Visit to STFC and Oxford University in UK

It was a nice week, at the beginning of October 2013, invested in visiting Oxford area and London UK.  It started by a two day working meeting of the ENGAGE open data project, in beautiful and very quiet Abington in Oxfordshire.  The ENGAGE project aims at developing a scond-generation open data portal, focusing at multilinguality, metadata interoperability, social network and reputation management, as well as new processes for supporting open data and linked data needs declaration. 

STFC facilities at RAL

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (in short STFC) is one of Europe’s largest multidisciplinary research organisations, with more than 1500 staff, 900 PhD researchers and thousands of scientists and engineers. STFC was formed in April 2007, following a merger between the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Centre (PPARC) and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC).  Highights at STFC in Oxfordshire certainly are the particle physics and laser laboratories, at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory RAL, a place that is worth to try visiting when in the area.

A view of the campus at Oxford

Then, I spent a couple of days in Oxford University, visiting several colleges, the library and the Department of Computer Science. Oxford University is a very nice place to be, as it is more of "a city around a university than a a university within a city".  Houses, restaurants and other public places look like filling in the gaps among university buildings and estates.  Some facts that helped me understand the importance of persistence in education excellence, as perceived by students, faculty and supporters, are:

  • There are 38 colleges in Oxford, the first of them founded as early as the 13th century. There are over 22,000 students at Oxford, including 11,832 undergraduates and 9,857 postgraduates studying in more than 70 departments and faculties.   More than that, every year there are more than 15,000 enrolments on courses offered by the Department for Continuing Education, making Oxford University one of the largest providers of continuing education in the UK. 

  • Oxford is very competitive: over 17,200 people applied for around 3,500 undergraduate places for entry in 2012.  That means that only one out of five applicants gets a position at Oxford (the highest rate in UK), which of course can became more difficult in some of the colleges.

  • The Bodleian Library, the University’s main research library, dates from 1602 and is globally acknowledged to be one of the greatest libraries in the world. Its priceless collections include the papers of seven British Prime Ministers; a Gutenberg Bible; the earliest surviving book written wholly in English; a quarter of the world’s original copies of the Magna Carta; and almost 10,000 western medieval and renaissance manuscripts.  In my visit, I had the chance to see original manuscripts of alchemists, such as the famous George Ripley scrolls.

I also had the chance to visit the Computer Science Department, where friend Professor Jim Davies kindly hosted me - discussing current teaching and research activities, comparing practices between projects and loboratories, and laying out some new, visionary ideas for the future. 

With Prof. Jim Davies, at Oxford Computer Science department

The Fender line in a Denmark Street store

After Oxfordshire, London during the weekend seemed a very busy place to be.  Thanks to some friends though, staying there for a couple of days was fun. Among things to remember was a visit to Denmark street, London's music market - where you get the chance to see and, carefully, put your hands on some very special vintage guitars.  Although I did not manage to find a quite rare set of strings for my electroacoustic (3 nylon and 3 wound strings - but not classical), walking, seeing, testing guitars and amps was real fun. Finally I got myself a book for song-writting, and some rare books on indian scales and guitar styles.

The only other area that was really new for me in London was Canary Wharf, the area in East London by Thames River that used to be the Docklands, and now is the heart of financial and other similar services provision in UK. Unfortunately, no green land and quiet places there (as opposed to Oxfordshire): just asphalt, paved roads, cement only - extremely clean though. 

View of the Canary Wharf skyline (360 degrees)