Isaac Newton's beautiful drawing keeps coming to mind with respect to one of the projects we're working on.
Relevant and resonant extracts from art, science and life and the place where patterns begin to emerge.
I recently saw a brilliant and moving exhibition at the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace of the photographs taken by the dedicated photographers of the expeditions of Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton in the Antarctic nearly 100 years ago.
I was struck by this image - Shackleton and four others leave the rest of the group (it turned out for several months) to seek help at the whaling station of South Georgia. This poignant image shows the little reinforced boat departing - with its sides slightly raised and a cover made. Desperate good wishes and hopes are writ large in the gestures of everyone left behind in the harsh environment of Elephant island.
I discovered this image of Abdus Salam recently in a talk by Tom Kibble and am struck by its beauty. The text on the wall is a 16c Persian prayer - a reminder of the power of miracles provided they are initiated with hard work.
Salam - a devout muslim, saw his religion as an integral part of his work and once said:
"The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah's created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart."
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1979 , he quoted these verses from the Quran:
"Thou seest not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure. Then return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze, comes back to thee dazzled, aweary."
and then said
"This, in effect, is the faith of all physicists; the deeper we seek, the more is our wonder excited, the more is the dazzlement for our gaze."
It was a pleasure to visit the newly reopened show of works in Derby this weekend. Joseph Wright is probably most well known for his paintings depicting demonstrations of science (see last image of the orrery) during the enlightenment and his use of strong light-dark effects (chiaroscuro).
This image of a rainbow drew my attention for the strange rendering of the colours which missed the red from the usual rainbow sequence and replaced it with more of a violet outer edge. It left me wondering if the paint had changed during the last two hundred years or if he'd chosen to weave his own rainbow and pay less attention to nature to possibly make a better picture.
My restorer, conservationist friend, HGW has a perspective on the missing red of the rainbow....
"Joseph did have problems with his pigments, like many 18thC British artists; and quite a few of his paintings, particularly the darker ones where he mixed bituminous substances and employed drying additives, have resulted in shrinkage of the paint layer. 18th C pigments were not as stable as 19th and later. Reds, for instance, reacted to sunlight and faded. No doubt he added the red over his sky and the fading of the red, coupled with a cooler hue beneath will give a more violet colour. If, for instance, the blue of the sky contained a degree of 'smalt', a blue glass pigment which reacts with the oil in the medium and fades to grey, this also might give a violet hue.
Just a couple of thoughts; would need to check old Joseph's paint box to be absolutely sure!"
Have been thinking about using natural light in a new project and took this image of the wall at home and found these three remarkable images made by camera obscura techniques. And this famous camera obscura scene from 'A Matter of Life and Death'.
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.
As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.
Tops heel and yaw,
Sent newly spinning:
Squirm round the floor
At the beginning,
Then draw up
Like candle flames, till
They are soundless, asleep,
Moving, yet still.
So they run on,
Until, with a falter,
A flicker - soon gone -
Their pace starts to alter:
As if hopelessly tired
They wobble, and then
The poise we admired
Reels, clatters and sprawls,
- And what most appals
Is that tiny first shiver,
That stumble, whereby
We know beyond doubt
They have almost run out
And are starting to die.
JOHANN STRAUSS: The Blue Danube - Waltz.
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Georg Szell, conductor.
HMV 78rpm disc C.2686 (32-4795, 4796).
Recorded June 23, 1934.
Beautiful - a possible soundtrack for a little film called 'In Physics'.
This beautiful optics table took two years to build. It exists in the physics department basement. Quite a few different colours (or energies) of laser light are required to cool a molecule due to the more complex energy level structures (compared with an atom) - resulting in this lovely spectacle. The molecules are cooled to temperatures colder than outer space of less than a mK by hitting them with carefully tuned photons of light that exactly match the quantum energy levels of the molecule taking into account the doppler effect.
"In calling up images of the past, I find that the plains
of Patagonia frequently cross before my eyes; yet these
plains are pronounced by all wretched and useless. They can be
described only by negative characters; without habitations,
without water, without trees, without mountains, they support
merely a few dwarf plants. Why then, and the case is not peculiar
to myself, have those arid wastes taken so firm a hold on my
memory? Why have not the still more level, the greener and more fertile
Pampas, which are serviceable to mankind, produced an equal
impression? I can scarcely analyze these feelings; but it must
be partly owing to the free scope given to the imagination.
The plains of Patagonia are boundless, for they are scarcely
passable, and hence unknown; they bear the stamp of having lasted,
as they are now, for ages, and there appears to be no limit to
their duration during future time. If, as the ancients supposed,
the flat earth was surrounded by an impassable breadth of water,
or by deserts heated to an intolerable excess, who would not look
at these last boundaries to man's knowledge with deep but
I have just become an admirer of the short films of Jean Painleve (1902 - 1989). He affirmed "the superiority of reality", the "extraordinary inventiveness of Nature", over "the artifice" of traditional cinematographical scenes. He is pictured with his homemade waterproof housing for underwater photography. Below is his short film, 'Le Vampire' where the real becomes surreal.
Two poems about the passage of time and things that cannot be recaptured. They were bought together in an email conversation.
This is the first thing I have understood: Time is the echo of an axe Within a wood.
- Philip Larkin from 'The North Ship' collection, 1945
The SighLittle head against my shoulder,Shy at first, then somewhat bolder,And up eyed;Till she, with a timid quaver,Yielded to the kiss I gave her;But, she sighed.That there mingled with her feelingSome sad thought she was concealingIt implied.- Not that she had ceased to love me,None on earth she set above me;But she sighed.She could not disguise a passion,Dread, or doubt, in weakest fasionIf she tried:Nothing seemed to hold us sundered,Hearts were victors; so I wonderedWhy she sighed.Afterwards I knew her thoroughly,And she loved me staunchly, truly,Till she died;But she never made confessionWhy, at that first sweet concession,She had sighed.It was in our May, remember;And though now I near NovemberAnd abideTill my appointed change, unfretting,Sometimes I sit half regrettingThat she sighed.- Thomas Hardy
Francis Everitt gave a fascinating talk yesterday at the departmental colloquium about the experimental mission - Gravity Probe B, which completed earlier this year, over forty years after its original conception. The aim of the mission was to verify Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, by investigating two extraordinary phenomena predicted by Einstein: the geodesic effect (warping of spacetime due to the Earth) and the frame dragging effect (the extent to which the earth drags its spacetime round with it). The project is a fantastic story of human vision, tenacity and imagination.
Emmy Noether was a great woman mathematician. She created one of the most beautiful and profound theories showing how our most fundamental conservation laws of energy, angular momentum, linear momentum and charge can be derived from corresponding symmetries. Here is Einstein's memorable and thought provoking tribute, published in the New York Times.
Professor Einstein Writes in Appreciation of a Fellow-Mathematician.
To the Editor of The New York Times:
The efforts of most human-beings are consumed in the struggle for their daily bread, but most of those who are, either through fortune or some special gift, relieved of this struggle are largely absorbed in further improving their worldly lot. Beneath the effort directed toward the accumulation of worldly goods lies all too frequently the illusion that this is the most substantial and desirable end to be achieved; but there is, fortunately, a minority composed of those who recognize early in their lives that the most beautiful and satisfying experiences open to humankind are not derived from the outside, but are bound up with the development of the individual's own feeling, thinking and acting. The genuine artists, investigators and thinkers have always been persons of this kind. However inconspicuously the life of these individuals runs its course, none the less the fruits of their endeavors are the most valuable contributions which one generation can make to its successors.
Within the past few days a distinguished mathematician, Professor Emmy Noether, formerly connected with the University of Göttingen and for the past two years at Bryn Mawr College, died in her fifty-third year. In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began. In the realm of algebra, in which the most gifted mathematicians have been busy for centuries, she discovered methods which have proved of enormous importance in the development of the present-day younger generation of mathematicians. Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. One seeks the most general ideas of operation which will bring together in simple, logical and unified form the largest possible circle of formal relationships. In this effort toward logical beauty spiritual formulas are discovered necessary for the deeper penetration into the laws of nature.
Born in a Jewish family distinguished for the love of learning, Emmy Noether, who, in spite of the efforts of the great Göttingen mathematician, Hilbert, never reached the academic standing due her in her own country, none the less surrounded herself with a group of students and investigators at Göttingen, who have already become distinguished as teachers and investigators. Her unselfish, significant work over a period of many years was rewarded by the new rulers of Germany with a dismissal, which cost her the means of maintaining her simple life and the opportunity to carry on her mathematical studies. Farsighted friends of science in this country were fortunately able to make such arrangements at Bryn Mawr College and at Princeton that she found in America up to the day of her death not only colleagues who esteemed her friendship but grateful pupils whose enthusiasm made her last years the happiest and perhaps the most fruitful of her entire career.
Princeton University, May 1, 1935.
[New York Times May 5, 1935]
Visiting the London Science festival at UCL in early October, I met Gleb Lukicov who had created this beautiful experience for visitors - using a cheap hand held spectrascope they could see the spectral lines emitted by different gases. Each lamp contains a different element (cadmium, mercury, sodium.....) which produces its own unique spectral lines, like a fingerprint. The lines tell us about the atomic structure. Gleb is a young physicist and passionate science communicator.
My study of an Orrery in the Science Museum - image below.
See this paper on making beautiful Meccano models.
The Epilogue says 'In 1773, it was written that ‘Knowledge of the orrery is of first consideration amongst those qualities forming the scholar and the gentleman’. I trust that you, dear reader, have thus been enriched!'
Selected images below: Jovilabe (by Alan Partridge), Solar System (by P. Briggs) and Gear Model:
Below: the earth, sun, moon. Tellarium from the Science Museum.