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THE OCKHAM LECTURE
The Merton College Physics Lecture


occam
Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate
                                        
The Merton College Physics Lecture (the Ockham, or Occam, Lecture, so named in honour of one of the greatest, if unattested [1], alumni of the College and of his philosophical principle of intellectual discipline) started in 2009 and is held once a term. It is organised by the physics tutors of the College to promote both intellectual curiosity and social cohesion of the Merton Physics community. Attendance is by invitation. All Merton physicists (and sympathisers!) belonging to the three Common Rooms (JCR, MCR and SCR) are invited, as are the Old Members. Their guests will also be accommodated, space permitting.

Those who are planning (or aspiring) to attend are asked to email A. Schekochihin and simultaneously to sign up for dinner in Hall in the usual manner. Also please email him if you wish to nominate a speaker for one of the future Lectures.

The Ockham (Occam) Lecture Facebook page is here. It contains photos from previous events, announcements, sundry postings etc., all completely unofficial but warmly encouraged. If you join the Facebook group, in order to receive automatic announcements in future you will need to become a friend of William Ockham (this is due to Facebook imposing restrictions on group invitations). You can also confirm your attendance via Facebook.

24th Lecture
Trinity
2017
Professor David Charlton FRS
Professor of Particle Physics,
   School of Physics and Astronomy,
   University of Birmingham
Spokesman (2013-2016),
   ATLAS Collaboration, CERN
webpage
wikipedia

Lecturer introduced by Prof Alan Barr
Beyond the Higgs Discovery: The Coming of Age of ATLAS and the CERN LHC
Following the early discovery of the 125 GeV Higgs boson by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in 2012, we are still only just starting to explore the scalar sector of the Standard Model. The LHC has been off for two of the last four years for the repairs needed to achieve close to the full collision energy. During the barnstorming physics run in 2016, the LHC achieved its design luminosity, and the physics programme is now properly underway.  In addition to a deeper elaboration of the Higgs sector, a huge range of measurements, and searches for new physics, are in progress, and will continue for two more decades as the data sample increases a couple more (decimal) orders of magnitude. This lecture will review the current status of the LHC and ATLAS, and look at some challenges on the road ahead.
Monday
May 15
(week IV)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall
After dinner
all are welcome
to the MCR

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23rd Lecture
Hilary
2017
Professor Charles W. Clark
Visiting Scholar,
   Merton College
Fellow,
   Physical Measurement Laboratory,
   National Institute of Standards and Technology, USA
Fellow and Adjunct Professor,
   Joint Quantum Institute,
   NIST and University of Maryland, College Park, USA
webpage

Lecturer introduced by Prof Ian Walmsley FRS
Twisting the Neutron Wavefunction
Wave motions in nature were known to the ancients, and their mathematical expression in physics today is essentially the same as that first provided by d'Alembert and Euler in the mid-18th century. Yet it was only in the early 1990s that physicists managed to control a basic property of light waves: their capability of swirling around their own axis of propagation. During the past decade such techniques of control have also been developed for quantum particles: atoms, electrons and neutrons. I will present a simple description of these phenomena, emphasising the most basic aspects of wave and quantum particle motion. Neutron interferometry offers a poignant perspective on wave-particle duality: at the time one neutron is detected, the next neutron has not yet even been born. Here, indeed, each neutron "then only interferes with itself." Yet, using macroscopically-machined objects, we are able to twist neutron deBroglie waves with sub-nanometer wavelengths.
Monday
February 27
(week VII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall
After dinner
all are welcome
to the MCR

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22nd Lecture
Michaelmas
2016
Juliet Davenport OBE
Merton College (1986)
CEO, Good Energy
webpage
profile

Lecturer introduced by the Warden, Sir Martin Taylor FRS

From High-Carbon Baby to Low-Carbon Boardroom
The UK is in the midst of an energy revolution. From software to semiconductors, sensors, solar energy and storage: digitisation, decentralisation and flexibility will be at the heart of a future energy network. This transformation is being shaped in part by a better understanding of the interrelationship between complex weather systems, climate influence and society. In this lecture, I will share with you how my physics background shaped my perception of this relationship. It will explore the path I took from my inspiring undergraduate studies here at Merton, my influences and turning points, to how I ended up running the UK's first renewable electricity supply business---a business built around my passion for developing a sustainable and responsible reaction to our changing climate. This journey through the business world has been challenging and complex, with widespread opportunities to make a noticeable difference in the direction of climate and environment research and policy, and generate much needed change in the energy sector.
Tuesday,
November 22
(week VII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall
After dinner
all are welcome
to the College Bar

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21st Lecture
Trinity
2016
Professor Bill Dorland
Merton SCR
Visiting Professor of Theoretical Physics,
   University of Oxford
Professor of Physics,
Director of the Honors College (till 2015),
   University of Maryland, College Park, USA
Editor, Journal of Plasma Physics
webpage
profile

Lecturer introduced by Prof Alexander Schekochihin
Nuclear Forensics
National security professionals in the United States worry about many threats, real and imagined. In this lecture, I will focus on questions surrounding the threat of a nuclear detonation by an unidentified attacker. How can a country best protect itself against nuclear terrorism? What are the technical limits of attribution after the fact? Deterrence has long been the central pillar of nuclear defence. How would deterrence work against non-state actors? What does deterrence theory say about foes who have no capacity to deliver a nuclear warhead by conventional means? Recently, I worked on these questions with a panel of technical experts. I will present some of our more interesting findings, together with a non-classified (because I do not have security clearance!) survey of the technical issues that underlie each of these questions. If you plan to attend, here is a homework problem, to be thought about and talked about with your friends before you arrive. After the fall of the Soviet Union, there were suddenly many potentially poorly guarded nuclear weapons in the world. Perhaps some are unaccounted for even today. Let us stipulate that missing Soviet weapons presently comprise the greatest nuclear threat to Western democracies. If you were the British Prime Minister, what would you do to protect London from this particular threat?
Monday,
May 2
(week II)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall
After dinner
all are welcome
to the MCR

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20th Lecture
Hilary
2016
Professor Dr Per Helander
Visiting Research Fellow,
   Merton College
Head of Stellarator Theory Division,
   Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics,
   Greifswald, Germany
webpage
Wendelstein 7-X wikipedia page
W7X first plasma

Lecturer introduced by Prof Steven Cowley FRS
Fusion Energy with a Twist
According to Ampere's law, curl B = J, an electric current produces rotation of magnetic field lines. For instance, if a current is made to flow along a straight magnetic field, it acts to twist the field lines into helices. In 1951, Lyman Spitzer, a legendary Princeton astrophysicist, discovered that magnetic field lines may actually wind around each other even if J=0. Most physicists are astonished by this little-known result, which was later rediscovered in other guises, such as the "Berry phase" in quantum mechanics. Spitzer proposed to use it as a key to achieve fusion energy in the laboratory, where it provides the only practicable way to insulate a 100-million-degree plasma from the surroundings in steady state. His idea is now put to a billion-euro test by the Max Planck Society in the Wendelstein 7-X experiment, which has just started operation. In this lecture, I will give a simple account of Spitzer's insight and describe this latest experiment in the worldwide quest for fusion energy.
Monday,
March 7
(week VIII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall
After dinner
all are welcome
to the MCR

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19th Lecture
Michaelmas
2015
Jonathan Flint CBE FREng
CEO, Oxford Instruments plc
webpage
wikipedia

Lecturer introduced by Prof Alan Barr
Physics in the City
Tales from a decade of trying to explain how physics can be applied to generate wealth and build a better society.
Breakthroughs in Physics form the foundation of much of the world’s economy today. Oxford Instruments, the first commercial spin out from the University of Oxford, has, over 50 years, provided researchers and industrialists with the scientific tools to enable applied research and facilitate efficient production using advanced technologies that have been developed from that research. As a publicly listed company on the London Stock Market, Oxford Instruments has access to funds from the capital markets and is owned by its shareholders. However, most of its shareholders are not scientists and many City investors struggle with understanding basic scientific principles. If you should “only invest in what you understand,” why should people invest in complex-technology companies? How far should you simplify science for the non-experts and still expect them to make informed decisions? Is a little understanding better than none? Over the past ten years as Chief Executive of Oxford Instruments, a big part of my role has been to explain how I believe scientific advances will drive societal change and yield sound investment opportunities. I will give examples of some the technological instruments designed and manufactured by Oxford Instruments, and how I have endeavoured to explain them, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.
Monday,
November 30
(week VIII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall
After dinner
all are welcome
to the MCR

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18th Lecture
Trinity
2015
Professor Cary Forest
Visiting Research Fellow,
   Merton College
Professor of Physics,
   University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA
webpage
Madison Plasma Dynamo Experiment

Lecturer introduced by Prof Steven Cowley FRS
Magnetised Universe in a Plasma Lab
Everywhere we look in the Universe, we see turbulent, magnetised plasma. Magnetic fields not only provide a means of observing this plasma (through synchrotron emission detected by radio telescopes) but also play a fundamental role in a number of dramatic phenomena throughout the cosmos, such as accretion onto black holes and generation of radio jets on scales of hundreds of times the size of galaxies, cosmic-ray acceleration, gamma-ray bursts from magnetars and massive solar bursts observed from both our Sun and other stars. Plasma physics governs these processes. In my lab, I build plasma devices that can mimic, in some ways, astrophysical processes so that we can study them, in situ, as physicists, rather than simply observing. Advances in plasma confinement and heating technology, and diagnostic techniques for measuring the properties of these plasmas (many of which have been developed in the pursuit of nuclear fusion as an energy source), are now being used in the rapidly developing field of laboratory plasma astrophysics. I will describe three experiments we have built and are now operating. The first addresses the self-generation of magnetic field by plasma flow, a process known as the plasma dynamo. The second is focused on understanding how magnetic fields catalyse accretion of matter onto central objects such as black holes or protostellar/protoplanetary disks. The third investigates the phenomenon of "magnetic reconnection," which allows immense amounts of magnetic energy to be released explosively (as happens in the solar flares on in gamma-ray bursts from magnetars).
Wednesday,
May 6
(week II)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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17th Lecture
Hilary
2015
Professor Dr Yuri Manin
Professor Emeritus,
   Max Planck Institute for Mathematics, Bonn, Germany
Board of Trustees Professor Emeritus,
   Northwestern University, Evanston, USA
Principal Researcher,
   Steklov Mathematical Institute,
   Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
webpage
wikipedia
an interview

Lecturer introduced by Prof Minhyong Kim
Physics in the World of Ideas: Complexity as Energy
In the 1930's, George Kinsley Zipf discovered an empirical statistical law that later proved to be remarkably universal. Consider a corpus of texts in a given language, make the list of all words that occur in them and the number of occurences. Range the words in the order of diminishing frequencies. Define the Zipf rank of the word as its number in this ordering. Then Zipf's Law says: "Frequency is inversely proportional to the rank". Zipf himself suggested that that this law must follow from the principle of "minimisation of effort" by the brain. However, the nature of this effort and its measure remained mysterious. In my lecture, I will argue that Zipf's effort needed to produce a word (say, name of the number) must be measured by the celebrated "Kolmogorov complexity": the length of the shortest Turing program (input) needed to produce this word/name/combinatorial object/etc. as its output. I will describe basic properties of the complexity (some of them rather counterintuitive) and one more situation from the theory of error-correcting codes, where Kolmogorov complexity again plays the role of "energy in the world of ideas."
Thursday,
March 5
(week VII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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16th Lecture
Michaelmas
2014
Dr Aldo Faisal
Senior Lecturer in Neurotechnology,
   Department of Bioengineering
   and Department of Computing,
   Imperial College London
Associated Investigator,
   MRC Clinical Sciences Centre
webpage
lab webpage
TEDx talk

Lecturer introduced by Prof Alex Schekochihin
Breaking into Your Brain
My group's research questions are centred on a basic characteristic of biological systems: noise, uncertainty or variability in behaviour. Variability can be observed across many levels of biological behaviour: from the movements of our limbs, the responses of neurons in our brain, to the interaction of biomolecules. Such variability is emerging as a key ingredient in understanding biological principles (Faisal, Selen & Wolpert 2008, Nature Rev Neurosci 9, 292) and yet lacks adequate quantitative and computational methods for description and analysis. Crucially, we find that biological and behavioural variability contains important information that our brain and our technology can make use of (instead of just averaging it away): the brain knows about variability and uncertainty and it is linked to its own computations. Therefore, we use and develop statistical machine learning techniques, to predict behaviour and analyse data. I will show a number of recent biological findings and novel technology we developed towards a statistical-physics-like theory of brain function.
Monday,
October 27
(week III)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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15th Lecture
Trinity
2014
Professor Paul Chaikin
Silver Professor of Physics,
   Center for Soft Condensed Matter Research,
   New York University
Member of the National Academy of Science, USA
webpage
lab webpage

Lecturer introduced by Prof Julia Yeomans FRS
Some Small Steps Toward Artificial Life
The properties we often associate with living things are motility, metabolism, self-replication and evolution. According to Richard Feynman: “What I can’t create, I don’t understand”. We thought we’d give it a shot ---understanding life---and in the process we’ve made two different systems, one that exhibits both autonomous motility and metabolism and another which is the first artificial system that can replicate arbitrarily designed motifs. The first system, artificial swimmers, provides insight into many natural phenomena such as a flocking of birds and schooling of fish. The second system uses diurnal cycles of temperature and light and at present is doubling each cycle, growing exponentially. It provides a new way of producing many, many copies of nanoscale devices and may give insights into the origin of conventional life on earth.  We even have initiated an elementary form of evolution.
Wednesday,
May 21
(week IV)
Mure Room
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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14th Lecture
Hilary
2014
Alan Bond
Managing Director and Chief Engineer,
   Reactor Engines Ltd, UK
webpage
webpage (interview)
wikipedia

Lecturer introduced by Prof Steven Cowley
Beyond the Jet Engine
Continuous research in the UK over the past three decades has now reached the stage where a hybrid air breathing and rocket engine capable of powering an aircraft single stage to orbit and returning it for reuse is possible. The central technologies for this have been demonstrated by Reaction Engines in an industrial environment and the programme has now entered a critical hardware development phase. The SKYLON spaceplane with its SABRE engines will transform access to space by making it economic, reliable and user friendly with on-demand launch capability. In short, the spaceship of the 1950s comics is almost with us. This presentation will cover the principles of the vehicle and its engines, the development programme to realise it and the implications for both the exploration and the exploitation of space for the benefit of humanity back home.
Monday,
March 3
(week VII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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13th Lecture
Michaelmas
2013
Professor Frans Pretorius
Professor of Physics,
   Princeton University
Distinguished Research Chair,
   Perimeter Institute
Simons Investigator
webpage

Lecturer introduced by Prof James Binney FRS
Black Holes and Fundamental Physics
Black holes are perhaps the most remarkable prediction of Einstein's theory of general relativity. They are one-way membranes in the fabric of space and time, hiding singularities that exert infinitely strong tidal forces. I will begin by giving a brief history of the development of our theoretical understanding of black holes, and the astronomical discoveries that lead to the realisation that they likely exist in the universe and play an important role in many astrophysical processes. As if this were not enough, over the past few years theoretical advances inspired by string theory are suggesting that general relativity, and in particular black holes "know" much more about fundamental physics that just gravity. As hinted at by earlier discoveries of black hole mechanics and Hawking radiation, black holes have thermodynamic properties. Perturbations of horizons are hydrodynamic in nature, even into the non-linear regime where they can exhibit instabilities and turbulent behaviour reminiscent of fluid flows. Fluctuations of black hole geometries can, by holographic projection, be interpreted as describing states of certain quantum field theories. These same setups can be engineered to come up with model systems exhibiting properties of condensed matter systems, such as superconductors. I do not know whether there are deeper physical or philosophical reasons for these connections, though these examples hint that black holes could be become a cornerstone of 21st century physics.
Monday,
December 2
(week VIII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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12th Lecture
Trinity
2013
The 1st Ockham Debate
Professor Simon Saunders
Professor of Philosophy of Physics,
   University of Oxford
Fellow of Linacre College, Oxford
webpage
wikipedia
vs.
Professor James Binney FRS
Fellow of the College
Professor of Physics,
Director, Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics,
   University of Oxford
webpage
wikipedia

Debate moderated by Dr Alan Barr and Dr Ralf Bader
The Problem of Quantum Measurement
Quantum mechanics is part deterministic, part probabilistic. According to the "standard" quantum theory, states evolve with certainty between measurements, but "collapse" randomly when we measure them. But what is measurement? And why does it (appear to) enjoy a privileged position in the theory? The measurement problem has been one of the hottest topics in physics ever since quantum theory was proposed and, despite much progress, remains so today. This Occam meeting will for the first time offer the different perspectives of not one but two expert speakers. Prof Saunders is a leading proponent of the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics, which argues that the Universe we see it is emergent, and constantly subject to "splitting" including during measurements. Prof Binney advocates an alternative programme, suggesting that we should gain insight into measurement by better understanding the dynamics of the system's interactions with the measuring apparatus. We anticipate a lively debate.
Monday,
May 13
(week IV)
TS Eliot LT
16:45 Reception
17:15 Debate
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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11th Lecture
Hilary
2013
Dr Anthony Hansen
Merton College (1969)
President, Magee Scientific Corporation,
   Berkeley, California
webpage
(another webpage)
Greetings from the South Pole (2.02.13)

Lecturer introduced by Prof Michael Baker
From Excitons to Soot: the Unexpected Outcome of a Physics Education
After a ‘traditional’ Ph.D. in solid-state physics, random chance led me to a newly-formed research group studying – and defining – the properties of the “soot particle.” Neither boson nor lepton, this pollutant, once considered an obsolete relic of the Coal Age, turns out to be the number-2 driver of global climate change; the number-1 driver of Arctic and Himalayan melting; and the number-1 indicator of the adverse health effects of combustion exhaust.  In addition to killing babies and submerging Florida, black particles also soil artwork, can trace the penetrability of buildings to biological attack, and can defeat directed-energy laser weapons.  The development of real-time techniques to measure ‘Black Carbon’ led to a great increase in research in these areas; to a niche business; and to field projects from Siberia to Calcutta to the South Pole.  This talk will use the above points as illustrations of how the principles of a Physics education can be applied to a “dirt” problem, with real-world consequences.
Monday,
February 25
(week VII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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10th Lecture
Michaelmas 2012
Professor Sir John Beddington CMG FRS
Merton SCR
Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Goverment
Professor of Applied Population Biology,
   Imperial College London
webpage
wikipedia

Lecturer introduced by Prof Steven Cowley
Dealing with Risks and Emergencies in Government
Risk in government is pervasive. In the short term, managing emerging crises, natural or terrorist driven, involves risk assessment and dealing with an emergency in real time. At a longer time scale, risk needs to be assessed in areas including technological change, emerging diseases of humans, animals and plants and the long-term emerging issues of climate change or food, water and energy security.
Monday,
November 26
(week VIII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
18:30 Q&A
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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9th Lecture
Trinity
2012
Professor Frank Arntzenius
Professor of Philosophy,
   University of Oxford
Sir Peter Strawson Fellow in Philosophy,
   University College, Oxford
webpage

Lecturer introduced by Prof Sir Ralph Wedgwood
Is the World Geometric or Algebraic?
The Ancient Greeks regarded geometry and algebra as two quite separate mathematical subjects. It was principally Fermat and Descartes who combined the two into coordinate-geometry, which since then has played an enormous role in the development of physics. I will discuss to what extent one should think that the physical structure of the world is geometric or algebraic.
Monday,
May 21
(week V)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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8th Lecture
  Hilary
2012
Professor Katherine Blundell
Professor of Astrophysics,
University Research Fellow of the Royal Society,
   University of Oxford
Senior Research Fellow, St John's College, Oxford
webpage

Lecturer introduced by Prof James Binney FRS
Black Holes and Spin Offs

Monday,
January 23
(week II)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in
Hall

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7th Lecture
Michaelmas
2011
Professor Mark Newman
Merton College (1985)
Paul Dirac Collegiate Professor of Physics,
   University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
webpage
wikipedia

Lecturer introduced by Prof James Binney FRS
Physics in Unexpected Places: What Physics Has to Say About Social Networks, Cartography, and Space Aliens
Many ideas and techniques developed by physicists turn out to have applications outside the traditional realm of physics. In recent years physicists have made major contributions in computer science, economics, biology, and other fields. In this talk I will describe a number of projects I have worked on that fall in the general area known as "complex systems", including work on computer models of social networks, new methods for making maps based on the physics of diffusion, and a simple physical proof that could explain why we've never heard from any extraterrestrials---and why we never will.
Sunday,
October 16
(week I)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in
Savile Room
(separate sign up!)

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6th Lecture
  Trinity
2011
Professor Sir Anthony Leggett FRS
Merton College (1958)
Honorary Fellow of the College
John and Catherine MacArthur Professor and Center for Advanced Study Professor of Physics,
   University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Nobel Prize (2003)
webpage
wikipedia

Lecturer introduced by Prof Michael Baker
Why Can't Time Run Backwards?
We can all tell when a movie of some everyday event, such as a kettle boiling or a glass shattering is run backwards. Similarly, we all feel that we can remember the past and affect the future, not vice versa. So there is a very clear "arrow" (direction) of time built into our interpretation of our everyday experience. Yet the fundamental microscopic laws of physics, be they classical or quantum-mechanical, look exactly the same if the direction of time is reversed. So what is the origin of the "arrow" of time? This is one of the deepest questions in physics; I will review some relevant considerations, but do not pretend to give a complete answer.
Friday,
May 6
(week I)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in Hall

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5th Lecture
  Hilary
2011
Professor Persis Drell
Director,
   SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (Stanford)
webpage
wikipedia

Lecturer introduced by Prof Andrea Cavalleri
The Turn On of LCLS: The X-Ray Free-Electron Laser at SLAC
On April 10, 2009, the world’s first hard X-ray free-electron laser was brought to lasing. Producing an X-ray beam with more than a billion times higher peak brightness than the most powerful existing synchrotron sources, it marked the beginning of a new era of science. The Linac Coherent Light Source’s (LCLS) pulses arrive at a rate of 60-120 Hz in an energy range from 480 eV to 10 keV, with pulse lengths as short as a few to about 300 femtoseconds. Since October 2009, users have been performing experiments at the LCLS. This talk will describe the LCLS and its unique new capabilities, followed by some examples of the first experiments, and finish with an outlook of future plans in the short as well as long term.
Monday,
March 7
(week VIII)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in Hall

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4th Lecture
  Michaelmas
2010
Professor Dr Anton Zeilinger
Professor of Experimental Physics,
   University of Vienna
Scientific Director,
   Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information,
   Austrian Academy of Sciences
Wolf Prize (2010)
webpage
wikipedia
facebook

Lecturer introduced by Prof Artur Ekert
Quantum Games and Free Will
A quantum magician can play tricks that are completely impossible for any classical magician. For example, two dice rolled at an arbitrary distance will show the same number, or balls hidden under a cup can show colors impossible in any classical scenario. These are just two examples of consequences of the challenges to classical reality in the quantum world. I will show in a very instructive way how such features and others follow from the basic features of quantum physics and what they teach us about reality and free will.
Monday,
November 15
(week VI)
TS Eliot LT
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in Hall

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3rd Lecture
Trinity
2010

Professor Artur Ekert
Fellow of the College
Professor of Quantum Physics,
   Mathematical Institute,
University of Oxford
Lee Kong Chian Centennial Professor,
   National University of Singapore
Director, Centre for Quantum Technologies
webpage
wikipedia
facebook

Lecturer introduced by Dr Joe Fitzsimmons
Less Reality, More Security
Human desire to communicate secretly is at least as old as writing itself and goes back to the beginnings of our civilisation. Over the centuries many ingenious methods of secret communication have been developed, only to be matched by the ingenuity of code-breakers. As the result, the quest for a perfect, unbreakable, cipher, had been declared a futile pursuit. That is, until recently! Surprisingly, a combination of quantum physics and cryptography promises to dash the hopes of would-be eavesdroppers, perhaps for good. Code-makers, it seems, may have beaten code-breakers at last. In my talk I will focus on the quest for perfect secrecy. I will describe how people tried to protect communication in the past, how it is done today, and I will speculate how it may be done in the future. Physics plays increasingly more important role in this field simply because the process of sending and storing of information is always carried out by physical means. In particular, eavesdropping can be viewed as a measurement on a physical object, in this case the carrier of the information. What an eavesdropper can measure, and how, depends exclusively on the laws of physics. I will explain how, using quantum phenomena, physicists managed to design and to implement a system which is regarded to be unbreakable. Moreover, recent research shows that security of communication can be guaranteed by peculiar "non-local" correlations, no matter whether they are of quantum origin or not. Bell’s inequality alone makes seemingly insane scenario possible---devices of unknown or dubious provenance, even those that are manufactured by our enemies, can be safely used for secure communication!  I will provide a brief overview of the intriguing connections between Bell's inequality and cryptography.
    Recommended reading: semi-popular article titled "Less reality, more security"; abbreviated version published in Physics World, September 2009.
Tuesday,
May 25
(week V)
TS Eliot LT
(first ever event
in the new LT!)
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in Hall

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2nd Lecture
Hilary
2010

Professor Lord May of Oxford FRS
Emeritus Fellow of the College
Professor, Department of Zoology,
   University of Oxford
President of the Royal Society (2000-05)
Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government (1995-2000)
webpage
wikipedia

Lecturer introduced by Prof James Binney FRS

Systemic Risk: The Dynamics of the Banking System
The recent banking crises have made it clear that increasingly complex strategies for managing risk in individual banks and investment funds (pension funds, etc.) has not been matched by corresponding attention to overall systemic risks. Simple mathematical caricatures of “banking ecosystems”, which capture some of the essential dynamics and which have some parallels (along with significant differences) with earlier work on stability and complexity in ecological food webs, have interesting implications. In particular, strategies that tend to minimise risk for individual banks can – under certain circumstances – maximise the probability of systemic failure. This talk will first sketch these models and then discuss some of the ensuing conclusions.
Monday,
February 22
(week VI)
Mure Room
17:00 Reception
17:30 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in Hall

1st Lecture
Michaelmas
2009
Professor Steven Cowley FRS
Merton SCR
Director, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy
CEO, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
Professor of Plasma Physics,
   Imperial College London
webpage
wikipedia
TED talk

Lecturer introduced by Dr Alex Schekochihin
Science and Technical Challenges of Fusion Power
Monday,
November 23
(week VII)
Mure Room
17:15 Reception
17:45 Lecture
19:15 Dinner in Hall



[1] Caveat: Modern historians are sceptical about William of Ockham (Occam) having been associated with Merton College, although the notion that he was does appear in a number of apocryphal or outdated sources (Warden Brodrick in his Memorials of Merton College (Clarendon Press, 1885) says that Ockham's "connection with Merton College seems to rest almost entirely on the authority of Sir Henry Savile, who cites an entry in a College MS. which [later archivists] failed to find"). While it might be argued that application of Ockham's Razor would exclude his association with Merton from the set of legitimate theoretical possibilities, it is not clear that the Razor can be legitimately applied to historical matters, as history certainly contains many unnecessary events. Some of them have never really happened and yet possess the ability to influence subsequent developments. It should also be noted in this context that whether Ockham deserves credit for the Razor is no less doubtful than whether Merton deserves credit for Ockham. What is definitely a historical fact is that the Ockham Lecture is now an ancient tradition of the College.

The image to the right is a detail of a manuscript of William of Ockham's commentary on Aristotle's Physics (MS 293 of the Merton College Library). The faces are those of some of our academic predecessors. Click on the image to see a larger version. Image courtesy of Julia Walwarth, the Fellow Librarian.
clericsMS293.jpg