Quick note: I wrote and posted this on Sunday evening, but won’t be able to get any pictures off my phone until Monday morning, so I may add a few more photos on Monday. Until then, I’m supplementing with a few photos posted by others on Facebook.
I’ll get the work-related stuff out of the way first, because I suspect that most of the people reading this are neither physics students nor terribly interested in physics (even though you should be, because physics is awesome!), and because Tuesday through Thursday was “I sat at my desk reading papers and feeling waves of impostor syndrome, interrupted by going to the clean room for a few hours.” Working in the UV-filtered light of the clean room will probably get old after a while, but for now I’m still learning a lot and the novelty hasn’t worn off, so that was quite exciting.
Monday was different because of the Winton Symposium, a physics of sustainability conference focused (this year) on “Global Challenges for Science and Technology.” I quite enjoyed most of the talks, although I wish more of them had been a bit more hard-science focused rather than policy-focused. Still, these are important things to think about as well. The most controversial talk was probably “Food and Civilisation” by Prof. Nina Fedoroff, who argued in favor of GM foods and got a lot of opinionated questions afterward (which she took with impressive aplomb). My favorite was Prof. David McKay’s talk, “The Global Calculator,” which mostly showcased the online tool of the same name that is designed to help people understand what we would have to do to slow or reverse global climate change. It’s a fascinating site, and I encourage you to check it out here.
The other odd day out at work was Friday, when I had my first training session as a demonstrator for the 1A Physics “Practicals.” For those in the U.S., this is code for “first-year physics lab TA.” I signed up because I thought it would be good practice for grad school, it gets me out of the lab (and into a different one, but still), and because teaching people something is a great way to learn it better yourself. Also, I get paid (yay!). The downside is that, to prepare for the labs, the demonstrators have to do the experiment and write it up just like the undergrads do. And I thought I had finished with Excel graphs and hand-calculated error propagation forever…
Friday was also interesting because I went out for Indian food at Cocum with my research group in the evening, to celebrate the acceptance of 4 papers recently (non-academics: as you may have guessed, that’s a pretty big deal). I had a dosa, which is a very thin, but gigantic chickpea flour and rice flour pancake/crepe. Mine was filled with a chickpea and potato curry and served with coconut chutney and smokey sambar, a lentil-based curry. One benefit of being in the UK is that the Indian food is generally quite authentic and very good! Afterwards, we went to a nearby pub (the Castle Inn) for a pint before last call (at 11:30) and more conversation, which always seemed to turn toward physics…geeks are the same everywhere, I guess.
I got a run in before a downpour started on Saturday, but the rain meant that punting was postponed until today. I ended up just going grocery shopping at the market and Sainsbury’s, working on fellowship applications (ugh), and going to the “Hostel Crawl” later in the evening. This was essentially a series of drinking (-optional) games of a “get-to-know-people” bent at a variety of stations around the graduate hostels and MCR. I enjoyed myself, but skipped the trip to the club and went to bed so I could get up at a reasonable hour and go running.
This morning (Sunday), I went on a nice, easy run to Madingley, a town northwest of Cambridge, via the American Cemetery and 800 Wood, which was planted to commemorated the 800th year of the University of Cambridge. It was quite brisk outside, but everything was very cute and quaint and English. I added some berry picking on the way back on the Coton footpath and tried to get some work done before heading off to Hall for a Sunday Roast (which is a thing here…it basically just means “brunch, English-style”) and punting!
Punting means going out on the river in a flat-bottomed boat with a square prow, propelled by somebody standing in the back and pushing on the river bottom with a long pole (and a small oar for emergencies such as wide, low bridges). It’s a classics Oxbridge pastime and a very fun, leisurely way to see the river-side view of some of the fancier Cambridge colleges, like King’s, Trinity, and St. John’s. Everyone in my punt was a total novice except Sonke (pink shirt), the MCR officer in charge of the event. so he started out in the back while the rest of us gawped at the architecture and fed a small horde of ducks and geese. We all more or less got the hang of propelling the boat when it was our turn, though, and I thought it was really fun. I got to facilitate the rescue of a pigeon that was about to drown, which was a bit exciting.
After punting, I raced over Aldi (a discount supermarket) to get a few things I needed for this week’s dinner recipe. I was going to make a big batch of soup tonight, but there was a free BBQ going on near the chapel. Who am I to pass up free food? They actually had quite a good spread, and I had some fun conversations, so I don’t mind that my soup-making is being pushed back by a day or so.
That’s basically all for now!