Relevant and resonant extracts from art, science and life and the place where patterns begin to emerge. 


Emmy Noether - Einstein's appreciation

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.

Emmy Noether

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]

The New York Times printed a recent article reminding us of this forgotten mathematician. Click on the image to read (and press <skip ad>).


Heinz Mack

I discovered Heinz Mack's work in the Belfast Museum.  He was part of the Zero Group that included Jean Tingueley.  Amongst other things his work explores light.
Heinz Mack Folium Argentum 1968. Etched/engraved aluminum sheet, 39-1/2 x 51-1/2 inches

Seeing into the atom

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.


'Jai guru deva om' (glory to the shining remover of darkness)


The unified photon spectrum

Russell Turner 1989, Laganch 1995, Henry 2002

Andrew Jaffe presented this chart in his guest lecture today - it shows the entire light energy density in the universe.  Over 99% of this light energy is from the big bang.  

In his song 'All Across the Universe', John Lennon uses the Sanskrit phrase: "Jai guru deva om" which approximates as "glory to the shining remover of darkness". There are long held and well recorded empathies between buddhism and modern physics.  


All Across the Universe - John Lennon

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,

They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe

Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,

Possessing and caressing me.

Jai guru de va om

Nothing's gonna change my world,

Nothing's gonna change my world.


Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,

That call me on and on across the universe,

Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they

Tumble blindly as they make their way

Across the universe

Jai guru de va om

Nothing's gonna change my world,

Nothing's gonna change my world.


Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing

Through my open views inviting and inciting me

Limitless undying love which shines around me like a

Million suns, it calls me on and on

Across the universe

Jai guru de va om

Nothing's gonna change my world,

Nothing's gonna change my world.


Octagonal room

More views from the forgotten octagonal room on the top of Physics. 


Hydrogen in the early universe

The whiteboard after a conversation with cosmologist JP about the story of hydrogen in the early universe and what we might learn from studying the 21cm electromagnetic wave emitted due to the electron spin flip transition.


Applied Astronomy - Esther B. Tiffany


Robert Delaunay

Cover of a Robert Delaunay catalogue.


Blackett Laboratory - artwork by John Skeaping

Above the main doorway into the Imperial College Physics building is a relief carving in a piece of Irish black limestone showing imagery emblematic of the status of physics around fifty years ago. It was made in the late 50's by Prof John Skeaping of the RCA.  There is no information about this work on the web, though there are bits and pieces about John whose artworks are also held by the Tate Museum.

We have decoded the image here.

This great image of the orginal design was kindly supplied by Malcolm Hudson


Explaining Relativity - Rebecca Elson

Forget the clatter of ballistics,
The monologue of falling stones,
The sharp vectors
And the stiff numbered grids.
It's so much more a thing of pliancy, persuasion,
Where space might cup itself around a planet
Like your palm around a stone,
Where you, yourself the planet,
Caught up in some geodesic dream,
Might wake to feel it enfold your weight
And know there is, in fact, no falling.
It is this, and the existence of limits.
(received from an astrophysicist this morning)



Poem Rocket - Ginsberg

Extracts from 'Poem Rocket'

This is my rocket my personal rocket I send up my message
Someone to hear me there
My immortality
without steel or cobalt basalt or diamond gold or mercurial fire
without passports filing cabinets bits of paper warheads
without myself finally
pure thought
message all and everywhere the same
I send up my rocket to land on whatever planet awaits it
preferably religious sweet planets no money
fourth dimensional planets where Death shows movies
plants speak (courteously) of ancient physics and poetry itself is manufactured by the trees
the final Planet where the Great Brain of the Universe sits waiting for a poem to land in His Golden pocket
joining the other notes mash-notes love-sighs complaints-musical shrieks of despair and the million unutterable thoughts of frogs

The moon over Imperial College and a brilliantly lit planet.....


Mystery patterns

There is a relief carving in slate above the doorway to the physics department.  It is a montage of symbols, imagery and equations from physics.  In the centre is this pattern....but, what is it?  

The full sculpture is decoded here and this specific emblem is discussed here.


Models of light

This morning's visit to the MSc optics lab with Peter Torok revealed this fantastic model for visualising the effect of a lense on light.  Regard the lens positioned perpendicular to surface, to the left of the model. The highest peak is the focal point.  These days, students usually see this rendered in 3-d on computer.

above - move optics lab

above - a model of the surface of light waves made in 1876, based on Fresnel's work in the 1820's on crystal optics. The surface represents a wave front of light radiating from a point in a crystal: Two shells touch each other in four places. (displayed in the Science Museum).

below - my shadow, south ken wall


Jenny Moncur

Jenny Moncur created this flooring design in linoleum for the ICA in 1987.  Every landing has a different pattern.


Durer and geometry

It's 1525 and Durer authors this treatise on geometry.

Durer shows how to cut a cone to obtain a parabola and on the right how light is reflected from a plane

surface and from a surface whose cross section is a parabola.

See - the Science Museum section on mathematics.


Beautiful surface

Found in the mathematics section of the Science Museum, this model was used in the late ninteenth century to illustrate lectures on equations.  It is the surface for: Z=3a(x2-y2)-(x3+y3)

The blue line is a straight line, the green lines are ellipses, the red lines are parabolas, the black and yellow lines - cubic equations and the dark red line - a simple contour line.

Models like this inspired artists like Henry Moore and Max Ernst.



Suspended lion face

Spilling at the centre

Of an unfurnished sky

How still you stand,

And how unaided

Single stalkless flower

You pour unrecompensed.


The eye sees you

Simplified by distance

Into an origin,

Your petalled head of flames

Continuously exploding.

Heat is the echo of your



Coined there among

Lonely horizontals

You exist openly.

Our needs hourly

Climb and return like angels.

Unclosing like a hand,

You give for ever.

Philip Larkin 

- from High Windows


Feynman diagrams - 6 photon scattering, 120 possible sequences


any-angled light

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.
Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;
My litany would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,
And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

-- Philip Larkin

Sent by a physicist friend this morning for its beautiful imagery about light in the last verse.