Friday, May 11, 2012

I like bullet points

  • It's somehow less intimidating to write a bunch of not necessarily related points out of whatever vaguely interesting soup is floating around in my head than to pound out a nice set of linky paragraphs with a common theme. Let's not talk about why I might intimidate myself about posting to my own little blog in this corner of the internet. Test season and rationality do not have a high level of overlap.
  • Let's not talk about test season either. I'd rather tell you that I started listening to the Math/Maths podcast and it's really awesome. Also, it makes me feel like I should actually remember to write about mathsy physicsy stuff on here more often. I thin we can call that a double win. The podcast assumes you know a little bit about maths (or math, for the Americans), but it certainly doesn't expect you to be at research level in anything. I like listening to something with a bit of meat to it without feeling like I've bitten off more than I can chew!
  • I'm not sure whether or not that was a mixed metaphor.
  • I've finished the first two of my final year courses! Our computational physics courses are largely based around actually writing code, so there's no final theory exam. The general consensus is that continuous assessment is actually more work than otherwise (I write a three hour theory exam for my 16 credit theoretical courses; I wrote a four hour final practical test for an 8 credit computational course), but it's lovely to be finished already!
  • Hydrogen molecule ion orbitals.
    We get to make pretty pictures in comp. phys. too. Like this one, showing the electron orbitals (where the electron is most likely to occur) of a hydrogen molecule ion. This one was done in Mathematica, which is a wonderful tool for crunching through maths that's technically doable but not very much fun. Also, it draws pretty pictures.
    (I haven't taken the care with formatting that I would in a proper report, so if there's anything odd about the image, that's probably why! You can look up molecular orbitals or the linear combination of atomic orbitals model if you're really interested in seeing the science done properly.)
  • We spent some time yesterday trying to get Mathematica to draw rank two tensors for us, before realising that it was a rather silly idea. A rank zero tensor is just a scalar, or point on the number line, so it's pretty easy to understand. A rank one tensor is a vector (in R3), which you can visualise as an arrow in three dimensional space. A rank two tensor maps one three dimensional vector to another, which means, as far as I understand it, that you'd need a nine-dimensional blackboard to draw it out. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), Mathematica doesn't have a Plot9D command. I can't imagine why not.
  • One of the best parts about getting this far into my degree is that as a class we both know each other well enough and are sufficiently interested in physics that between lectures we (sometimes!) do stuff like trying to draw (potentially impossible) things in Mathematica or work out the details of a proof we glossed over in class. See also: hitting 'random' repeatedly on xkcd, and looking at graphs showing that the exponential growth rate for yoghurt is higher than that of gingerbeer or sourdough by a ridiculous amount.
  • Are there physicsy versions of things like Math/Maths and Aperiodical? I can find stuff about science-in-general or maths-in-particular easily enough, perhaps because I already know where some of it is, but physics-in-particular doesn't seem to be very well represented. I don't know if maths gets more attention on it's own because it's sometimes excluded from 'science', if it's just considered more awesome than physics or if I just happen to have stumbled upon the online maths community and have yet to discover the physicsy* analogue.
    *I have now used 'physicsy' three times. This makes it a real word. To quote the estimable Lewis Carroll (in The Hunting of the Snark) "I have said it thrice: // What I tell you three times is true."


  1. One of my favourite Carrol quotes, and not many people seem to know it :)

    The comic is physics only, as far as I remember, but they update *extremely* rarely. Other than that, I am completely out of the physics loop.

    1. Oh, I'm glad you like it too! The best Lewis Carroll things seem to be generally underappreciated.

      Peeble's Lab looks fun; thanks!