Saturday, January 31, 2009

Visit to Cambridge

I made a quick visit to Cambridge this week to visit the famous Cavendish lab and give this seminar. I saw quite a number of old friends and was introduced to some new people too, and managed to discuss a whole lot of interesting physics in a very short time.

The trip from Oxford to Cambridge is not that far as the crow flies (about 80 miles), but there is no convenient way to get from one to the other. By car, it is a very complicated route and takes two and a half hours. By bus, more than three, and more than one person warned me that it is a bus ride that is sure to make anyone nauseated, because the bus goes around about a hundred roundabouts (known as a traffic circle, or rotary in the united state). By train, which is probably the best way to get from one to the other, you have to go into London Paddington Station, then take the tube to London Kings Cross (*see footnote below), then train to Cambridge. It makes the journey rather a schlep.

While I could wax poetic about some of the physics that is going on at the Cavendish, I think I may have used my quota of physics talk allowed on this blog last week, so instead I will mention something else I learned while I was there:

After a long day of physics, I was invited to High Table dinner at Cambridge’s Pembroke College. Unlike Somerville at Oxford, Pembroke, founded in 1300-something, has a proper High Table where even the students wear gowns to dinner. During this dinner, the old scholar sitting across from me was extremely excited about having recently discovered the first usage of a particular common phrase. He had been reading a text called “The true history and chronicle of King Leir” which was more or less the source for much of the great Bard’s play, and had come across a common expression and was wise enough to realize that this was probably its earliest recorded usage. Being that the scholar sitting across from me was probably about 90 years old, it is rather appropriate that the expression in questions was “One foot in the grave. ” He did admit that it was a bit of an autobiographical discovery.

*Footnote: Last time I was at King’s Cross, I found that there really is a platform nine and three quarters, but I did not manage to find it this time. I hope it is still there.


Ilya said...

Did you have to wear your own robe to the High Table dinner?

Steve said...

No no. Visitors to the college do not wear robes. I think the exception is if you are on an examination committee, then you are declared to be part of the college (at least temporarily) and you wear a robe -- but I'm not certain about that.

Jennie Guilfoyle said...

I believe you have to crash through a solid barrier to reach platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross, no? And I feel pretty confident that Muggles can't do that.

Yes, Lydia and I are deep into Pottermania these days.

Steve said...

No no... there really is a platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross. Really. I saw it there a few years ago. Here is a photo

But then I found this article explaining that it was moved for construction