Category: uni

lectures et al

July 31st, 2012 — 12:39pm

Attended a really interesting talk last week, the ANU’s Jager Hales lecture which this year was given by Professor Edouard Bard (Collège de France & CEREGE Univ. Aix-Marseille, France) about the end of the last ice age, where from about 18,000 to 10,000 years ago the Earth slowly thawed out. It wasn’t a process that occurred smoothly across the globe, and in fact it was delayed significantly, even reversed, in the north Atlantic area and Europe due to the amount of ice melt from the Laurentide ice sheet (which was the 4km thick slab of ice sitting on Canada). This ice melt changed the density of the north Atlantic so turned off the gulf stream. I’ve heard about the gulf stream being switched off before but never realised how exceptional this current is. The Atlantic is unique among the oceans in transporting a huge amount of heat from the southern hemisphere to the north by Thermo-haline Circulation. When you look at what the temperature did around Europe when this switched off (the so called heinrich event and Younger Dryas), it’s quite remarkable, the temperature plummets on the charts to a new floor for about 1000 years, like a pressed down piano key. Intriguingly this was matched by accelerated warming in the Southern Hemisphere as all the heat stopped being transported away. But I suppose the implication is that the southern hemisphere was being artificially cooled down all along – and is so even now. So I wonder what the temperature would become here in Australia if the gulf stream switched off tomorrow? The charts did not seem to show such an extreme effect as that suffered by Europe though, where the changes were quite localised. It was interesting to see also the effect of the de-gassing of the southern ocean – i don’t know why only the southern ocean does this.

The Lecture was over in the Leonard Huxley theatre. Next time I am over that way I will check out the big machine statue. I was just reading about it today. Dad always told me about how the whole physics building was full of wires for this thing, running along the corridors, to one of the largest homopolar generators ever built.

Philosophy was interesting this morning. We argued about immigration and I got a chance to argue for the idea that there should be no immigration restrictions at all. I’m aware that this policy would completely transform Australian society, but I reckon we would all be better off for it once the dust settled.

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ANU start day

July 23rd, 2012 — 7:21am

Having a coffee before my first Earth sciences lecture, I watch some workman cutting up bike racks with a battery powered angle grinder and hacksaw. The sulphry burnt smell of the blade cutting through steel reminds me of dad’s workshop and the pipe saw, a strangely pleasant smoke I have inhaled since earliest memory, awash now in nostalgia. I remember that Dad (and uncle Tom) laid some of the concrete around Union Court back in the 70’s, as well as large areas of pavement and hot water conduits at the then Canberra College of Advanced Education (now University of Canberra).

Later, crossing Sullivan’s creek on stepping stones I wonder how often my grandad (Andy Watt) tramped over those same stones. He ran the ANU maintenance office for many years, and dad has lots of stories of visits to the uni at odd times of night to fix broken drains and things. In once accident, someone had walked through a glass wall or door at Bruce Hall and the floor was awash with huge quantities of blood which had to be mopped up. He was friendly with the academics and was always amazed at their dedication, working late and through christmas day. He loved the equipment in the physics workshop particularly a huge lathe which came from the Krupps armaments factory after the war.

Grandad brought home all sorts of interesting things from the ANU, I think we have the original gates to Canberra house rusting out in the paddock at home, and a ladder and a solidly built hand cranked winch from the maintenance depot. Many of the poplars around the creek are a very late turning variety, surplus from some researchers breeding experiment, and many of the elms around the farm are ANU stock. Whenever I see the fish ponds at University house or the Chancellery I also think of Andy as he bred goldfish and we had lots of ponds with fish around the farm. In fact the last instruction he ever gave me was to make sure I remembered to feed the fish and clean their tank. I wonder if the fish at ANU are still Andy’s fish (we still have generations of his fish in the pond at home too).

Anyway I’m the first of us to come here as a student, and all this resonates with me now. Only the chances of time brought us here to do different things – in another 20 years I wonder if I would be able to get in on my slightly marginal high school scores, or if it would be at all affordable to do so. But I enjoyed the nice moment of continuity in familiar echoes – amongst a day of new things this morning – starting my BA/BSc degree.

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