Sunday, November 1, 2009

Andy, Andrew, and Saint Andrews

My two friends Andy McKenzie and Andrew Green used to be the only two people I knew in the Physics department at the University of Saint Andrews. I postulated that your name had to be Andrew to work there. This postulate was eventually disproven when they hired Chris Hooley.

This week I visited Saint Andrews for only a day, and had a terrific time while there. (Sadly, Chris, who is endlessly entertaining (See here), was not around during my visit).

When I arrived in Saint Andrews, I met up with Andrew Green for a pint of Deuchers (which is a very fine Scottish beer) and a sushi dinner. Then we went to a bar where there was a jazz jam session. Andrew is a very accomplished jazz trombonist, and over the years (I hesitate to say how many years we have been friends now) we have frequently talked about our common interest in jazz. I haven’t played in a quite a few years; and I believe somewhere along the line Andrew also fell out of practice for a bit, but unlike me, he did manage to start up again (with some effort) and now plays quite well. I was really looking forward to hearing him play for the first time. He even suggested I bring my horn, but I couldn’t bear to play in public without at least a few months of woodshedding to get the chops back in order … maybe this will be a project for the future. Anyway, the Saint Andrews jam session seemed like a very nice group of musicians. People subbed in and out very generously, and nicely accepted players of all levels. Many of the players were pretty good, and some were extremely good. One or two were less than good (to put it generously), but no one seemed to mind much. Rather than making me cringe, it made me feel that I should have jumped in and played --- chops or no. The bar was crowded and most people were only half listening anyway, so the occasional painful moments passed without notice.

Andrew did a super “Stolen Moments” (To quote him, “That tune works really well on trombone”). His playing was extremely clean (Even some very good trombonists fall short on this score), and his improvisation on this tune was very smooth. I was suitably impressed. The rhythm section was led by an ancient, and rather portly, pianist who was great. The drums and bass were also quite good. The guitarist -- a retired GP who looked like he was about to keel over at any moment -- also managed to hold his own. Andrew opted out of most of the tunes of the evening to give others a chance to play.

I’m sure the jam session would have gone late into the evening, but for the fact that by decree of the neighbors music must stop in that bar at 11:30. Perhaps this was just as well, as I had had a long day already – having been awake way too early to give all my tutorials in the morning at Oxford before heading to Heathrow.


The next morning, after my colloquium (which went very well), I chatted physics with three very interesting sets of people for the rest of the day:

First, Andrew Green – I took the opportunity to tell him all about this topic which I am pretty excited about these days. He gave last week’s condensed matter theory forum talk at Oxford (which was excellent), so I had already heard recently about his work.

Second, Ulf Leonhardt: I had never met him before, but he seems to be doing some really interesting stuff. Among other things, he was one of the guys who developed the recently publicized idea of the invisibility cloak (yes,that is for real).

Third, Andy McKenzie and his research group. Andy is a terrific experimentalist who studies many interesting exotic materials systems – including Sr2RuO4 which is one of the materials that “topological” people like me are most interested in these days.

I wish I had had more time to chat with everyone – but soon enough it was time to rush back to the airport. Maybe I’ll go back up there for another visit soon.

PS: This is my 100th blog posting!

No comments: