Memorial meeting: advance notice


Nigel Calder


Memorial meeting

Royal Astronomical Society

Burlington House


London W1J OBQ

Tuesday 2 December 2014 at 4pm

Followed by an informal reception 5-6pm


An hour-long programme of talks celebrating the life and work of the science writer Nigel Calder will take place on 2 December, which would have been Nigel’s 83rd birthday. Speakers are to be confirmed but will include his co-writer and friend Professor Henrik Svensmark.
Details of how to request a seat will be given here ( on 11 November.

Obituaries and other notices



Newspaper announcements: Nigel Calder (1931-2014)


CALDER, NIGEL DAVID RITCHIE, science writer, died peacefully at home on 25 June 2014, aged 82, after a wonderful life. Most beloved and devoted husband to his true love, Lizzie, for 60 years. Adored and brilliant dad to Sarah, Penny, Simon, Jonathan and Kate. Steadfast and loving father-in-law to Nick, Charlotte, Jacqui and Giuseppe. Proud and amused grandfather of Hannah, Nicholas, Robbie, Daisy, Poppy, David and Izzy.
Funeral Friday 4 July 2014 at 2pm at St Paul’s Methodist Church, Crawley RH10 8ER, all welcome, followed by a private cremation. Wearing of black not necessary. No flowers please; donations if desired to The Dystonia Society or RNLI, c/o The Martins Funeral Directors, Crawley RH11 9BA, 01293 552345 to whom all enquiries should be made.
Memorial gathering to be held later this year.

With minor variations, the above announcement will appear in The Times and The Telegraph, on Monday 30 June 2014.


I’ve gotta be driftin’ along



[Posted  by Nigel's family.  The additional texts mentioned by Nigel below will be added in the next few days.  Please check back for these updates. If, Gentle Reader, you have a particular memory of Nigel to share, please comment on this post.]

… as Pete Seeger sang, in ‘So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You.’ Cancer experts have given me a short time to live. We all have to die of something, and I’ve had a particularly exciting life, so I’m not at all worried about it. What’s more, after 60 years together, my wife Lizzie and I have recently celebrated our Diamond Wedding, with our wonderful family pictured above, and even received a personal message from Queen Elizabeth.

Until today, this blog has been largely idle since 2012, when Lizzie had a stroke and I became her full-time carer. Apart from dealing with comments and warding off spam, I’ve added nothing since a post in April 2012 about Henrik Svensmark’s paper on supernovae and life. By the way, Lizzie did explanatory diagrams for that post.

Then I started writing a book based on Henrik’s paper, to be called Supernova! But lack of time has prevented me from finishing it, even though Lizzie is now much better.

So I’m going to start a new part of the blog, Would-be Books, containing what parts of the book already written, chapter by chapter as new posts. The plural comes about because, when Supernova!was finished, I meant to write another book called The Physics of Love. Now I hope to add at least an outline of that book too. We’ll see, anyway. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, to all of you who have read and commented on my blog, and still visit it daily, let me offer a big Thank-you.

My family will take over as webmasters to deal with incoming comments, obituaries, etc.


Royal Society Winton Book Prize



In Praise of Idleness

That was the title of a famous essay by Bertrand Russell. Being myself a lifelong victim of the protestant work ethic, I was impressed at the Royal Society last night when the prize for science books 2011, now sponsored by Winton Capital Management, went to Gavin Pretor-Pinney for The Wavewatcher’s Companion (Bloomsbury).


Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Although the book has a beach chair with sea waves on its cover (an icon of idleness) it covers waves of every kind you’d think of, and some you wouldn’t. Given the chance to read a passage from his book during the ceremonies, Pretor-Pinney chose the intricate waves of hungry amoebae. They assemble to make a slug-like object and then build a tower from which they send spores to look for happier hunting grounds.

Salutary point (1) This is only the second book that Pretor-Pinney has written. The previous one was The Cloudspotter’s Guide, which of course I have because of my interest in the Svensmark cloud-seeding connection.

Salutary point (2): Pretor-Pinney was a founder of The Idler magazine.

Perhaps my only claim to fruitful idleness is that a literary by-product of my family cruising under sail, The English Channel, won the Best Book of the Sea award at the London Boat Show.

Small world note: Gavin Pretor-Pinney also took part in the BBC-TV programme “The Secret Life of Waves”, which was made by David Malone, son of Adrian Malone who produced one of my BBC blockbusters “The Life Game” (1973). That programme took its title, and an important sequence, from a table game with nucleic acids played by biophysicists in Goettingen led by Manfred Eigen. Now Eigen has written the most interesting upcoming book that I know about just now. Due out soon from Oxford UP, it’s called From Strange Simplicity to Complex Familiarity. Oxford asked me for an endorsement and here’s what I’ve offered them.

What a splendid antidote to the swagger of physicists and biologists who think they already understand the living universe! Manfred Eigen pulls back the carpet like a careful housekeeper and brings to light mind-wrenching questions that most scientists brush out of sight. His search for the physical roots of the logic of life is not an easy path to follow, but Eigen helps us all he can with his polymathic skill and lucid style.

I fear it may be too mind-wrenching for the general readers targeted by the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.

Sorting out the Svensmarks Junior



Jacob, Joachim and Julius

A key paper on the effect of solar eruptions on atmospheric aerosols and clouds, published in 2009, is referenced as H. Svensmark, T. Bondo and J. Svensmark, Geophys. Res. Lett., Vol. 36, L15101, 2009. See last year’s blog post here

Jacob Svensmark

H is for Henrik, T is for Torsten, and J is for Jacob. It’s not hard to work out that Jacob Svensmark is Henrik’s son. He’s reading physics at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). During the past few years Jacob has helped his father with complex computations of the behaviour of cosmic rays in the heliosphere, and he also took part in the CLOUD Prototype experiment at CERN in 2006. Busy stuff, on top of his own university studies.

But the names of Henrik’s other sons also begin with J, so casual googling could mix them up. While Henrik and Jacob are both polymaths in science, the Svensmark talents head in quite different directions with Joachim and Julius.

Joachim Svensmark

Joachim is a remarkable guitarist, and you can see and hear him here I’m pleased to report that his instrument is a Fender that Henrik bought for Joachim during a visit for scientific chats in my home town of Crawley, England. Henrik modified the guitar with different pickups and a preamplifier in the body.

It has a sound Joachim likes,” Henrik assured me. “His way of playing requires very strong string bending and he wears the frets down very fast. Using thin strings is not an option since he thinks it gives a thin sound.” Here’s more music from Joachim but the word is that, after plenty of very popular gigs, he is resuming his high-school studies in earnest.

Not to be outdone, as the youngest of these junior Svensmarks, Julius follows a sporting route and plays in Denmark’s Under-21 Volleyball Team. They beat Romania last month, which was something of a sensation.

Julius Svensmark is No. 14 in the Under-21 Team

Whoosh — not missing just busy


I’m all too aware of the sluggish rate of new posts recently. That’s because of other fascinating and urgent work that I hope you’ll all hear about before too long.

Douglas Adams famously said,  “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Perhaps I take them too seriously, but it’s a fault that’s done no harm in my work.

Can I suggest to my very welcome visitors that they might like to browse  through the 90-plus existing posts, under Categories?


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