Who is Rafi Blumenfeld?
I went into the adventure of theoretical physics with eyes not too open, believing that life could inflict on me nothing beyond my resilience. In spite of the chaotic (some would say desparate) state of affair in scientific research I still believe that this endeavour is one of the greatest adventures around. When cornered by a local media person once with the demand to characterize myself in one sentence I quoted a famous NBA player, Doctor J, "I am a student of life". Life retorted by repeatedly teasing and testing. Academic institutes followed life and after random-walking through Cambridge (UK), Princeton (NJ, US), and Los Alamos (NM, US) I landed back in Route-1-stricken Princeton. Getting disillusioned with the effect of the funding system on physics research in all too many US academic institutes, I crossed the fence to the high-tech industry and about two years later I moved back to Cambridge UK to a seemingly permanent position as the Project Leader for a software company, Molecular Simulations Inc (which changed names several times since then and is now called Accelrys, I believe). This job, however, proved to consist of far less research and far more development than anticipated and this prompted another move. This time just across town, back to the good old Cavendish Laboratory, who took me in as a lost child.
It was difficult not to note that a path that started as a self-avoiding walk (Tel Aviv - Cambridge - Princeton - Los Alamos) became a random walk, once one loop was completed (Princeton-Los Alamos-Princeton) and then turned into a highly correlated backtrack through continent space (Tel Aviv - Cambridge - Princeton - Los Alamos - Princeton - Cambridge). Any theoretician tempted to predict the next move would do well to remember that life is chaotic which undermines straightforward analyses. The new millenium found me doing some exciting research on granular systems in Warwick, a period that quite affected my direction in soft condensed matter, as you may find out if you ever manage to go past this long-winded blurb to my research interests. The Warwick loop in the random walk concluded in 2002 and I came back to the Cavendish until recently. From January 2005 I am based both in the Earth Sciences and Engineering Dept, Imperial College London and the Cavendish Laboratory. In 2012 I have become a Bye Fellow and College Lecturer of Gonville and Caius College.
Many of my colleagues regard me as the ultimate physics addict, mainly because I am happily researching and consulting regardless of whether I am paid or not. In fact, there were times when I did quite good research without any salary coming in, evidently to my wife's dismay. I regard the activity of scientific research as putting up lights in a vast space of the darkness of the unknown. Such lights are often small, but once in a while I manage a modest flare, which puts me in a singing-and-dancing mood before the hunger for the next adventure sets back in. My nibbling at the vast unknown has been on several fronts, all of which relating in one way or another to soft condensed matter, statistical physics, nonlinear phenomena, materials science, and recently some biological issues ("You too" I hear a groan; yes, there are some wonderful physics problems to address in biology and I might just be putting up a nice light - watch this space!). Feel free to browse through the research problems that have captured my interest in the last few years, but note that some of those have been dormant for lack of time (and students). If any item on this list gets you really excited, excruciatingly disappointed or leaves you in the dark then please contact me and let's discuss it.
To get a clue on how I have arrived at this (my father says miserable, others used to bite their tongues on the issue) stage in my life you can go through my Curriculum Vitae and perhaps try to avoid some of my Don-Quijotean mistakes. I have had the great fortune to interact with very good scientists and managed to produce in the process quite a few publications. If cornered I might admit that not all of those would meet the Nobel Prize Committee criteria, but some I am quite proud of. What's important, I have always tried to be original and address fundamental issues even if those were not fashionable at the time. You can go through some selected publications or, if you are really brave, even the entire publication list. It gives a good idea about my research path, where I came from and possibly even where I am heading in the very near future.My ideas about student-advisor relations and my attitude to teaching grew up on the fertile/turbulent soil of my own experience. It may be interesting to psychologists or sociologists of science (and perhaps a window to my soul), and could be looked up here, but I have taken it off for update recently. I have been tutoring in recent years many Cambridge University undergraduates, A-level, and GCSE students. I have found that there are several ways to win a students' hearts and capture their imagination. I would like to believe that I have helped most of my tutees to see some light.
Reluctant to take at face value everything that I tell you? Feel free to contact my references, who are some of the people that I have interacted with in my meandering career.
My spare-time personality is off in a Hyde-tangent to my Jekyll-research life. In 1985 I appeared in Israel's national indoor
Volleyball Cup final with Elitzur Tel Aviv, a premier-division club. I usually played middle blocker position - yes I had quite a leap in those days. In 1991, together with Till Pfleiderer - a casual beach volleyball partner and the brother of another physicist - I defeated the reigning British champions in the annual Beach Volleyball UK Grand-Prix tournament. Between 1976 and 1981 I was on the regular team of an Israeli chess club in the Israeli league and my highest
ranking was about 1900. Going into physics cut that activity short. I used to be a Sci-Fi freak in search of diminishingly new
ideas in this genre. I wish I could construct a list of cool ideas in Sci-Fi literature and movies that both surprised me and made
some sense from the scientific point of view but I found it too time consuming and dangerously infringing on my more fictional scientific activity.
You will find some of my off-the-main-résumé achievements (some in volleyball, some not) in my `other résumé'. This link also contains an amusing list of anecdotes, including an encounter with Danny Kaye at the age of three, meeting Yakir Aharonov (from the Aharonov-Bohm effect) in a chess club without recognising him and making a real fool of myself, ruining Benoit Mandelbrot's lawn on one very rainy night, being lectured about Schrödinger's adventures in Dublin by Sir Nevill F. Mott, and being educated by Sir Sam F. Edwards how not to be a theoretical physics prima-dona. After all this casual name dropping, surely, you must look it up. It also contains my personal obituary to Sir Nevill F. Mott's, an incredibly beautiful soul and a great physicist, who passed away in August 1996. My personal obituary to Sir Sam Edwards, my esteemed colleague and mentor, published in Mathematics Today, August iddue, 2015, can be read here.
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Disclaimer: This page was created by me, Rafi Blumenfeld. The academic institutes I have worked at and with would most probably want to dissociate themselves as much as possible from the opinions expressed here. Let them form their own!