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Boat Race victory over Oxford may be written in the stars for Cambridge’s Patrick Elwood

By CambridgeIndependent Reporter

Cambridge Boat Race 2018 mens crew Patrick Elwood. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge Boat Race 2018 mens crew Patrick Elwood. Picture: Keith Heppell

A four-year graduation to the Blue boat for Magdalene student

Of all the expressions of pride and excitement about earning a place in the Cambridge crew to face Oxford, the one most befitting for Patrick Elwood would probably have been ‘over the moon’.

Cliched for sure, but a cliché that applies more to the 23-year-old Magdalene College student than any of his crewmates.

It is not just because he has graduated to the Blue boat at the fourth time of asking, after two years in the reserve Goldie crew, but also given his studies of which any play on stars and space would have been equally suitable.

The No 2 man is a fascinating character who is studying a PhD in astrophysics, although he would contest that the subject matter is somewhat blurred.

“Astrophysics is the study of things in the universe,” said Elwood. “Technically, I’m studying cosmology which is the study of the universe as a whole – the evolution of the universe; whereas astrophysics is the study of things in it so planets, stars, black holes, galaxies.

“It’s a bit of blurred distinction and I’m somewhere on the boundary but technically it’s cosmology.

“I’m observing clusters of galaxies, so they are the biggest gravitationally-bound structures in the universe.

“Just before I started my PhD, the telescope got upgraded and what I’m doing at the moment is testing how well this new component in the telescope performs so I’m basically re-analysing data from the same clusters we’ve already observed.

“We’ve re-observed them now with the new upgrade, and I’m at the moment re-analysing that data to see if we get similar results to the old – so far, hopefully, we do. It’s not really apparent yet, I haven’t really done it for many clusters.

“Hopefully, we will get lower errors on our measurements but with similar results.

“I’m observing a list of galaxy clusters for eight hours a day, three times a week. For the noise levels we want about 20 to 30 hours of observing, so I’m observing 60 clusters at the moment.

“I think I’m lucky that it’s basically computation based, it’s not a lab based PhD so I can just log in remotely from home and work whenever I need to.

“That’s useful as when we go to London, I can work there rather than some science PhDs where you have to be in the lab.

“I think it balances the rowing well in that it’s a release – each is a break from the other.”

Elwood is in the second year of his PhD and it was during his undergraduate studies that he first started trialling with Cambridge University Boat Club and it has not been plain sailing.

In the summer of 2015, a fall from his bike left him with torn cartilage in his shoulder which he battled on with in 2016 before finally having surgery.

It was a setback last season, but the time with the Light Blues has helped develop his rowing and his association with the club.

“I’ve developed physically, I’ve developed technically, as you would expect just by doing the volume of training in a very high performance club with very good coaches,” said Elwood.

“It’s been fantastic. Most people are here for two or three years but a few of us started at the same time and this is our last year.

“You see how dynamics change year on year, every squad is very different just in terms of the atmosphere.

“As I’ve been here everything has just improved.

“The programme is fantastic now, the athletes are great, the atmosphere is good, the confidence is developed and it’s really nice to be a part of that and seeing it through.”


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