Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oxford & Columbia dinner

I went to a dinner last night at the Brasserie am Gendarmenmarkt held by the local Oxford and Columbia Societies. Met a physicist who had recently finished her doctorate at Oxford and is now doing research on substances that become magnetic at very low temperatures. She bombards them with neutrons; interesting things happen. If I got this right, she was able to bombard them neutrons in Oxford, but the equipment in Wannsee is more powerful. She explained that it was a pleasure to work here, because the technical side is handled by people who are themselves scientifically trained, people with doctorates; in Germany the practice is to do everything possible to facilitate research. In Oxford the technicians are not usually scientists; things go wrong. You have to book time for your experiment; if the experiment is a failure, if the thing you were looking for doesn't happen in the allotted time, it's a disaster - and this does happen sometimes if the technicians have made mistakes. The people she is working with here are excited about getting down to very low temperatures - that is, they are not simply technicians providing support, but people with projects of their own which happen to be useful for what she is doing.

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