties with the aim of enabling
staff to increase their chances of achieving funding success and
developing high quality research for inclusion in RQA.
10. That in accordance with the criteria for Institutional Assessment proposed
under the Robert’s report the Department of Physics and Astronomy will:
Define a detailed research strategy for period 2004-7 (and
Put in place/confirm its procedures for training research students
and for the development of PDRAs and newly appointed
Pursue an equal opportunities programme and
Demonstrate its continued dissemination of knowledge through
Public Understanding of Science activities, the development of
physics and astronomy teaching, and through interaction with
non-HEFCE bodies including business.
European Funding Success
Increasingly research is being developed as part of larger researcher teams be it
national or international. This style of research has long been the pattern for
astronomy, space science and nuclear and particle physics but has taken
longer to penetrate to us lab boys (and girls!). The advent of the EU as a major
research funding partner has led to the development of new research
collaborations across Europe (and increasingly with other countries) with
Framework VI programme being the largest, richest and most ambitious yet.
Since December 2003 bids for Framework VI funding have been actively pursued
though the slow refereeing procedure has not led to any clear outcomes yet.
As a prequel to Framework VI I led three consortia in a bid for funding to
underpin future Framework VI programmes and I am delighted to say all three
have been successful and will, with the ongoing Framework V programme EPIC
(Electron and Positron Induced Chemistry), mean that the OU will be the
coordinator of much of Europe’s research in electron research. Briefly the new
programmes may be summarized as follows:
COST Action Physics P9; Radiation damage (RADAM)
Consortia to investigate radiation damage in biomolecules including DNA. The
consortia involve physicists, chemists and biologists. The programme will run for
three years from November 2003.
ESF Network Collisions in Atom Traps (CATS)
A Network that involves over a dozen of Europe’s leading cold atom groups to
study the interaction of cold atoms to form molecules; the comparison of cold
atoms in optical lattices with solid state phenomena and the collisions of cold
targets with electrons, photons and ions. The OU research will see the restoration
of the cold atom lab and the commencement of studies to form ultracold
plasmas (that is superposition of cold ions and meV electrons). A three year
programme to start in September.
ESF Programme on Electron Induced Processing (EIPAM)
A major programme to study how electrons may be used to manipulate atoms
and molecules on surfaces and induced chemical processing. It will be the first
time that the Scanning Tunnel microscopy community and electron physics
community will work together in a common programme. This is to last 5 years
starting in early 2004.
All of these programmes will bring visitors and students to the OU and the new
laboratories, so expect a packed seminar series! Indeed already our hosting
visitors this year has led to considerable success. Professor Hyuck Cho from
Korea, who visited in January, has obtained a large grant from his national
research agency to collaborate with us on the RADAM project and invites my
PDRAs and Students to go to Korea. Professor Dusan Skalny (visitor in February)
will collaborate on EIPAM and through him we have recruited Eva Vasekova as
a new PhD student. Professor Y Itikawa (visitor in June) has obtained sponsorship
for an EU Japan workshop on Semiconductor technology which myself and
Professor Braithwaite are co-organizing in Stockholm on July 21-22.
Nigel Mason
July 2003
New courses from the Physics and Astronomy Department
Stuart Freake, Director of Teaching
[This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of the Fusion
“Go away and think more radically about proposals for new courses!” That was
the message from Steve Swithenby, Dean of Science when the Faculty
considered proposals for new and revised courses for 2006. The reason is clear:
the OU is not meeting its targets for student numbers and so the Higher
Education Funding Council is likely to claw back part of the OU’s grant. To
restore the grant we need to attract more students – and that means producing
different types of courses that appeal to students who aren’t currently studying
with the OU. Simply producing more of the same types of physics and
astronomy courses won’t do the trick – they would provide more choice for
students, but we would end up with fewer students per course and consequent
reductions in ‘efficiency’. Even attracting additional students to physics and
astronomy courses from other areas of science or from other faculties doesn’t
help the OU as a whole. We need to open up ‘new markets’ for courses.
Before considering how we might do that, let’s look at where we stand now with
physics and astronomy at the OU. The table shows the current array of courses.
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
S103 Discovering Science
S207 The Physical World
SM355 Quantum Mechanics
SXR103 Practising Science
SXR207 Physics by Experiment
SMT356 Electromagnetism
S151 Maths for Scientists
S282 Astronomy
S357 Space, Time and Cosmology
S194 Introducing Astronomy
S283 Planetary Science
S381 The Energetic Universe
S196 Planets: an Introduction
SXR208 Observing the Universe
SMXR355 QM: expts, apps, sims
S197 How the Universe works
SMXR356 EM: expts, apps, sims
SXP390 Project Course:
Radiation and Matter
MST121 Using Mathematics
MS221 Exploring Mathematics
MST207 Mathematical Methods
MST322 Mathematical Methods
and Fluid Mechanics
The two new courses that will appear in 2004 are shown in italics. SXR208 is a 10point residential school course that will be based at an observatory in Majorca.
It will be piloted for two weeks in September 2004, and in subsequent years it will
be presented both in March and September. SXP390 is a 30-point course that
will be required for students aiming for the Physical Science degree. Students will
tackle a literature-based project, and there will be topics related to each of the
Level 3 P&A courses.
We will be replacing SMT356 with a new electromagnetism course in 2006 and
we hope to rewrite the Quantum Mechanics course for 2007 (- we had intended
the new courses to come out in 2004 and 2005, but the OU’s financial situation
caused a two-year postponement). We also hope to revise the cosmology
block of S357 for 2005/6. If all of this goes ahead, then in 2007 all of our physics
and astronomy courses will date from 2000 or later. Also in the pipeline is an
updating of S194, including a replacement for the Images of the Cosmos book,
probably for 2005. In addition, MST207 is currently being revised to become
MST209 in 2005, and its residential school will become a separate residential
school course MSXR209, and a new applied maths / theoretical physics course
MS324 Waves, Diffusion and Variational Principles will be introduced in 2005.
Now this array of courses provides more than enough points for a named degree
in Physical Science, or in Natural Sciences with Physics. So if we add more
courses to attract additional students, then we need to be aiming at different
markets, and we are probably talking about students who wouldn’t necessarily
contemplate doing a degree in physics or astronomy. They may want to study
one or two courses for professional development. They may want something
that provides some of the physics underpinning for an area in which they have a
general interest.
Among suggestions that have been made for new courses are:
* Applications of computing in physics/science. This would develop skills with
use of computer algebra and mathematical modelling software in the context
of investigating real physics problems.
* 'The digital Universe' - a course at level 1 or level 2 where the computer takes
the pain out of the mathematics by providing simulations, but there is a strong
emphasis on the physics principles underpinning the simulations.
* The science of science fiction.
* History/philosophy of science/physics/astronomy - written to appeal to arts
students as well as scientists.
* The science of business, or the physics of business. This would teach modelling
and analysis skills that are normally taught in a science context, and highlight
parallels between business and science problems where a scientific approach
can assist in developing a business solution. Probably at level 1.
* Forensic science, or science and law. This could provide the science required
to understand modern forensic techniques, and could be used for professional
development of people in the legal profession.
* Physics for health science. There may be a need to teach some basic physics
to health service workers. This could fit in with the OU's developing links with the
* Physics (or science) for archaeology. This could appeal to amateur
archaeologists, English Heritage members, the audience for TV programmes
related to archaeology.
* Physics of sport.
* Space science. A level 3 course that could discuss propulsion systems, orbits,
communications, measuring techniques, etc.
* Environmental science – possible areas include weather, or climate change.
So far I’ve only mentioned undergraduate courses. What about the Science
MSc programme? At present the module with the largest physics content is S809
Medical Imaging, which is essentially a medical physics course. There is a
proposal for another medical physics module, on radiotherapy, and if these two
modules were combined with the project module it could provide at attractive
medical physics MSc. There is also a proposal to produce a couple of astronomy
and planetary science modules; one of these would be concerned with
observational astronomy and the other with life in the Universe. Advantages of
augmenting the MSc programme are that it will bring in new students to the
University and also will provide a route for OU graduates to continue their studies.
The Science Faculty in now engaged in a strategic review of its curriculum, and
this should be completed by early autumn. Decisions will then be taken about
new courses for 2006. Of course, producing and presenting courses in new areas
might well necessitate the discontinuation of some of our existing courses, and
possibilities for decommitment will also be considered in the strategic review.
So what sort of physics and astronomy courses do you think that we should be
producing in the next few years? What courses would attract new students to
the OU? Should we discontinue some of our existing courses? We’d welcome
your views – either by email ( or regular mail (Dr Stuart
Freake, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7
This week it was decided that we should produce a 10-point Level 1 short course
to capitalize on interest aroused by the arrival of Beagle 2 on Mars in December
2003. We now have to put together a course team and to decide whether the
main emphasis of the course should be on astrobiology and the search for life on
other planets or on launchers, interplanetary flight, experimental techniques, etc.
It’s going to be a real challenge to get the course ready for the end of this year!
Ongoing attempts to decode quantum field theory
By David Broadhurst
During the last year or so, I have had the opportunity of research trips to Boston,
Paris, Vienna, Kloster Banz, and Osaka, thanks largely to the generosity of my
I spent a month at Boston University, where Dirk Kreimer and I tried to make
further progress on the notable all-orders summation of Feynman diagrams that
we had achieved in [1]. In the non-abelian sector of quantum chromodynamics
this appears to require the development of a Galois theory for a non-unique
factorization domain whose primitives (analogous to the primes among the
integers) are the skeleton diagrams of quantum field theory. Such a program is
so ambitious that no-one could reasonably promise a "deliverable" in the
foreseeable future. Fortunately, our patience is almost as great as the challenge.
Watch this space, but please don't hold your breath.
Increasingly, I seem to interact with mathematicians of distinction. At the Institut
des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques, near Paris, I discussed aspects of quantum field
with Alain Connes and Maxim Kontsevich. Kontsevich had made a conjecture
on the enumeration of varieties in finite number fields. This was motivated by
much more demanding analytical work that Kreimer and I had done in quantum
field theory. I confidently expected the Kontsevich conjecture to fail, but felt that
it should hold with graphs with less than 14 edges. The conjecture rather surprised
graph theorists and combinatoricists, who discovered, by exhaustion (an
accurate word, in this case) that it is true for all graphs with less than 13 edges,
but then ran out of computational steam. Next, on general grounds, it was
proven that a counterexample must exist, yet no-one can yet say at what
number of edges this will occur. I strongly intuit that at least one of three highly
nonplanar graphs with 14 edges will turn out to be the first stumbling block.
However, the best efforts of computational combinatoricists seem to be
powerless to handle these 3 graphs, so the matter is still intriguingly open.
In Vienna, I spent 3 weeks at the Erwin Schroedinger Institute participating in a
workshop on the interface between number theory and quantum field theory.
This is a very hospitable working environment: there is a program of expert
visitors, a light seminar schedule, and an almost semi-infinite line of blackboards,
as in the best cartoons on the work of mathematical physicists. Here I took an
interesting idea from the work of Herbert Gangl and Don Zagier which produces
multiple zeta values from graphs in a manner which is far simpler than that of
quantum field theory, yet may also give a diagnostic for the order of
perturbation theory at which the period of a new motive appears. Yet, here
again, even the toy model becomes apparently too hard to analyze before one
gets to 14 edges, where Kreimer and I had found evidence to suggest that the
counterterms of quantum field theory outgrow reducibility to multiple zeta
values. However, I have learnt not to despair: if one finds that toy models
become as intractable as the real thing, just where one looks to learn an answer,
then it probably means that they are realistic toys.
I was invited to give a talk at the leading biennial workshop on radiative
corrections, held in 2002 at Kloster Banz, in Upper Franconia. The organisers of
RadCor2002 were very keen that I give a talk, yet I had repeatedly told them
that since the last workshop I had made little progress on what I really wanted to
achieve. Their reaction was that I should talk about what I had been unable to
do, since presumably the entire community was also unable to do it. My talk was
entitled "Six Scandals in Quantum Field Theory". For the published proceedings I
chose the scandal closest to my present concerns and was able to organize it
into a form where much more is now known than previously, yet much less is
known than one needs to know [2]. I told the referee that I insisted on the first
word of the abstract, which you may read, for amusement at least, at
The visit of pure pleasure was to the University of Osaka, for their symposium on
Zeta Functions, Topology and Quantum Physics, in March 2003. While several of
the other speakers had worked in two of these areas, the organizers were
mindful that my work covers all three, and were relying on me to give a keynote
address. In the event, this was very easy to do, since there was much technical
progress to comment on, achieved by workers who have studied some of the
more tractable aspects of multiple zeta values. While their roles in quantum field
are still as challenging as when I found the first example, back in the 1980s, it was
refreshing to see how much effort has subsequently been expended into making
sense of the patterns that I discovered from my later work in quantum field
theory with Kreimer, and then with my mathematical coworkers, Borwein,
Bradley, Lisonek and Bailey. I have agreed to contribute a chapter to book on
this subject [3]. As an extra bonus, I made friends with Andrzej Schinzel, a number
theorist in the grand tradition, who wrote his first paper, with Sierpinski, almost 50
years ago, and helped him prove a nice little lemma to round off a work that he
had had on his books for several decades.
Alongside my open-ended work, on the deep structure of quantum field theory,
whose fruits are both uncertain and still maturing, I maintained activity on
problems which, while still difficult, offer more immediate prospect of success.
Andrei Kataev visited me from Moscow and we wrote a paper that gave a
good account of the uncanny similarity of radiative corrections for deepinelastic scattering off polarized and unpolarized targets, by studying at an allorders summation of a subset of terms [4]. Kataev has reported on this at several
A joint paper with my coworker David Bailey, and three of his students at
Berkeley, was presented by Bailey at SuperComputing 2002 and was selected to
appear in the proceedings [5]. (This seems to be some sort of achievement, or at
least the organisers claim it to be so.) Our paper serves to remind the community
just how empirical mathematics itself has had to become, to accommodate
structure revealed by quantum field theory. Indeed there is even a journal [6]
devoted to experimental mathematics.
It was also gratifying to read a detailed and complimentary MathSciNet review
of a large work that I had written with my coworkers at Simon Fraser University [7].
The reviewer concluded as follows: "This paper is an invitation to a very rich field
of mathematics and a review can only touch on some of its content." It was
good to see how just how much of our efforts at taming multiple zeta values had
been appreciated. Certainly this was most detailed review that I have received
from MathSciNet.
In conclusion, I have written in some detail, since Nigel Mason asked for
something that gives the flavour of my research. I hope that I have done justice
to the essential point: research is work on questions to which you do not yet
know the answers; the more interesting the questions, the harder it may be to
find the answers. Back in the 1990s, I tackled problems that were thought by
others to be too hard at the time. Now I see that a dozen of my papers from that
period attract 1,200 citations. I should like to think that some of my present
struggles will be similarly rewarded by their usefulness to others, in time to come.
But there is absolutely no guarantee of that. If there were, my activity could not
properly be called research.
[1] Exact solutions of Dyson-Schwinger equations for iterated one-loop integrals
and propagator-coupling duality, D.J. Broadhurst and D. Kreimer, Nucl. Phys.
B600 (2001) 403-422
[2] Where do the tedious products of zetas come from?
D.J. Broadhurst,
Nucl. Phys. Proc. Suppl. 116 (2003) 432-436
[3] Polylogarithms in quantum field theory,
D J Broadhurst, to appear in
Zeta Functions, Topology and Quantum Physics,
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004
[4] Bjorken unpolarized and polarized sum rules:
comparative analysis of large N expansions,
D.J. Broadhurst, A.L. Kataev,
Phys. Lett. B544 (2002) 154-160
[5] High Performance Computing Meets Experimental Mathematics, D.H. Bailey,
D. Broadhurst, Y. Hida, S. Li and B. Thompson, SC2002 proceedings,
[6] Central Binomial Sums, Multiple Clausen Values and Zeta Values, J.M.
Borwein, D.J. Broadhurst, J. Kamnitzer, Experimental Math. 10 (2001) 25-34
[7] Special values of multiple polylogarithms,
J.M. Borwein, D.M. Bradley, D.J. Broadhurst, P. Lisonek,
Trans. Amer. Math. Soc. 353 (2001) 907--941;
MathSciNet review: 1 709 772
Let’s Shop
by Sven Braeutigam
You are standing by a series of shelves holding bottles of soft drinks. In front of
you are three choices of Oasis fruit drink, Coca Cola, and the supermarket’s
own-label lemonade. Leaning back to gain a fuller picture of the consumer
items on sale, you scratch your head, an area a little way up behind the right
You might ask what this is to do with Physics. Well, researchers, who have been
studying consumer behaviour for a long time, have recently turned to
neuroscience. A particular interest in neuroscience is to unravel the neural
processing underlying human action. Billions of nerve cells communicate with
each other each millisecond, and one believes this communication ultimately
leads to conscious behaviour. Fortunately for researchers, neural communication
is accompanied by electrical currents, which in turn cause magnetic fields.
These fields, once generated in the brain, propagate through tissue and skull
relatively unperturbed, making it possible to study some aspects of neural
communication non-invasively. The field strength associated with neural activity
is extremely small, typically one part in one thousand million of the Earth’s
geomagnetic field.
An instrument which has the needed sensitivity is the Superconducting QUantum
Interference Device SQUID. The device operates at the cryogenic temperature
of liquid helium. It converts tiny changes in the magnetic field into a voltage
which can be further processed. The magnetic flux is inductively coupled into
the SQUID via a pickup coil which connects the device to the experiment. A
state-of-the-art system is the VectorviewTM of Helsinki University of Technology. It
consists of a helmet-shaped array of 102 pairs of orthogonal, first-order planar
pickup coils (Figure, left). A first-order sensor is strongly sensitive to near-fields, but
relatively insensitive to far-fields. Thus, the outputs of each pair of sensors are
most sensitive to the tangential current flow in the region directly below the
We took our subjects to Helsinki on an 18-minute virtual tour of a supermarket.
During regular pauses in the tour, our subjects were asked to make a choice
between 3 different brands and products, such as jams, cereals, beers, and soft
drinks. A questionnaire completed by the subjects after experimentation allowed
us to work out the salience or relative familiarity of a product. High salience
signifies that a brand can be easily distinguished from its competitors, and low
salience means that a brand is less distinct from its rivals.
Choosing among different brands of related products is facilitated by a
characteristic sequence of neural stages. Within the first 300 milliseconds or so,
incoming (brand) information is stored in visual cortex (back of the brain), and
matched against previous memories (left side of the brain). These initial stages
are not dependent on salience. Between, 400 and 1000 milliseconds, brand
choices activate language areas of the brain when salience is low; and activate
right parietal cortices (Figure, right) when salience is high.
The latter finding is particularly interesting as the right parietal has been
conjectured as one of the sites of integration of mental processes (mapping the
outside world onto the internal representation), as well as one of the sites of
decision making in the brain. Thus, this brain region may be important when we
decide which brand we favour.
Beyond the local supermarket, we believe that our findings could go on to
reveal the neural mechanisms underlying conscious decisions individuals make
when it comes to important choices, such as a partner or career.
Observing run at the SAAO 1.9m, 15th – 27th June
By Ben Eves (and Carole Haswell)
Having just returned from my first observing run I felt I should share the
experience with the rest of the Department, to give some insight into the life of
an observational astronomer, complete with pictures.
The Journey begins with our arrival in Cape Town set at the base of Devils Peak
part of the Table Mountain Range. You feel as though you are still in England,
many of the road signs are the same as ours, they drive on the left, and the vast
majority speaks fluent English. Then you glance out of the window to see Ibis,
Egrets, Storks, and Red-Knobbed Coots feeding in the river that runs past the
SAAO compound, and realise you aren’t in Milton Keynes anymore. The
compound itself is a collection of Colonial houses and two domes set in a
wooded enclosure, but we had little time to take this in as we are whisked into
the transport to the Observatory at Sutherland, only a four hour drive away.
On leaving CT we journey up into, and through, the mountains, it is a region of
towering cliffs with Great Black Eagles above, and Chacma Baboons on the
roadside. As we travel further inland the strata of the rock changes orientation
and you get a feel for the motions of the Earth that formed this range.
Every now and then the mountains
open up to reveal the vineyards
that provide the fine South African
wines that grace the shelves of
Tesco. There are grape sellers on
the roadside and each vineyard
has a store bordering the road,
selling the produce direct, but we
must press on, we still have a long
way to go. We reach a plateau
and the mountains are left behind,
we are now in hill country. Its red
rock and scrub as far as the eye
can see.
We finally reach the observatory in the late afternoon, just in time for our evening
meal, the food is tasty enough, plentiful and mainly mutton based, just what I
need for the coming week of nocturnal living. The views from the site can only
be described as breathtaking. The sunset sets the sky aflame over the mountains
to the East promising good weather and clear nights. On the plateau above us
we see the setting rays glint off the dome of the South African Large Telescope,
As the sun goes down we see springbok feeding on the
low bushes and Dassies moving across the rocks. The
observatory has both in abundance, and the little Dassies
or Rock Hyrax to give them their proper name are the kin
of elephants. Before retiring for the night I pop out to
“take the air” and am greeted by the most amazing sight,
the sky is ablaze with stars, set like diamonds in the band of
the milkyway. I am later to be shown the Large and Small
Magellanic Clouds, hazy blobs to the South of the
milkyway, the Southern Cross, the Celestial South Pole, the
False Cross (the cause of many shipwrecks) and the
constellation of Scorpius with our primary target held in its claws.
The first day of the run proper is spent in the company of the magical Stephen
Potter (he went to school with J. K. Rawling, hmmmmm, a connection methinks)
our support astronomer. We spend the afternoon setting up the spectroscope,
change the grating, angle the grating such that we are centred on the correct
wavelength for our observations, focus the instrument and perform a sequence
of “Dome Flats”, exposures of an illuminated white screen on the inside of the
observatory. These flats are for the purpose of calibrating our observations and
so are vital. We then retire to the canteen, where we meet Fred Marang who is
the Duty Astronomer for our run, and our companion in the warm room of the
dome, on these long winter nights.
We have now entered the “routine”. Back to the dome to take exposures of the
sky, again for calibration, and
then onto our targets.
Our primary target is possibly a
new microquasar, a type of black
hole binary, we are trying to
measure the orbital period of the
companion, which we believe to
be a K type star. During the run
we saw some short period
variation in our absorption lines
and in our Hemission, on time
scales of minutes this leads us to
shorter exposures to investigate
this phenomenon, could it be outflowing material, a wind from the companion
or possibly material in the jets, characteristic of a microquasar. Only accurate
reduction and analysis back at the OU will tell.
We stay on our primary target for the majority of each night taking arc lamp
exposures every twenty minutes or so for our wavelength calibration. Each night
we take six, ten minute exposure of our secondary target a new intermediate
polar, a cataclysmic variable (CV) with the accretion disk truncated by the
white dwarfs magnetic field, again we are attempting to tie down the period of
this object. The object has a approximate period of either six or nine hours and
so we take three exposures each of 693seconds ( the white dwarf spin period),
to remove variation due to the white dwarf spinning, in the first half of the night
and then another three exposures five to six hours later, this should allow us to
identify the period.
Finally we switch to our end of night object RZ Gru, a southern CV that has been
sadly neglected for over twenty years. The period of this object is uncertain at
0.36 days, so we intend to do better, and constrain this once and for all. A
trailed spectrogram (shown below) produced towards the end of the run
showed large amplitude variation in H, the breaks in the data represent
different nights, leading us to believe that we have obtain observations that will
give us the period of RZ Gru very accurately.
Each night we follow this order of objects as well as obtaining comparison
spectra of known stars, after all you can never have too much data, either of
your objects or for calibration purposes. We were able to obtain excellent data
on five of our seven nights, in photometric conditions, and useful data on the
remaining two nights even though the seeing was bad and we had patchy
cloud. All in all an extremely successful run and an experience I shall never
By the way we took the long way home and went to see this little chap.
By Barrie Jones
Seeing the annular eclipse of 31 May was an unlikely bonus at the end of a short
holiday to north-west Scotland. The eclipse was soon after sunrise, and I had
estimated that there was about a 1-in-10 chance of seeing it. But we did, from
Durness, along with the hundreds of other people who had gathered at this small
community. There was a bit of cirrus, and haze that was so thick towards the
horizon that the annular phase was only just visible, but as it ended the Sun (and
Moon) moved into a clearer area of sky, and it was a very beautiful, crimson
sight. Patrick Moore and 'Queen' guitarist Brian May were not far away, along
with a 'Sky at Night' TV crew, and had a comparably good view. Others were not
so lucky, as captured by the tabloid headline 'Mist it?' Nigel Mason's party saw
mist, but we helped them drown their sorrows when we met in Inverness.
If you missed the 31 May annular eclipse then your next chance in the UK is 23
July 2093, when we will all be quite old. Moreover, the Sun will be high up, so it
will be not be particularly spectacular. I would only bother to travel to an
annular eclipse if it were at sunrise or sunset. The next best opportunity is 15
January 2010, when you will be able to choose between central Africa at sunrise
or eastern China at sunset.
The 31 May annular eclipse, near sunrise. Picture by Ross Bennie & Morven
Departmental Arrival and Departures and visitors
Dr Dagmar Mayr is joining Nigel Mason as an EU funded postdoctoral fellow. A
graduate of the Institute for Ion Physics, University of Innsbruck her diploma thesis
was entitled “Volatile Organic Compounds in Human Breath: Measurements
Resolution”, Her PhD thesis was entitled “Aroma Analysis and Quality Control of
Food Using Highly Sensitive Analytical Methods”.
While at the OU she will be involved in two research programmes. The first will
continue her graduate studies to investigate food preservation using ozone as a
germicidal agent. The second area of research will be the study of electron
interactions with biological molecules.
Will Clarkson will be joining us as a postdoc for two years starting in
November. He's currently finishing his PhD in Southampton (supervised by Phil
Charles), and will be working on the wide area search for planets (WASP) and
outbursts in black hole binaries. Will has broad interests in education and
John Tanner, a current part-time PhD student, will be transferring to a full-time
studentship. He is working with Sean Ryan on the chemical composition of stars
formed early in the evolution of the Galactic disc, after the first generation of
stars the halo but prior to the bulk of star formation in the Milky Way.
Amanda Smith, an OU graduate, will be working with Carole Haswell. She will
unravel the mysteries of some of the thousands of new variable stars discovered
by Dave Lott in his thesis work, and will work on any suitable new outbursting Xray transients.
We welcome Rob Mundin back to the Department after his leave of absence.
Miss Eva Vasekova will be joining the department as a PhD student in October
2003. She will be working with Nigel Mason and Nick Braithwaite (Oxford
Research unit, Materials Engineering) on the experimental study of technological
Technological plasmas are used to manufacture the semiconductor chips that
underpin the modern world information society. However there is now a strong
and growing economic and environmental incentive to improve on the
traditional methods of plasma reactor and process design since most of the feed
gases currently used in the semiconductor industry are greenhouse gases and
under the Kyoto Protocol should be phased out in the next decade. Therefore in
the last five years US and Japanese research communities have been
developing joint academic/industrial research programmes to understand and
model the properties and mechanisms of technological plasmas. In contrast the
European Research Area has to date failed to organise a similar co-ordinated
research programme. However in 2003 a EU /Japan research collaboration coordinated in part by Nigel and Nick is to begin to study the collisional and
reactive processes occurring in technological plasmas that underpin in this
important (and wealth creating) area of scientific research. The project will
develop detailed physico-chemical models that will provide, in a
comprehensive manner, a methodology for designing the next generation of
commercial technological plasma equipment. Part of this project will involve
exchange of staff between UK and Japan, allowing Eva to work in Japan
Eva is from Slovakia, where she has graduated with a first class degree in Plasma
Physics, being taught in part by Professor Dusan Skalny, who visited the
Department in February.
Bart Willems will be leaving in the summer to go to Northwestern University in
Evanston, Illinois. The work he will be doing is an extension of his OU research on
compact binary populations and tidal interactions in close binaries, with possible
new applications involving gravitational wave astronomy.
Stephen Brotton will also be leaving in the summer to take up a post at NASA in
the USA.
Institute of Physics Quantum Electronics and Photonics PhD Prize
Dr Yinqi Fen, a student of Professor Allan Solomon, was awarded a “highly
commended” for theses examined in 2001.
Robin Barnard
1. "RX J0042.3+4115: a stellar mass black hole binary identified in M31" R Barnard,
JP Osborne, U Kolb, KN Borozdin, 2003, A&A in press, astro-ph/0304503
2. "Physical changes during Z-track movement in Sco X-1 on the flaring branch" R Barnard, MJ
Church and M Balucinska-Church, 2003, A&A in press, astro-ph/0305466
Sven Braeutigam
“Endogenous context for visual processing of human
S Braeutigam & SJ Swithenby, 2003, NeuroReport 14: in print
Barrie Jones
1. “Professors predict - space travel and extraterrestrial life” BW Jones, 2002, Ozone Science
Supplement, February 2002, 12-13
2. “Exoplanets” BW Jones, 2002, Orbit, March-May 2002, 2-4
3. “The orbits of terrestrial planets in the habitable zones of known exoplanetary systems” BW
Jones, PN Sleep, 2002, Proceedings of the 4th Annual ROE Workshop, 2001, 'Techniques for
the detection of planets and life beyond the Solar System', paper 26
4. “The stability of the orbits of Earth-mass planets in the habitable zone of 47 Ursae Majoris”
BWJones, PN Sleep, 2002, Astronomy & Astrophysics, 393, 1015-1026
5. “Distance learning materials: creation and delivery”
Astronomy, ed T J Mahony, pub IAC Tenerife Spain
BW Jones, 2003, Communicating
6. “Vermin of the skies” BW Jones, 2003, Popular Astronomy, 50, 2, 19-21
7. “The orbits of terrestrial planets in the habitable zones of known exoplanetary systems” BW
Jones, PN Sleep, 2003, 'Scientific Frontiers in Research on Extrasolar Planets', ASP Conference
Series, 294, 225-230
8. “The search for extraterrestrial intelligence” BW Jones, 2003, Physics Education, 38, 8-13
9. “Earth-mass planets in exoplanetary systems” BW Jones, 2003, Astronomy & Geophysics, 44,
10. “The stability of the orbits of Earth-mass planets in and near the habitable zones of known
exoplanetary systems” BW Jones, DR Underwood, PN Sleep, 2003, to appear in 'Towards
Other Earths', ESA special publication SP-539
11. “Extrasolar 'Earths' in habitable zones - targets of opportunity” BW Jones, DR Underwood, PN
Sleep, 2003, to appear in 'Extrasolar Planets: Today and Tomorroe', XIXth IAP Colloquium
Nigel Mason
1. “Electron Scattering from Atoms, Molecules, Nuclei and Bulk Matter” CT Whelan and NJ
Mason, 2003, Plenum Press
2. “Electron Driven process: Scientific Challenges and Technological opportunities” NJ Mason in
“Electron Scattering from Atoms, Molecules, Nuclei and Bulk Matter” ed by CT Whelan and
NJ Mason, 2003, Plenum Press, 179-190
3. “Laboratory Studies of Astrophysical molecules; A New apparatus” A Dawes, NJ Mason, P
Tegeder and P Holtom in “Electron Scattering from Atoms, Molecules, Nuclei and Bulk
Matter” ed by CT Whelan and NJ Mason, 2003, Plenum Press 329- 344
4. “The electronic states of isoxazole studied by VUV absorption, electron energy loss
spectroscopies and ab initio multi-reference configuration interaction calculations” IC
Walker, MH Palmer, J Delwiche, SV Hoffman, P LVieira, NJ Mason, MF Guest, M-J HubinFranskin, J Heinsch and A Giuliani, 2003, J. Chem. Phys, submitted
5. “Electron Scattering from Ozone. What do we know?” NJ Mason, 2003, Physica Scripta, 68
6. “Single bubble Sonoluminescence; ‘The star in the jar’” SM Webb and NJ Mason, 2003, Euro J
Phys, submitted for publication
7. “VUV photoabsorption of hexafluoropropene” S Eden and P Limão-Vieira, SV Hoffmann and
NJ Mason, 2003, Chem Phys Lett, submitted for publication
8. “Low energy (0-18eV) electron stimulated desorption from condensed SF5CF3” R Balog, P
Limão-Vieira, C Konig, I Bald, NJ Mason and E Illenberger, 2003, Chem Phys Lett, submitted for
9. “On the valence shell electronic spectroscopy of 2-vinyl furan and its relationship with the
linear polyenes” A Giuliani, IC Walker, J Delwiche, SV Hoffman, P LVieira, NJ Mason, C Kech
and M-J Hubin-Franskin, 2003, J. Chem Phys, submitted for publication
10. “Absolute photo-absorption cross sections and electronic state spectroscopy of selected
fluorinated hydrocarbons relevant to the plasma processing industry” P Limão-Vieira, S Eden
and N J Mason, 2002, R Radiation Physics and Chemistry 68 187- 92
11. “Electron and photon induced processes in SF5CF3” P Limão-Vieira, P A Kendall, S Eden, N J
Mason, J Heinesch, M-J Hubin-Franskin, J Delwiche and A Giuliani, 2003, Radiation Physics
and Chemistry 68 193-7
12. “Electronic State spectroscopy of acetaldehyde, CH3CHO by high resolution VUV photoabsorption” P Limao Vieira , S Eden, N J Mason and S V Hoffmann, 2003, Chem. Phys. Lett, 376
PPARC has awarded a grant of 142k pounds to a collaborative project led by
Sean Ryan (P&A) and Co-Investigator Maurizio Salaris (Liverpool John Moores
University). The grant will fund a Post-Doctoral Research Associate to work with
Sean at the OU for three years, and to further develop the collaboration
between the OU and LJMU during that time.
The project will exploit data which Sean and his collaborators have obtained on
4 m- and 8 m-class telescopes over the last year, and which they expect to
expand upon in forthcoming allocations. The study will focus on a class of stars
which no-one has yet seen, the so-called Population III stars. These are firstgeneration stars that formed from gas that had not then experienced any
enrichment in heavy elements since the completion of Big Bang nucleosynthesis.
Such objects, though rare, were responsible for the first production of heavy
elements seen in stars in the Milky Way, and hence can be studied through the
elemental abundances seen in the oldest stars in the Galaxy.
The project will measure the abundances of key elements observed in very lowmetallicity stars, and compute low-metallicity stellar-evolution models to reveal
how much of the observed surface chemical pattern is self-enriched, how much
comes from external pollution, and how much is inherited from Population III. We
will then examine the inferred Population III abundances in the context of
models of early star formation in pre-Galactic environments.
The role of the PDRA will be to contribute to both the abundance analysis and
stellar-evolution modelling. Sean will be responsible for leading the observational
and analytical aspects of the project, with Maurizio brings theoretical expertise
to the collaboration.
The grant is for 142k over 3 years. This funding stream includes contributions to the
OU of 40k as overhead, 11k as computing equipment and consumables, and 6k
as secretarial support.
Robin Barnard
The National Astronomy Meeting, Dublin Castle, 7-11 April
The first Constellation-X Workshop, Columbia University, New York, 4-8 May
Barrie Jones
I organised this 90-minute session, which consisted of a series of review talks
outlining the history of the search for exoplanets, the methods currently being
used to find them, and the properties of the known exoplanets. At present just
over 100 exoplanets have been discovered, but we are probably on the edge
of a flood of new discoveries. All the confirmed exoplanets are much more
massive than the Earth, and more like our giant planets in composition - rich in
hydrogen, helium, or water. Earth-mass planets could be discovered now by
gravitational microlensing, and by other techniques in a few years time
Nigel Mason
I have been invited to give several presentations at international meetings
A plenary talk at the Iberian Meeting on Atomic and Molecular Physics part of
the Centennial meeting of the Spanish Institute of Physics and Royal society of
Chemistry. This meeting had no less than 9 Nobel laureates speaking and the
largest conference dinner I have ever been to with a sit down meal for 1200!
I am also an invited speaker at:
The International Conference on Atomic, Electronic and Photonic Collisions in
Stockholm, Sweden
The Electron Molecule Symposium in Prague, Czech Republic
The EU -Japan Symposium on Plasma Processing also held in Stockholm Sweden
I gave a talk on Molecular spectroscopy in the interstellar medium at NAM 2003
in Dublin.
A plenary talk at the Ion storage ring conference in Aarhus Denmark
and seminars in both the university of Cologne and Freie University Berlin as well
as to the applied Maths Department at the OU .
I have also given three local talks. One to the British Association local members
and two school talks. One to Ousedale School in Newport Pagnell (as part of
their annual Astronomy day); the other was at a meeting of the Head of
sciences in the Haylesbury schools group held at Bedford school. I think we
should do more to link with local schools !