Monthly Archives: March 2016

What does Cosmology have to do with Formula One?

bbc web pageIt’s great – a while ago I had the opportunity to teach a course on Physics and Motorsport. It was a great way of uniting two of my passions.

Now this is taking a new direction, and I’ve been contributing to a BBC article on technology in Formula One. “Would Formula One be more thrilling without cutting edge tech”.

I love the broad span of physics. Both Cosmology and Formula One are a matter of understanding, of seeing through complicated equations to the principles that underly them,  of developing an intuition about how things – in this case, cars and galaxies – will behave under extreme conditions.


Re-live the Durham 2015 Lumiere



Ross Ashton has just sent me the “official” video of the World Machine installation from Durham Lumiere 2015. If you missed out, now you can relive the experience. If you want to recreate the amazing atmosphere, you’ll need about 200,000 friends and some huge speakers to carry the depth of John Del’Nero/Isobella Waller-Brige’s amazing sound track. Giles Gasper suggests that for the complete experience,  you’ll also need a bucket of water to pour over your head while you watch… it poured with rain.

Hopefully we can bring the real thing to a dark night near you. Let me know if you have a 12th Century Cathedral that I can borrow.

LDSS at the Las Campanas Observatory

It’s amazing. I’m at the Las Campanas Observatory, using the LDSS (low Dispersion Survey) spectrograph. A triumph of North East engineering, she was built in Durham University in 1991 by a team of “real” engineers,  including John Webster. It was one of the first instruments to allow astronomer to survey the distant Universe and to see galaxies when the Universe was only a fraction of its present age.

In 2001, John and I moved LDSS to its new home at the incredible 6.5m Magellan Clay telescope. The instrument has evolved for strength to strength, using its solid engineering as a plot form for the latest technological developments in optics and, most recently, its CCD detector. LDSS is still at the leading edge of cosmology.

Now, here I am looking for some of the faintest galaxies in the Universe. Our new ‘Deep Depletion’ detector lets us find galaxies at even higher redshift, and clever electronics allow us to detect lower mass galaxies than ever before, revealing the secrets of how galaxies, and the nuclear elements they contain (such as the carbon and oxygen that we are made of) have been created over the history of time.