Scottish Independence Poll

POLL RESULTS: Should Scotland be an independent country?

We all know that the majority of Scots voted 'No', but how were our poll's results? 'No' was the most popular choice among our readers, with 47% of our poll's participants deciding against independence. 35% voted 'Yes' and 17% were undecided.

Thank you to everyone who took part!

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Quantum Fluctuations and Cosmic Inflation

By Maharshi Chakravortee

Let me ask you a question. Has it ever struck your curious mind as to how all these incredibly beautiful structures - these planets, stars, galaxies - came from a mere singularity, or in simple words the ‘Big Bang’? Since the Big Bang was hypothesised, all theoretical, experimental and astronomical physicists went bonkers to find out exactly how ‘inflation’ (I will come to that) can be proved to cement the Big Bang Theory, or if the Big Bang Theory is just a crazy idea to satisfy our minds temporarily about the origins of the universe. Are we all in a state of oblivion, or does science actually play God in this?

Look at this image for starters:


This is a baby photo of our universe, from when the universe was about 380 thousand years old. Now if you’re thinking that 380 thousand years doesn’t sound that young and asking yourself why we can’t get an image of the universe before that, this is because at that time the universe was so hot, that all matter, including protons and electrons, were in a state of plasma, a sort of jumbled mess. Any light that passed through it would be scattered or absorbed. This made the universe opaque, until 380 thousand years ago when the universe was cool enough to make these protons and electrons, allowing the formation of Hydrogen atoms and allowing light, or photons rather, to spread out. So from the 380 thousandth year to the present day, roughly 13 billion years, these photons would travel through the space-time continuum until it hit our detectors, which made us this image.

Now if you think about it, these photons travelled as the universe expanded. So what might have started as ultraviolet or blue light, ended up as microwaves by the time they got to us. The wavelength of the light expanded as our universe expanded. That is why we can’t see this radiation but we can detect them using microwave telescopes.

The discovery of the microwave background image started off as a funny incident. Two radio astronomers, A.A. Penzias and R.W. Wilson, were observing certain radio images at the sky, but they always got this annoying background noise while taking results. So maybe they thought a cable was loose, or maybe it was bird poop on their telescopes. Triple checking everything, all they got was one uniform image, wherever they pointed their telescopes. So the real early baby photo actually looked like this:

That was the early state of the universe, where all of it was completely uniform, and variations only occurred in about one part of a hundred thousand. To observe these variations, we built better telescopes and sent them to space to get a better-refined image, and what we got was this:

Thanks to the curious human brain, we liked that image so much that we built better telescopes and got this further refined image with incredible details of the variations, which looked like this:

This is the perfect baby image with variations of dark red-hot spots and orange-yellow cold spots, showing the higher density regions and lower density regions respectively. Now this lumpiness and non-uniformity (variations) are very important as these show that the parts, which are red or denser, have a stronger gravitational pull, pulling mass around it, forming clusters of stars or galaxies. So basically without these variations, we wouldn’t even exist.

Now, where did those lumps come from? The idea seems to come from quantum fluctuations, the basic idea that every matter is made up of quantum fields, and it is impossible to keep those quantum fields at a state of uniformity, there will be particles popping in and out every instant, the very idea of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. This actually gives us the fact that we exist due to this: quantum fluctuations is the mother of our existence.

Now coming back to the problem of the true baby photo, the uniformity. How can the universe be of the exact same temperature after the Big Bang? Isn’t that weird? That is when physicists proposed ‘inflation’, the idea that this uniform image is actually an expanded version of the real image. Consider this for an example.

This is a picture of a dog. I know, cute right? Now what would happen if I expand or ‘inflate’ this image a million times? You’ll end up with something like this.

This looks rather more uniform, kind of like the early baby photo. So what scientists presumed was that the uniform image was an inflated version of the true photo, a photo that we cannot take. But this is kind of a crazy idea created to deal with the problem with that picture. I mean is it really true, did inflation really happen? Or is it just a convenient fiction to try to explain the uniform baby photo? I mean how can we get an answer to this hypothesis, when we can’t get detect any light older than 380 thousand years?

This is where an incredibly interesting term of gravitational waves comes in. Gravitational waves are nothing but the fluctuations or the rippling in the space-time continuum that are caused due movement of bodies. According to calculations, the gravitational waves that accompanied inflation should have been strong enough to have left an imprint on the cosmic microwave background, an imprint in the form of polarisation of light, a kind of a ‘swirl’, around the hot and cold spots. This means scientists were studying the Cosmic Microwave Background to see if it contains polarised patterns, which would have been made by gravitational waves much earlier.

Arriving to the drumroll of this article, scientists obtained a polarised pattern while studying the CMB in the South Pole. And how did the pattern match with the predicted pattern? EXACTLY HOW IT SHOULD HAVE!

This is one of the HUGEST discoveries in a lifetime. Of course this result has a lot of debate to face, but this certainly cements the idea of the Big Bang, the Origin of the Universe and inflation. It really is an exciting era of science to live in!


1.Wikipedia- Cosmic Background Radiation
2.Wikipedia- Gravitational Waves
3.Wikipedia- Inflation

Monday, 8 September 2014

Will Scotland make history?

By Magdalena Paczocha 

On 18 September, voters in Scotland will be asked in a referendum whether they want the nation to become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom. The reason behind the willingness to take Scotland's destiny into Scottish hands was the landslide victory of The Scottish National Party in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. Independence is a main goal of this party. An agreement was signed on 15 October 2012 by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, and the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, which provides a legal framework for the referendum to be held. The referendum question will say: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"  The principal issues in the referendum are the economic strength of Scotland, defence arrangements, continued relations with the UK, and membership of supranational organisations, particularly the European Union and NATO.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

What is Quantum Tunneling?

Erwin Schrodinger
by Sparshita Dey 

Quantum Tunneling is a quantum phenomenon where particles with less energy than that of a potential barrier can still cross the energy barrier, by “tunneling” through. This means that the particle, which according to classical mechanics, cannot possibly end up on the other side of the barrier, has a chance of being found within or on the other side of the barrier – corresponding to a finite probability of being found in these “classically forbidden regions”. This will be explained in a more simplistic manner later on. 

In this article, I will aim to explain how some concepts in quantum mechanics means that tunneling is possible. This will involve having a look at various examples of tunneling phenomena, what wave functions are and also the time-independent Schrodinger Equation.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Are the advanced economies in for a long period of economic stagnation?

Royal Economic Societyby Viva Avasthi

Last month, I submitted this essay as my entry for the Royal Economic Society's Young Economist of the Year essay competition. I was delighted that the judges (a panel of teachers initially, and then Sir Charles Bean, RES President; Stephanie Flanders from JP Morgan; and Professor Tim Besley of the London School of Economics) thought it deserving of joint third place. I am now sharing it with you and hope that you enjoy reading it.

Since submitting the essay, reading this and this provided me with further insights into the 'secular stagnation' argument and other ways in which it might potentially be flawed. Please refer back to this when you reach the relevant point in the essay. I have marked that point with **
In hindsight, perhaps I didn't give enough credit to the ability of technological developments to boost growth, particularly considering how badly the impacts of growth in that sector are reflected in GDP... Unfortunately, the word limit (and the limited amount of time I had to write the essay after exams had finished!) prevented me from exploring a lot of ideas in as great a depth as I would have liked.



The future: a murky blur of possibilities, problems, and potential shifts in paradigms. Attempting to make sense of our collective experiences in the past and present to make informed predictions about the future is one of the difficult tasks faced by economists across the world. At present the key question haunting economists and leaders of the advanced economies is the one which this essay attempts to answer.

Setting the stage for analysis

Since we are constrained by the word limit, let’s consider the advanced economies to be the US, UK and European economies. Most notably, Japan has been omitted. Several key reasons for this must be condensed into the following: Japan is structurally quite different from the other economies since it has a far stronger manufacturing sector, far better standards of education, and a greater social cohesion. Its prospects seem much brighter than the rest of the advanced economies’ for these reasons. Thus (perhaps rather controversially!) it was felt that there was no need for it to be included in this analysis.

Traditionally, economic stagnation is considered a prolonged period of little or no growth in the economy, often with annual GDP growth of less than 2-3%. High unemployment is generally perceived to accompany this low growth. However, perhaps such GDP growth benchmarks become redundant when one considers that ‘normal’ growth might not actually be normal at all. Pre-crisis levels of GDP growth can be described as being not normal for the entire period between today and the 1980s because of the existence of various bubbles providing artificial boosts and drags on GDP. Even before then, we were living in a world boosted by the massive demand created in the aftermath of the world wars, and so it would be irrelevant to compare the growth levels of today to those of that time. So perhaps measuring economic stagnation by looking at GDP growth alone doesn’t make much sense.

To measure economic stagnation we must consider what we value as important for an economy: growth levels in themselves, or standards of living, equality and sustainability of growth? A better measure of economic stagnation than GDP growth may be real median income levels. With 95% of the increase in American income since 2009 having gone to the top 1% (Saez and Piketty, 2012), it is clear that just looking at GDP growth can cause issues, since the sort of growth occurring does not benefit the economy as a whole. More suitable measures, perhaps, are unemployment levels (accounting for those who have given up actively seeking work), investment levels and productivity levels.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

MPC: Success or Stalemate?

By Shivani Maru

Mark Carney with prominent members of the UK's Monetary Policy Committee.
Image credit:

The MPC is short for the Monetary Policy Committee; a committee in the Bank of England that controls the base interest rate in the UK. They meet every month in order to discuss what they believe the interest rate should be.
The main aim of the MPC is to alter the rate of interest in order to meet the inflation target. In the UK, the inflation target is 2% CPI, which has been set by the government.  Although this may seem like a simple task, it actually is quite daunting.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Masdar City: The Answer To Sustainable Economic Growth?

By Shivani Maru

Masdar City: the future of sustainable living. Initiated back in 2006, Masdar City (located in Abu Dhabi) is a city that will only run on renewable resources. Although some may argue that this initiative will be ineffective as it is surrounded by ‘some of the world’s most unsustainable developments,’ Masdar City is helping to correct this. Masdar City is another way of raising awareness to residents of the UAE and the world about green technology.

Sustainability is very important for the economy, especially for the future. What’s the use of producing goods from natural resources that will eventually run out? Especially, when natural resources are being consumed faster than they are being produced. They are going to run out, and also considering that Abu Dhabi is a net exporter of oil, this raises questions as to the sustainability of the country. Often, governments use higher taxes on petrol as a way of becoming more sustainable. However, the truth is is that we need these resources regardless. Therefore, it’s better to look at renewable resources as an alternative.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Shifts and the Shocks: Lessons of the Global Financial Crisis

"In economic terms, the only other disaster that matches this is a world war. [...] This wasn't some minor event. We will be living with the consequences of this possibly forever."

The quote above is from Martin Wolf, the associate editor and chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, specifically from the highly passionate and immensely thought-provoking lecture he delivered at the University of Birmingham on Wednesday (5th October). Mr Wolf is, as his Wikipedia page puts it, 'widely considered to be one of the world's most influential writers on economics' and so it was with great excitement that I came to listen to him speak on what he is most passionate about: the financial crisis of 2008. I was not disappointed.

In outlining the key arguments which shaped his lecture, I will follow the same structure which he did by looking first at where we are post-crash, then how we got here, and finally what we should learn. Along the way I will insert my own comments and also some references to books, videos and ideas which I feel have already contributed well to the existing debate and which you readers may want to look into. In an effort to keep this article of a moderate rather than excessively long length, I have taken the liberty to condense Mr Wolf's arguments as much as possible, so please do forgive any ambiguity present. Comments are, as always, very welcome and I will be delighted if you make the effort to share your thoughts with me.