Academia · Science

Field Trip!

I’m a physicist. I’ve been working as a physicist full time for four years if you count my PhD (and you should). Physicists typically work in labs and offices, the exact form these labs and offices take varies a bit but they’re pretty much always indoors, except for that glorious period in summer when it’s warm enough to work on your laptop in the park.

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We met some ducks and swans today. They must have been even colder than me.

One thing I’ve never done is field work. I’ve worked in many labs in The Kelvin Building (the building that houses the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow) as well as a couple in other buildings at UoG, a few at University of Jena in Germany where some collaborators work and a few at the ICRR in Tokyo where yet more collaborators work. However, I’ve never done an experiment outdoors. Until yesterday.

With the new area I’m working on I’m never sure how much I’m allowed to say. There are other research groups and organisations who are interested in building something similar and there’s always pressure to be the first and the best. I have to be careful here to not give away trade secrets. So, I apologise for the slightly vague nature of this post. However, I can share (again) this video of my colleague talking about the research:

On Thursday we took the device out of the lab. It’s not the first time this has happened actually. We took it out of the lab a few weeks ago to do an experiment in the Kelvin Building (but not in the lab). Then it went down to London for a tech demo. Then it went to the engineering department at Glasgow for another tech demo. What’s different about this occasion is that we didn’t take it to a lab or a display space, we took it to the Campsies.

For those not from around these parts, the Campsies, or the Campsie Fells are a range of hills in central Scotland. We did this on what was probably the coldest day of this Winter (Autumn? Nah.) so far. When I woke up this morning it was -6 C outside. It got a little warmer as the day wore on, but not so warm that the frost melted where we were.

I wore tights under my jeans and socks over my tights. I wore a tshirt, a shirt, a jumper, a hoodie and a sheepskin coat. I wore leather gloves. I shivered and I ate everything I could see because being cold makes me SO hungry. Fortunately it was an incredibly beautiful day and that made up for it. It was actually a lot of fun.

Our trip was useful and taught us a lot about how we’d like to do things in the future. My favourite thing to do in the future is to make sure my colleague and I don’t forget anything important, leading to the necessary decision that one of us will have to stay outside in the cold with the equipment for an hour while the other rushes back to get it. Guess who drew the short straw?* Mostly, though, we’ll do things in basically the same way, because it seems to work. Hurrah!

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This is what the university looked like this morning in the freezing fog as the sun came up. It didn’t fully lift until about 11 am. Pretty, though.

On the other hand, there’s still a bunch more we need to know. Over the next 6 months or so I expect that there will be a lot more experiments to be done, many of them outdoors and quite likely on hills in Scotland. It might get chilly sometimes but it sure beats sitting behind a desk.

*To be fair, there were no straws – I’m just the one who can’t drive.

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