I am a member of a modelling team of objects called protoplanetary disks where planets can form. We have produced a couple of Public Outreach movies on YouTube. Our reviewers think that we should advertise better our movies and get more hits. So do not hesitate and forward the links to friends, especially to the non-scientists.
Water in Protoplanetary Disks and the Snowline
Transition Disks and Planet Formation
Chemistry in Space
Models in Astronomy
Why are all the planets aligned?
Observing dust grains grow into planets
A rare coincidence occurs between two major astrophysical institutes in Scotland. The Royal Observatory Edinburgh (ROE) and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at St-Andrews University are located in the close vicinity of world-famous old Golf course (http://www.linksgolfstandrews.com/About-Us/Welcome). The ROE is located near the Craigmilar Park Golf Course (http://www.craigmillarpark.co.uk). We can argue that this coincidence can only happen in Scotland :-)
The Craigmilar Golf Course with the Royal Observatory Edinburgh in the background on the top of the hill.
I visited Berlin and Edinburgh recently and I kept comparing them to each other. I like them both with their own unique characters. I wanted to write something more personal about Berlin but I could not. Then I decided to go to one of the cafes in Edinburgh where J. K. Rawlings used to seat hopping to get some inspiration for the blog. I lived a couple of years in Edinburgh. On the other hand the visit of Berlin lasted only a few days and it was the most intensive one I had for a long time. The comparison may appear unfair for Berlin but it has the advantage that I am still “recovering” from the wonderful visit both during the day but also at night.
Berlin is like the prince in a fairy tail. The young princes’ heart was torn between the two parents. He had a sad life. But one day, two parents re-conciliated. The prince’s heart was fill again with joy. He became a wild adolescent. There were no limits. Likewise in the re-united Berlin, everything was possible. Opportunities opened up and people flocked to the town to realize their dreams. Creativity was the passport to success. Many ideas came, conquered, and died.
The prince’s destiny is to be the king and Berlin’s purpose is to be the capital of the reunited Germany with all that entails. The prince has to become a responsible adult and Berlin has to revamp itself into a modern large city. How much of the free spirit that was the essence of the Berlin in the 1990s and the 2000s would remain is not clear to me. Should the street art be “preserved” in contraction to the idea of temporality that makes its charm? Some street art walls are already part of touristic tours, religiously conserved, surrounded by boring modern buildings. Will Berlin morph into a museum town like Edinburgh? Even in France, there are initiatives to curate tags and graffiti (http://www.theverge.com/2013/12/24/5241064/parisian-graffiti-block-preserved-in-digital-3d-ahead-of-demolition).
A ”museum-town” may seem to be frozen in time but can still be stunning. Edinburgh is frozen in the Middle Age for the Old town (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Town,_Edinburgh) and the 18th century for the New town (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Town,_Edinburgh). East Berlin is reminiscent of the communist utilitarian style of the 1960s and 1970s. I am as much impressed by the housing complexes from the RDA-era on the Karl-Marx Allee as the perfect Georgian-style of the New town buildings.
Being a “museum-town” does not mean that the art scene is inactive, or that no innovative, if not architecturally controversial buildings are constructed like the Scottish Parliament , on the contrary. Contemporary art does strive in Edinburgh. The Royal Scottish Academy for Art and Architecture (http://www.royalscottishacademy.org) is a very active charity that promotes young artists. I visited their annual exhibition where a selection of the best works performed by artists living in Scotland is displayed together with scaled architectural models. In addition there are plenty galleries in town. The cultural scene is vibrant with the International festival, the book festival, the international film festival, the Jazz festival, or the Fringe festival, the largest festival of small theatre companies.
Edinburgh is not a town in perpetual “change” like in Berlin where a café, a bar, or a club open as fast as hey close down but it is definitively not a “sleeping” town.
I truly enjoyed the years I have spent in Edinburgh but I also understand how people may be so enthusiastic about Berlin. Next time, I will spend more than a few days in Berlin.
Edinburgh has found a new hero to celebrate. Peter Higgs, who received the Nobel price for his prediction of the particle that provide the mass to matter, has joined Maxwell (and other scientists) in the list of local famous scientists. A portrait of Peter Higgs is displayed in the Scottisch National Gallery in Edinburgh together with a small-scaled bronze of the Maxwell statue on George street. I do like the portrait by Lady Lucinda Mackay commissioned in 1981.
The scientific article in the Physical Review journal is on displayed in the National Museum of Scotland. My friend, who tends to write twenty-page articles, got the shock of his scientific life when he saw that Higgs’ article is less than two-page long!
When I say that I am an astronomer, many people asked if I really work at night. It is true that I observe at night while I am at a telescope. But this happens only at most once per year. Most of the time I sit in front of my computer during standard working hours. Nowadays I work more with computer simulations than with the analysis of observations.
I like to try different aspects of places that I visit. I joined my friends to a club in Berlin (Süß war gesten, Friedrichshain). At some stage people were starting to congratulate me and even offer me drinks. It took me a few minutes to make the connection. Two Japanese DJs were playing in one of the dance floors. Most people were mistaking me with one of them! At least, it seems that I have the look of a DJ for a Berlin nightclub (the reference town!). Now I am thinking that I can have two jobs: a day job as astronomer and a night job as DJ!
At the dawn of human civilization astronomical knowledge brought a lot of prestige. I was in Berlin the last few days to celebrate the Saint-Silvestre and thought that a visit to a few museums was warranted. But even while on vacation I stumble on Astronomy-related Archaeological artefacts or pieces of art.
At the Neues Museum in Berlin next to the “Troy treasures” is displayed the “Berlin Gold Hat”, which testifies to the importance of the priest/shaman in the Bronze Age Germany (1000-800 B.C.). The hat was used to calculate the calendar that was essential in the development of agriculture (e.g., when to plant the seed). The hat is basically a mathematical table. The level of mathematics that the priest needed to compute the days from observations of the lunar phases is pretty high (complex multiplications). Artistically the hat is beautiful, being made of a simple sheet of gold where circles designate days in the lunar and solar calendar system. The choice of gold was probably dictated by the importance of the hat. The accuracy of the marks was preserved over time by using a metal like gold. What strikes me is the form of the hat, a pointed form like the common view of magicians and witches’ hats.