Monthly Archives: July 2014

Going over galaxies with a fine-toothed comb

Last week I gave the July lecture at Macclesfield Astronomical Society at the village hall in Goostrey.  I’ve been a member of the society since I was eleven, and it still feels strange to be giving lectures there, rather than listening to other people speak!  The talk I gave on Tuesday is one I wrote some time ago, so it needed some updating to reflect the current state-of-the-art, and a bit more in the way of introductory material to make it a full-length public lecture.  The feedback I’ve had suggests that I pitched it about right, which is always reassuring!

The title of the lecture is “Going over galaxies with a fine-toothed comb”, and describes the current efforts to map nearby galaxies in astonishing detail using a technique called wide-field very long baseline interferometry – a bit of a mouthful however you look at it.  There’s a brief description over on my talks page, but if you want the full story then you’ll just have to book me for an event!

After the lecture someone asked how I manage to remember the whole script for a talk like that.  It got me thinking about how my lectures have developed over the years.  When I started doing outreach and public talks (over ten years ago now) I was exceedingly nervous and would write a script to help me remember everything I wanted to say.  As I quickly discovered, the trouble with a script is: 1) it’s tempting to read from it, which is very boring for the audience, and 2) you still forget to say things, and then get flustered when you lose your place!  So, now I don’t use a script, and I haven’t done for a long time.

The next logical question is then, how do I remember what I’m going to say?  Simple: I don’t.  I design my slides so that they tell a story in pictures.  Then all I have to do is tell the story as I step through the pictures.  The advantage of this is that I don’t need to practise – if I have to give a talk I haven’t done for years, I can just stand up and give it, without having to re-learn a script first.  I find it makes my talks more spontaneous and, hopefully, more engaging for the audience.

I have a few more bookings this year, at astronomy societies, an SPA weekend event for beginners, and he odd public SciBar, so if you would like to come and hear some of my stories head over to my events page.

New blog – finally.

It’s taken me a while to get around to it, but I finally installed wordpress on here.  Not that the old marzipan software wasn’t pretty good, but the ridiculous amount of comment spam it was getting did start causing problems.  So, new blog!

The first post is a quick advert for tonight’s lecture: I’m speaking at Macclesfield Astronomical Society, about how we are now able to map areas the size of the full Moon at milli-arcsecond resolution.  (Now that wont mean a lot to most people so, to put it in context, that’s about 50 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope!)  This relatively new technique has opened up the sky to high-resolution surveys at radio frequencies, allowing us to probe nearby galaxies in exquisite detail, and to investigate large populations of much more distant objects.  Right now, this technique generally requires special software, large amounts of disk space, and plenty of processing time, but as computers get ever more powerful and we look towards the Square Kilometre Array with great anticipation, these techniques will become more and more commonplace.  It’s an exciting time to be in radio astronomy.