Category Archives: Physics

Resultant force

I always say, but then feel weird saying ‘good luck’ on getting your exam results. It should depend entirely on your hard work throughout the year (or two, or three); no amount of luck on results day, good or bad, is going to change that. Even if the envelope spontaneously combusted, it all goes through automatically online now!

Fourteen years ago, I opened that envelope. I had made firm and insurance choices for university, but as both universities gave me the same offer, I was either getting in to university or not. It certainly made opening that envelope even more stressful than if I had even the remote possibility of a backup plan. They may as well have written ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a slip of paper in black felt pen and sealed it in there.

It was a ‘yes’, thankfully. But as I’ve learned over the years, if it had been a ‘no’, it wouldn’t necessarily have been the end of the world. It would have been a setback and a major disappointment, with a tangible and natural emotional response. But I’ve had the opportunity to see that there are second chances. I’ve taught people who didn’t get the A-Levels they needed, who have gone on after their foundation year to do really well on the same Physics degree as the rest of us.

If you got the results you wanted, give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back, and a well-deserved break from the stress over the next couple of weeks. If they’re not what you hoped for, you still need a break, and when you feel ready, regroup, be objective. It’s not as simple as the memes make out: it’s not as simple as believing better things will happen merely by thinking positively. But success is still a possibility. There are also many, many definitions of success.

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Wonders of the Nemethsphere

I’ve always been interested in science, media and music. In my experience, it’s been difficult for some proponents of science to understand how or why media and music have become such significant parts of my life, but they are there, and they aren’t easily suppressed. I should know…I’ve tried! When it really mattered, of course, I managed to commit the required resources to the completion of my thesis, and I’d have been tremendously disappointed if I hadn’t. However, almost as soon as the thesis had been submitted, I committed to an extra weekly radio show on Off The Chart Radio, took on more gigs with Henry Marten’s Ghost and Thistledown, and even started making enquiries about playing bass with a band.

While I was bogged down in thesis writing, I was harbouring ideas for blog posts, getting spontaneous ideas for show playlists, and wishing I was on the stage instead of sat behind a computer. Naively, I believed that there’d be nothing better than to plough myself into music (and radio) once university finally came to an end.

However – fortunately or unfortunately – my triad of core interests like to coexist in harmony, and the further I push in one direction, the more I’m pulled in the other two. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying my much-needed brain-break from physics; the fiddle-playing is going fantastically, and is even earning me just about enough to break even (after a good few months, and following severe austerity measures regarding my gadget-buying). Now, though, I find that I am actually starting to miss academia!

There is someone who has seemingly managed to strike the perfect balance (in my opinion) between these three interests: Brian Cox. I rarely identify with a public figure to such an extent that I’m willing to call them an ‘idol’. In fact, I generally shy away from expressing strong opinions, as many will know when they hear me ‘critiquing’ music (basically, I hate saying anything bad about anything). On the other hand, if something’s really good, my getting up from the metaphorical fence (that I often like sit on) should be enough to let you know that I’m being genuine. He’s the “rockstar physicist”, and whilst I don’t really seek fame, I quite like the fantasy idea of becoming the folk-world equivalent.

After reading a couple of tabloid interviews with Professor Cox, I started to wonder exactly how well we compared. He’s 44, I’m 26…but in my (not exactly scientifically rigorous or exhaustive) comparison chart, we seem to match up on quite a few things already. We inhabit different echelons in terms of notoriety, perhaps, but I was struck by the fact that neither of us wear watches, and would respond in exactly the same way if asked why. (I wonder, if pressed, whether Brian would reveal he also found it irritating to wear a watch when playing an instrument or writing, so simply dispensed with wearing one at all?)

Dr. Jamie Nemeth Prof. Brian Cox
PhD in intense-field atomic physics PhD in high-energy particle physics
Plays violin Plays keyboard
Presents a radio show Presents numerous radio and TV shows
Likes to lie in Likes to lie in
Puts simple things complicatedly (sometimes) Puts complicated things simply
Doesn’t wear a watch
(“No, I just use the clock on my mobile.”)
Doesn’t wear a watch
(“No, I just use the clock on my mobile.”)
Opposes university ‘top-up’ tuition fees Opposes university ‘top-up’ tuition fees
Inspired by space and astronomy Inspired by space and astronomy
Regularly watches The Sky At Night Has been on The Sky At Night

(I’ll probably keep adding to this list…)

Has been on the set of a Doctor Who episode Has been on an episode of Doctor Who

Un-physics 2

Last night’s ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ (or TOWIE, as some would abbreviate) provided a whopper to restart my Un-physics posts!

“Did you know…the sun and the moon are, like, two different planets?”

I’m afraid I don’t follow the series closely enough to tell you which ‘character’ said this, though I’m sure someone will be able to tell me (I know what she looks like). I’m just glad I wasn’t near a wall; either the wall or my head would have been seriously damaged by me hitting my head against it repeatedly.

There are some things I can forgive. Pluto used to be a planet, Sedna (by the same token) isn’t really a planet either, according to scientists, but at least the distinction between a small rock and a big rock is more of a grey area (pun intended).

Perhaps I could even forgive calling the moon a planet.

But the sun? I’m pretty sure it’s a star. A swirling ball of gas. Planets can’t be described in that way! Well, except for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune…but…but…that’s entirely different…they’re not stars!

plan·et (noun): A celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star.

The star is our sun, therefore cannot also be a planet orbiting itself. The moon technically orbits the earth, but the earth-moon system orbits the sun, so this is open to debate. There are no nuclear reactions going on inside the gas giants either…not that I’m aware of, anyway. The sun and the moon are very different ‘planets’ indeed!

And they think it’s all over…it is now…well, almost…

So, here it is…the culmination of nearly four years (less two days) of physics research. Somehow, despite having mumps (didn’t have time to blog about that), nanna being in and out of hospital, having to help tidy nanna’s house after burst pipes resulted not only in a flood but also a ceiling cave-in at her bungalow (thankfully when she wasn’t there), it got done. As the deadline loomed, my supervisor’s encouragement was followed by stronger encouragement – to work faster. Combined with a tardy fear of failure, the ensuing productivity surge blasted me through the 212-page document.

This stack of bound paper which had daunted me since the start of the PhD had suddenly materialised in duplicate. I’d not felt such a sense of achievement since I finished my undergraduate degree four years previously. However, finishing the PhD was entirely different: my life was carrying on like the train in a Tom-and-Jerry cartoon; the tracks for GCSEs, A-Levels and my undergraduate degree were already laid down, but the PhD was the box of spare track pieces Tom would be seen to hurriedly lay in front of the train in an effort to stop it hurtling off the rails and into the unbound expanse of the room beyond. I’d run out of spare pieces, and to buy any more would come at tremendous cost (i.e. the cost of tuition fees with no student loan to assist with living costs).

Of course, it’s not quite all over yet, as there’s still a viva to go. Perhaps I should have let myself enjoy the elation from submitting a little longer than I did, but I made the mistake of looking up viva advice the very next day and completely terrifying myself. Also, due to space issues I had to clear my desk earlier than planned, and the social network built up over the past few years seemed to fizzle out alarmingly quickly, as my office mates departed to their homes across the country. This doesn’t just feel like the end of a course…this is the end of an era.

Un-physics 1

It’s occurred to me that my fusion of physics, media and music is missing one essential ingredient…physics! (And I call myself a physicist!)

I’ve seen many physics untruths used for effect; many are funny, but some are sillier than average…though still funny. On Twitter recently, Caitlin Moran, Times columnist and broadcaster, asked a Tweeter to imagine replacing all the atoms in one’s body with a 7″ vinyl of a particular band the Tweeter was promoting. Worryingly, I couldn’t resist a quick scour of the web for some numbers:

– There are approx. 7 × 10^27 atoms in the human body (it’s a lot…that’s 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms!)

– The average 7″ vinyl weighs around 180 grams, and is around 1 mm thick.

This means the (unfortunate) person who suddenly has every atom in their body replaced with a 7″ vinyl record would become 200 times as heavy as Planet Earth! I also worked out that if you stacked these records in a pile, it would be so tall that it would reach over 100 times the distance to our nearest galaxy, Andromeda. It’s not even real physics, it’s un-physics, but still makes you go ‘wow’ (well, it makes me go ‘wow’ anyway…)

More un-physics soon!