Back To School

September 4, 2018

Some loyal readers will recognize this entry as a repeat from the last three years. Each year it gets a good response, and kudos from my readers, and so as before I must appease my loyal followers...

To all the students starting University, enjoy this time of your life. Long ago when I started, a prof told me that this is the start of your real education. Now you get to choose your own courses and your own field of study. It is entirely up to you to decide what to do with this chance.

I know from my own experience that the first days of University can be terrifying and exciting at the same time. But remember, it is a community not just a school. Other students are in the same position, and the shared experiences you have with them can lead to life-long friendships. Remember that there are always older students and grad students who are willing and eager to help you out. There are tutors available for everything, and your instructors want to help you.

If you don't understand something in class, ask a question. You might think that you look foolish, but in truth most of your classmates will be thinking 'I am glad someone else asked instead of me!'. Go to tutorial sessions that the university offers. Go to the prof's office hours to discuss the work. Read every comment that the Teaching Aids make on your papers- many times they are able to explain things in a few notes that the instructor can't in an hour lecture! (And yes I am just saying that because I was a TA for several courses :D )

For many of you this new life is far greater than just attending lectures and doing homework. Many of you will be living on your own for the first time. Universities also offer a lot of distractions - with clubs and associations for every interest. Enjoy this new freedom, but remember to not let them interfere with your studies.

So begin your 'real' education, and enjoy this time in your life. It only happens once, and it can be a wonderful experience.

 

Free Software

September 4, 2018
With the arrival of September, students around the world will be returning to classes this week. And for those who are starting out at college or university, one of the most important considerations is how to live on a budget. These are the years when one has little or no income, but must bear the expenses of living independently for the first time. While giving advice on living on a budget is far too expansive to cover in this blog, I can tackle one small aspect of student life by providing ...
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The Opposition of Mars

July 27, 2018
For those who are interested in astronomy, tonight Mars will make its closest approach to Earth in fifteen years. That means that it will be both large - though still only viewable in detail through binoculars or a telescope - and very bright. 

As most people already know, both the Earth and Mars orbit the sun, in neighbouring orbits. Usually they are at different points in their respective orbits, and so Mars appears small and distant. Roughly every two years, the two planets pass close toget...
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Neutrinos By The Sea

July 19, 2018
Neutrinos are popular right now. 

Last week the IceCube neutrino observatory announced the discovery of the origin of many high energy cosmic rays as being a massive black hole and active galaxy, using the flux of neutrinos that it produced as a pointer to their source. The observations were then confirmed by a variety of observatories working in radio waves, visible light, and gamma-rays, but the original signal was through neutrinos.

Today we have the announcement that the University of Victo...
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The Origin of Cosmic Rays

July 13, 2018
After weeks of speculation, today the IceCube neutrino observatory has revealed their big news. After more than a century of debate about the origin of high energy cosmic rays, the IceCube team together with astronomers around the world have managed to pinpoint the source of at least some high energy cosmic rays as being a very active and violent distant galaxy known as a blazar. (For those interested in the technical details, the two research papers can be found here and here)

Cosmic rays wer...
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Sterile Neutrinos

July 10, 2018
There has been a lot of discussion lately of the possible existence of sterile neutrinos in the Universe, due in large part to a few papers in the recent weeks making claims of possible signs of detection in one of the bigger neutrino observatories. And although these results are preliminary, with the formal announcements coming later this week, and may show no clear sign of anything other than a statistical fluctuation, the theory of sterile neutrinos is still quite interesting to the theore...
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Feynman Diagrams

May 11, 2018
Among physicists, there is a popular story told and retold about a pair of lectures that were given at a conference in 1948 that demonstrates the brilliance of Richard Feynman. How much of it is true and how much has been embellished to build up the legend is unknown, but it is still an entertaining and information anecdote.

Since the development of quantum mechanics in the 1920s and 1930s there had been an unsolved problem regarding the proper treatment of particle interactions. The laws of q...
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Path Integrals

May 11, 2018
In honour of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman, I will today present a very basic overview of one of the great ideas of modern physics which was developed and popularized by Feynman. And the first part of that theory is the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics.

By now quantum mechanics is firmly established as a confirmed and proven theory of nature. Even popular society has come to embrace some of the stranger aspects of quantum theory (though unfortunately they ...

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Happy Birthday Mr. Feynman

May 11, 2018


I do not normally celebrate celebrity birthdays and anniversaries, since the focus on this series of articles is on the principles of science and the laws of nature. However I do feel that today's anniversary warrants an exception to this general rule. It was one century ago today that Richard Feynman entered the world and would go on to change physics forever. 

Although never reaching the same level of popular recognition as Einstein or Newton or Hawking, in many ways Richard Feynman was grea...

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Dominion Astrophysical Centenary

May 6, 2018
Today marks the anniversary of one of the biggest events in local astronomy history, and probably in the history of science in Canada. It was exactly one century ago today that the Plaskett telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Little Saanich Mountain in my hometown of Victoria,British Columbia, first collected light from the stars and became the second largest telescope in the world.

For those who haven't had a chance to see the telescope, it is an amazing piece of equipment ...
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About Me


Dr. Chris Bird I am a theoretical physicist & mathematician, with training in electronics, programming, robotics, and a number of other related fields.

   


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