Research · Scotland · Travel

Week 88: Higgs School of Theoretical Physics

On Monday morning, I found myself in a guesthouse in the southern suburbs of Edinburgh. I was going to be there for the next five days as part of the Higgs School of Theoretical Physics, a summer school for PhD students hosted by the University of Edinburgh. The organisers had arranged for accommodation for all of us, staying a few minutes walk away from the main University campus. I was the only student from Cambridge who had come up this year, so I was in the situation of knowing nobody.

Breakfast was hosted by the guesthouse, after which I walked with my roommate Andrew from Durham over to the campus. After some confusion, we eventually found the main lecture room for the school. We picked up our name badges, and then sat and waited for the first lecture. The room then filled up with the forty or so students from around the UK and Europe.

Each of the days were to be divided up in the same way. In the morning, there was a two hour lecture by Alex Pomarol from Barcelona. He spoke about the state of the art of Physics beyond the Standard Model, talking extensively about model-building. The first few lectures recapped how the Standard Model was constructed, but focusing on keeping the formalism generic. In the later lectures, he then expanded the generic formalism to include a number of the more popular extensions to the Standard Model. After the first lecture, everyone went upstairs to a coffee room for coffee, and then to a modern teaching room for a hour-long tutorial. Here, the lecturer would take a concept or a problem from the lecture and we would work through it. Having all come from different undergraduate educations, we each had different approaches.

After the first session, we would break for lunch. Not being in term, options were limited, but we quickly grew attached to the Subway-style wraps on offer in the student union building. They were tasty, and cheap. On the first day, it was warm enough to sit outside on the lawns, and it was here that the social groupings for the school were formed. I spent most of the rest of the school with a group including people from Ireland, England, Scotland, Denmark and Switzerland; studying at Maynooth, Durham, Royal Holloway, and Bern.

After lunch each day, we had the second session by Rafael Porto from São Paulo. His lectures were on an effective field theory approach to gravitational dynamics. These lectures were much harder to follow, owing to the fact that most of the audience were particle physicists, but we tried nonetheless. Another coffee break, and then a second tutorial session; finishing around six o’clock.

Having done a long day of work and thinking, we now had the evening to go and find food. On the first day, I went out on my own, finding a curry from an Indian takeaway. The problem was, they didn’t have any spoons. As the kitchen at our guesthouse was closed, I went on an expedition to a number of different supermarkets trying to find spoons. Eventually, I found one from Aldis, and could finally get to eating my curry.

On the second night, a group of us went up the street in search of a restaurant. A number of the group hadn’t been to Scotland before, and wanted to try hummus. The first pub was too busy, but we found another gastropub, which had hummus in burgers. Afterwards, I went into the centre of town to pick up the large amount of railway tickets I needed for travels later that weekend.

The third night was similar, though a group of us first headed up the hill to the observatory to get a view over Edinburgh and in particular, Arthur’s Seat. Then, we all went down and found another pub for food. That evening, I headed out to the supermarket to pick up some food supplies for the weekend.

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Finally, on the fourth night, it was time for the school dinner. This was held at a fancy restaurant near the centre of town, and a group of people walked over together. All of the food and alcohol was generously provided by the organisers, which for most people included around three to four drinks. Afterwards, some people went out to a club for more drinks and then an elusive search for deep fried Mars Bars, but I headed home.

The fifth day was cut short so that people could get to flights and trains home. I left halfway through the second lecture of the day to go to the hotel and pick up my bag. After having done some research, I discovered that a hotel near the Haymarket train station offered luggage storage for non-residents at a price of five pounds per day, far cheaper than luggage storage at the train or bus stations. So I walked over and dropped my bag off. In the meantime, Jacqueline had made her way up to Edinburgh throughout the day, delayed by an incident on the line involving a lorry and a bridge. I took a train from Haymarket into Edinburgh, meeting her at the train station. She had lost a water bottle en route, so we went out to a nearby outdoor store to pick up a new one.

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Finally, we took a train north, changing at Perth to get to Blair Atholl. We were planning on going hiking through the National Park over the weekend. We went to the caravan park at Blair Castle, finding a reception closed but an after-hours box containing spare camping slots. We went in and set up our tents before heading back into town in search of food. We ended up at a pub near the train station, eating outside in the fresh mountain air, before returning to our tent and preparing for our long hike to come.

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