Displacement activity

Well, I can’t get into my Guardian site, because of some VPN and password mix up. And yet I desperately need to write something to take my mind off the derby this evening. So here I am, back again.

Today I went to St.Asaph business park, to visit OpTIC Technium. This is in some sense an outpost of UCL Physics and Astronomy, in that UCL Prof David Walker leads parts of it and we have PhD students and postdocs there. They do optics, as the name suggests. The picture is one of their big polishing machines, making an octagonal mirror with a radius of curvature of 84m and with a 200 micron asphericity. If I remember the numbers correctly.

OpTIC polisher

You can’t really get the scale from my rubbish snap, but the thing is more than a metre across. It’s high tech precision optical engineering. They are prototyping primary mirrors for the European Southern Observatory’s planned Extremely Large Telescope, a really important project for the future of astronomy. They also work on several industrial and non-astronomy applications of the same technology. It’s an impressive high technology cluster of skills and I’m really glad UCL (along with Glyndwr, who are much more local!) is involved.

Having gone by Virgin trains (Rhyl) and also having been to Manchester and back by the same means, a couple of things struck me.

On the way back I joined a meeting in CERN via video conference on the WiFi. We do bang on about the world wide web being invented at CERN, so I won’t mention that again, but maybe less well know is that WiFi owes quite a bit to astronomy. Radio, not optical, but it seemed appropriate on a trip to visit the industrial application edge of the subject.

Less appropriate were the names of the trains. On the Manchester trip my wife caught “Virgin Dream”. But it broke, so she had to move to “Virgin Knight” (sic, with a “K”). Then the train after, which I had to get, was called “Virgin Invader”. WTF? A little scary. Perhaps deliberately so. But then, who’s afraid of “Virgin Earwolf”?

Anyhow, enough of this. Football approaches.

About Jon Butterworth

UCL Physics prof, works on LHC, writes (books, Cosmic Shambles and elsewhere). Citizen of England, UK, Europe & Nowhere, apparently.
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