England: Open Source Chemistry and Real Ale

In September Louise, William and I went to England for a little over three weeks. It was a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family, and because we needed to stay for an extended period (in order to obtain new visa stamps), it also seemed like it would be a good opportunity to meet with researchers around the country and talk about open source, software development, chemistry, physics and the role that I and Kitware might play in improving the field.

As we landed at London Heathrow on Monday, we parted ways hours later at London St Pancras station. Louise and William headed up to Sheffield to catch up with family, while I headed up to Chester for the first Open Babel developer meeting. Chris Morley kindly hosted the event, and it was the reason I came out as early as I did. It was great to see Chris and Noel again, as well as meeting Tim who has been a long time Open Babel and Avogadro contributor. In addition to all of the development discussion Chris gave us a great tour of Chester.

After that it was our third visit to the US embassy, to get new visa stamps. After a little drama, and having to keep a toddler entertained during the hours of waiting, all was well and we went for a little pub food before doing some shopping on Oxford Street. We spoilt William by buying him a Paddington bear from Hamleys, and eventually got the tube to our friend's house. This was the first time I had ever had afternoon tea, with the little cucumber sandwiches and everything. We tried it at a little cafe in Harrow on the Hill, and it was very nice. William loved the chocolate cake from the bottom tier.

On the way back up to Sheffield we took the opportunity to visit another friend in Harpenden, and then I spent a whole day in Sheffield before heading out again. This time I was off to visit a friend in Lancaster University, who had invited me to give a talk after another researcher had told them about all the cool things they had done with Avogadro. The talk went well, and we veered off into how Kitware can make profit giving its software away, version control and software process.

I had an even shorter stay in Sheffield before heading back out to Manchester, and Daresbury Laboratory, developers of GAMESS-UK and DL Poly among other codes. It was great to go back out to Daresbury Lab, and I was very graciously hosted by Jens. I had previously been invited to a workshop he organized to talk about tools and visualization in chemistry in early 2008. I had the opportunity to present what had been happening with Avogadro development, and many of the new things I am doing at Kitware in both VTK and ParaView development. We also discussed licensing, open source and how scientific research can benefit from this approach to software development.

I had the opportunity to meet quite a large array of the developers at Daresbury in the two days I spent there, as well as help Jens with some Open Babel and Avogadro development. We finished off the week with a visit to the University of Liverpool, starting off with a tour of the centre for materials discovery. After that I gave a very brief talk, and a fuller live demo to a group that does mostly computational chemistry research. We rounded off the day with a walk around Liverpool, and a great meal before a long train ride back to Sheffield.

After a brief morning with my family I was off again, to Nottingham this time for a friends wedding. I hitched a ride with another good friend who was also at the wedding and now lives in Bristol, which luck would have it very close to Cardiff. I spent a really fun Sunday in Bristol checking out the city, and the historic village of Clifton before getting a train over to Cardiff (Wales) to meet with more chemists.

This was my first trip to Cardiff, and it was very fun. I visited the chemistry department at Cardiff University, where I gave another talk about Avogadro and some of the new things I am doing at Kitware (and planning to do). The talk was well attended by quite a cross-section of people (even a few ParaView users in the audience). I gave another live demo (I should do them more often) to show off some of the features of Avogadro. Peter Knowles (one of the principal Molpro developers) kindly hosted me while I was in Cardiff.

After a morning working on some code with Peter, I headed to the train station on Tuesday afternoon to get back up to Sheffield. This was almost my final visit, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed visiting so many people, but it was exhausting and I still need to sort through a backlog of email. After seeing so many people I see a real need for Avogadro, and improved visualization and software process in computational chemistry. I am also very encouraged by some of the codes going open source (NWChem after I got back), and some that will likely to go open source.

Tuesday evening to Sunday was my Sheffield time. I went into my old department to present some of the work I do in scientific visualization (Avogadro, VTK and ParaView) to people at the University of Sheffield, largely with a focus on materials science. A fire alarm went off as I was being introduced, and we weren't allowed in for twenty minutes...that was disruptive. Most people were able to return after the unplanned break though, and I got a lot of interesting questions from the audience, along with several going away to download what I had just shown off.

William met lots of family while I was traveling the country. I also managed to get out for some real ale, and visited Kelham Island on the Thursday evening. I also took the opportunity to get in some full English breakfasts, "real" bacon and the classic fish and chips. We went out for a few curries too, I miss the curries you can get in England. It was great to catch up with old friends and family, although I didn't get chance to see as many as I would have liked.

On Sunday we got a train down to London, and stayed in a nice hotel during our final night in England. We took William to the palace, but the queen was unavailable to host us...so we headed back to our hotel, grabbed our bags and made our way to the airport. Travel went quite smoothly, once we got back into the US we picked up our rental car and drove back up to Clifton Park. Not sure I want to do that again, but it was great to be home.

Since then work has been keeping me very busy…I have been working on this post for about two weeks and only just found time to finish it off. Hope you enjoy reading about my adventures. It was great to get back after almost two years away. I am very excited about the work I am doing in computational chemistry, and feel that we are on the verge of accomplishing great things that will have wide impact. More to come on this soon, I am certainly very happy to be where I am and to have the opportunity to work with such a great community.

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