Fighting on

February 24, 2017

Just finished watching Avengers: Age of Ultron (again). Caring for my sick daughter does have its compensations (though I shudder at the backlog piling up at work!) 

The powerful image in the end credits, of the main characters portrayed as classical heroes, in marble, made me reflect on Joss Whedon’s take on heroism. I think it is best captured in the closing words of Angel – with which the 12 seasons of the Buffy/Angel television saga came to an end:

SPIKE: In terms of a plan?

ANGEL: We fight.

SPIKE: Bit more specific.


(steps forward)

Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon. 

(the demon horde attacks)

Let’s go to work.

(swings his sword)

(Fade to black.)

Or beloved heroes do not die on screen, but we are left in doubt as to what will happen next. 

In the Whedon universe, heroes are not the guys who always win, but the ones who are always ready to put up a fight. This idea is not a Whedon invention, of course, but Whedon does come up with powerful ways to put it forward in the realm of pop culture.

As our world is increasingly crunched between the souless wills of haters and philistines it is good to remind ourselves that heroism is about fighting on, even when it feels like we’ll be crushed. 

Ultimately, heroism (or whatever lesser version of it we, mere mortals, may manage to muster) is not about winning, but just a better way of life. As in the opening lines of that other great piece of pop culture, the feature film Lorenzo’s Oil:

“Life has meaning only in the struggle. Triumph or defeat is in the hands of the Gods. So let us celebrate the struggle.” 

John Hubbard’s challenge 45 years on

September 22, 2009

A very brief Highlight feature we wrote some time ago on the complementarity between condensed matter and cold-atom experiments has now appeared on the ISIS website:

* J Quintanilla, C Hooley, ST Carr, JJ Betouras, VL Campo Jr and K Capelle, “John Hubbard’s challenge 45 years on”.

Strong correlations in ultra-cold atom gases and at the RHIC – the string connection

September 17, 2009

You may remember a brief mention of Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in our article on strong correlations of a couple of months ago. This month Physics World carries another article, by Barbara Jacak, that discusses that type of strongly-correlated quantum matter in a lot more detail. The new article explains how string theory can be used to connect the experiments at RHIC to others carried out on another type of strongly-correlated system: ultra-cold atomic gases. Well worth reading:

PS: there was also a much more technical article on strongly interacting matter (as the quark-gluon soup is now known) in Rev. Mods. Phys. a few months ago:

Colloquium: Phase diagram of strongly interacting matter
P. Braun-Munzinger and J. Wambach, Rev. Mod. Phys. 81, 1031 (2009)

Strong correlations

June 26, 2009

In this month’s issue of Physics World there is and article I wrote with Chris Hooley on strong correlations:

J. Quintanilla & C. Hooley,
The strong-correlations puzzle,
Physics World 22, 32-37 (June 2009)
[ online excerpt; complete print version available here ].

What we basically tried to do is explain what is meant by that term, putting it in a historical context and explaining the role that experiments with ultra-cold atoms, as opposed to “traditional” materials, can play in disentangling the mysteries. We placed a lot of emphasis on the model that John Hubbard (pictured) invented here, in the Harwell campus, in the early sixties, and on neutron scattering, which was responsible for the genesis of that model and is still producing many of the main puzzles today. Polite comments and enlightening  criticism are certainly most welcome.

(By the way, the same issue of Physics World contains Doug Natelson’s article on single-molecule electronics – as he already informed his blog readers – much more promtly than I have, it has to be said!)