Sunday, 24 October 2010


Hi and welcome to this blog inspired by a number of my fellow Open University students such as Neil Anderson

 and Nilo de Rook.


I decided to create my own.

This blog will include my feelings about my Open University experiences but also a lot more. I've just finished my open university courses for this year these were:

                      MS211: Exploring Mathematics

                      A211:    Philosophy and the Human Situation

Earlier in this year I also did MST121 Using Mathematics.

 I have an MSc in Theoretical Physics focusing on particle physics for which I did the exams in 1979 - 80 and completed the disseration in 1984. I also have a BSc in the same subject which I got from Exeter in 1978. Since then I have acquired a postgraduate certificate in Further Education and a diploma in Optoelectronics from Heriot Watt University Edinburgh. I have also had two postgraduate research associateships one in Theoretical Chemistry at Bristol university where I spent an admittedly frustrating year trying to get a code to model the photodissociation of molecules working and one in image processing at Heriot Watt university where I did a comparative study of three image processing techniques. Since 1990 I have worked in the antenna departments of GEC Marconi Chelmsford and since 1994 I have been working in Edinburgh again in the antenna department of a company which has changed its name from GEC to BAE Systems and is now called SELEX - Galileo. Despite all these changes my job has essentially remained the same which is to model the effects of the nose of an aircraft (the radome) on the radiation pattern of the antenna and investigate the effects of the radome on clutter. This involves quite intensive computational electromagnetics.

Despite the switch to Applied Physics since the mid eighties I have retained my interest in pure physics and I was most happiest when doing my part time MSc at Southampton. There I was introduced to the exciting world of particle physics and the main tools that physicists use to investigate this subject namely relativistic quantum field theory and symmetries based on Lie Group theory. I came just as the Standard model of particle physics was being finalised. I think that this is probably the greatest intellectual achievement of the last quarter of the 20th Century. I also think that given the lack of data, extensions to the Standard model of physics such as superstrings M theory and so forth whilst interesting mathematics can only be speculation. I have at present no desire to pursue these topics as I really don't think they will lead anywhere. In the words of Dirac/Pauli because they can't be tested they are not even wrong. One of my aims to be discussed further in other posts is to get to the stage where I can do what are called radiative corrections to processes  from the Standard Model to model the scattering  of such reactions  as electron neutrino scattering,  electron positron annhilation or investigate the predicted properties of the Higgs boson. 

My aim as far as my Open University studies are concerned is to get the MSc in mathematics  concentrating on the pure side. Mainly because modern physics uses a lot of pure maths concepts such as functional analysis, group theory and differential geometry for which the average theoretical physicist is ill prepared. Indeed, despite the fact that I can solve Maxwell's equations, apply quantum mechanics to solve problems in scattering theory and atomic and molecular spectroscopy, apply General Relativity to investigate the properties of stars and cosmological models and so forth. There are two significant books in the foundations of physics which I've had for thirty years which may have been written by people from a different planet and it is my long term ambition to study these.

These are 

1) Hawking and Ellis 'The Large Scale structure of space time' 
This book was the first coherent account of the singularity theorems of classical General Relativity showing that apparent singularities which occur in say the Schwarzschild solution or the Big Bang model were not accidents of the coordinate system but inherent in the basic equations of General Relativity. The background needed to understand this is topology and co-ordinate free differential geometry.

2) Von Neumann "The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics" 
This book showed that the underlying mathematical structure of quantum mechanics was that of a complex Hilbert Space. To understand this the mathematical background needed is a grasp of real analysis, complex analysis, Linear analysis, and last but not least Functional analysis. 

Unfortunately the mathematical background of the average theoretical physicist is not adequate to this especially in the fields of analysis . Hence the Open University maths courses. Next year I embark on

         M208 Introduction to Pure Maths

And taking a bit of a risk as it presumes a knowledge of real analysis got from M208.

        M337 Complex Analysis

Which will hopefully get me the understanding in real and complex analysis I need to move forward. It might be considered risky to do M337 in the same year as M208. However I want to embark on the MSc by 2013 and the M337 course is only available in Odd years. I don't feel so bad as the analysis part of M208 is covered by David Brannan's book  'Introduction to Mathematical Analysis' which I've been reading since August and am about 1/2 way through hope to finish it by Christmas. I also have copies of the course material for M208 and M337 from the wonderful university bookshop which enables people who have done OU courses to sell their course material to other people.

Of course the course you want might not be immediately available however just keep looking.

So at the risk of hubris I'm reasonably confident of getting through the material for these courses next year and with a reasonable grade. I'm aiming for grade 2 i.e a combination of > 70% in both the continuous assessment and the final exam. This is sufficient to get onto the MSc and means that I don't put so much pressure on myself I know some people on MS221 seemed to put great pressure on themselves to get distincition (i.e > 85% for the exam and continuous assessment ). I'll explain the OU marking system which seems rather unfair these days as someone could get > 85: for their continuous assessment but have a bad exam and so only end up with a grade 4 or even fail). 

Anyway I think this is enough for this initial post. I'll put a number of posts explaining the background to my other interests over the next week or two, outlining my thoughts on other Open Uninversity courses and the other major part of my intellectual journey to understand philosophy. Hope you enjoy this

Best wishes Chris



  1. Picked up a nice link while reading, didn't have that one yet!

    I would be interested to hear your take on the difference between research in the sciences ( i.e. physics ) and mathematical research.

  2. Referred from your OU blog. I've just started blogging here for the same reason as you, though don't appear to be as organised.
    I've been burned by the OU marking system this year in exactly the way you describe, a bad day and some questions on obscure parts of S207 left me with little to show for all the good assignments I put in.

  3. Thanks Dennis for joining here hope you find my witterings interesting. Yeah I got badly burnt on M343 last year got over 70% for the TMA's one was at 90 but in the exam could only scrape a measly 54% so my grade 2 pass turned into a grade 4.

  4. Hi Nilo if thats you I can't see but guess from the photo it is. Thanks for commenting. I guess the main difference between mathematics research and physics is the need for physics to always be constrained by it's empirical adequacy namely the result of the model or theory must somehow relate to the physical world also within it's domain of applcability one must rely on the model being robust enough to cope with change of parameters etc.

    In pure maths at least the only criteria seems to be logical consisitentcy within the basic framework. Physics seems to require both logical consistency and empirical adequacy.

  5. Beautiful compact summary of the difference between mathematics and physics. - "Mathematics must have logical consistency while physics must have logical consistency as well as empirical adequacy."

  6. Hi Chris

    I've been following CC-Maths and Computing for a year or so now, so am a bit familiar with your writing (unless it's coincidence). Anyway, I thought since you've taken the step to start a blog, I'd take the step of officially following one for once. I signed up to Nilo at the same time, as I'd already been reading his for a few months (and indeed it is how I know of your one).

    I'm glad to see you're doing M337 next year, as I like to read the opining of those in the same boat (I'm doing it alongside M381). Personally, I doubt not having done the M208 real analysis in advance will be too much of a problem; I didn't feel the 8 units covered overly much ground, and while my marks in it were below those in the other areas, It did not seem conceptually too difficult (once I got past the initial confusion in certain areas).

    Well, good luck. I look forward to your musings over the next year and beyond.

    Neil H

  7. Hi Neil I am the same Chris on CC-Maths and Computing Choice so apologies in advance if some of the postings sound familiar. I would have liked to do M381 as well but I really can't see I'm going to have much time. Look forward to doing M337 with you next year

    Best wishes Chris