Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

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Dodging a bomb: How Hitler tried to kill me from beyond the grave.

I live in London’s East End, in what some my think is a concrete brutalist block of flats not far from Bethnal Green. The block has quite a good community feel and we have an emailing list for discussing various things, including flats to let, good electricians and complaining about our managing agents.

I’m not there at the moment since I’m at the International Astronomical Union General Assembly in Honolulu. I was thus rather shocked to read in email two days ago that there were police cordons, fire engines and people from the Army surrounding the local neighbourhood.

A bomb had been discovered during work in the basement of a building not far from home, a 500lb German bomb from World War 2. It was probably dropped at the same time as the bomb that levelled the Victorian buildings on the land on which my block was built.

A cordon of 100m was set up around the bomb and everyone inside was evacuated.


Army bomb disposal experts worked on the bomb, to defuse and remove it, but were hampered by the fact that the bomb was inside a building and would have to be taken out through corridors and up stairs.


Sometime on Monday night, at about midnight, it was decided that the cordon should be extended to 300m, taking in my block and some of the major roads in the area. Police went round my building and told people to leave, though their coverage of the building seems to have been rather partial, since some of my neighbours slept through the whole thing. Those evacuated spent the night in a nearby school with facilities provided by Tower Hamlets, our local council.

Eventually, sometime on Tuesday, the bomb was finally defused and removed.


Everything is fine now, but the bomb was described as being capable of ‘mass destruction’ if it had gone off.


An overseas PhD student in the UK speaks out

I thought I had posted this already, but it seems the iPad WordPress app ate that post (apologies if it somehow arrives twice).

Anyway, this account by a overseas (ie. not UK or EU) PhD student in the UK demonstrates how the Home Office’s xenophobia, motivated by a wish to pander to the gutter press and UKIP, is making the UK universities actively hostile to them. Far from the stated position of wanting to attract the ‘best and brightest’ to the UK, the Home Office now is trying to make life as difficult as possible for them, and for the institutions hosting them.

More than that, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has told universities to develop a financial basis that is less dependent on overseas students fees, and is making it far harder for overseas PhDs to get jobs in the UK after qualifying. I know several PhDs who want to stay and contribute to the UK – one who even had a job lined up – who worry about or who have had to leave the country because of May’s new restrictions. These are just the people that industry and research need – the best and brightest of the world – but May wants them sent home.

Higher education is a UK success story now being put at risk by short term, short sighted xenophobia from the Home Office.

Vince Cable was prepared to fight May on these issues in the last parliament. What hope do we have now when there’s a strong chance she’ll take over from Cameron in less than 5 years?

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Sasquan reading – requests?

So – I’m doing a reading at Sasquan. I don’t have much time so won’t be able to read more than one longish piece or two short ones.

What do you want to hear?

I can read some of my fiction or non-fiction, something already published or something new, a short piece or an excerpt from something longer – possibly even something from the novel in progress.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this, or any specific requests!

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My Sasquan Schedule

I’m going to be at this year’s Worldcon in Spokane. Needless to say there are others on most of these panels, but I’ll leave it up to them to name themselves.

This is my schedule:

How to Moderate a Panel

Wednesday 12:00 – 12:45, 300C (CC)

Tips and tricks for a successful panel. How to get the quiet members of your panel to speak, and control someone else from hogging the microphone. How to deal with disruptive audience members. Making sure that everyone gets heard appropriately.

Pluto in Your Rear-View Mirror

Thursday 11:00 – 11:45, 302AB (CC)

Pluto has always been the planet…errhhh…dwarf planet of mystery.  On July 14,  the New Horizons spacecraft whizzed past Pluto and its satellites 9 years after blasting off from Earth. Find out what science has learned in 2015 about the worlds on the solar system’s frontier, and where the New Horizons will journey next.   This panel will open with a presentation on the New Horizons spacecraft mission by Bill Higgins and will include a discussion among the panelists

What’s New in Astronomy

Thursday 13:00 – 13:45, Bays 111B (CC)

What are the latest atronomical discoveries? What are the upcoming events in the exploration of the solar system? Find out what is happening out there and what we are doing about it.

100 Years of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity

Friday 13:00 – 13:45, Bays 111C (CC)

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the theory of relativity by exploring what physicists have been doing for the last 100 years, the status of the theory today, and what might change in the future.

Reading – David Clements

Sunday 11:00 – 11:30, 301 (CC)

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The Renewed Threat to STEM


Arts have plenty of trouble as well, but this clawback of money looks designed to create chaos in STEM.

Originally posted on In the Dark:

A couple of years ago, soon after taking over as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) at the University of Sussex, I wrote a blog post called The Threat to STEM from HEFCE’s Funding Policies about how the funding policies of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) were extremely biased against STEM disciplines. The main complaint I raised then was that the income per student for science subjects does not adequately reflect the huge expense of teaching these subjects compared to disciplines in the arts and humanities. The point is that universities now charge the same tuition fee for all subjects (usually £9K per annum) while the cost varies hugely across disciplines: science disciplines can cost as much as £16K per annum per student whereas arts subjects can cost as little as £6K. HEFCE makes a small gesture towards addressing this imbalance…

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Science for Fiction: Day 1 with added haiku!

Day one of this year’s Science for Fiction is over.

It was fun! Among other things, my colleague Roberto Trotta ran a ‘choose your own talk adventure’ using dice with haiku (or near haiku) composition as a penalty for a bad die roll. This produced some interesting poetry, including the work below. I won’t list the authors, but will admit to the last being me.

Oh spinning galaxy
why is your speed
so darkly constant?

Dark matter I don’t
understand much at all
explain if you can.

In the Universe
dark matter heading my way
I must be a wimp.

Dark matter protons
wimps on rolling of the dice
who can roll a six?

I was hoping to
roll a six but never mind
talk about the stars

The night sky is so bright
why is this matter so dark
and haikus so hard?

Dark matter matters
wimps aether or
quantum gravity is math.

Gravity constant
through curves despite the distance
Roman ships help us.

I’m born
the universe abides
I think and die
knowing nothing.

Missing dark matter
Pioneer anomalies
All lost in the heat.


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