Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Marine Biology course in Italy.

Thanks to a very friendly and amazing Manchester based company called Global Nomadic, this summer I was gifted with a once in a lifetime opportunity. To go whale/dolphin watching and be a volunteer helping with whale research. My home from 27th July until 2nd August was the boat you see here, the Jean Gab. I can't stress enough how wonderful this was and I would certainly do it again, once is not enough. Sailing is so peaceful and makes you feel close to nature. I'm only sorry we didn't get to see more cetaceans but some weeks are like that. I want more, but I am forever indebited to GN for offering me this one chance. I could write about this forever I guess but after I got home GN asked me if I would write a testimonial and of course I was only happy too! You can read all about it here:

You need to scroll down to the bottom of the page where you will see our group photo. Yours truly is the second one from the left, all covered up as I got quite a sunburn on day 1. Mostly the legs but I'm okay now. I hope you enjoyed read it and well as this, not to mention the photo's :) If you have always wanted to do something like this what are you waiting for. Get in touch with them and just do it! Thank you for reading

Love Sarah 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Experimental Weekender: Part 2 Sunday

Once again MOSI put on a nice breakfast for us. I had a custard danish today and was delighted to see mostly the same faces from yesterday. I spent this morning with the microscopes and the highlight for me was of course getting to make graphene myself using the traditional method of scotch tape and graphite particles. I learned that the secret is to make the tape come together in different places each time so that you end up with a powdery looking layer. Takes about 10 minutes. I looked at it under the microscope. Here is a picture of it. The grey and white areas which are letting through light and are difficult to see is graphene :D

Lunch was once again, very enjoyable. Fun chats with fellow volunteers and we joked about how scientists can't function without coffee. I spent the afternoon, on the front table helping kids (and adults!) make sheets of graphene which they could then place on the floor at the back if they wanted to. We were trying to make the worlds largest sheet of graphene. Alternatively, people could make a 'bucky ball' if they wanted too. We didn't get many takers as this is percieved as too difficult. I think only one person succeeded. There were many comments throughout the afternoon about how addicitve and therapeutic this is. I had initially had that very thought myself. We also had the joy of listening to The Graphene Suite again as well.

It was still rather busy at the end of this event and we started to pack up at 4pm. Experiencing a heat wave at the moment we were sent on our merry way with a bottle of water. I don't feel like I have had a weekend but I did have a great time. Thank you MOSI for looking after us. I have always had an interest in graphene and was excited to do this and not disappointed.  Chatting to other ambassadors about what I want to do (HIV research) and one lovely guy to me 'thats actually very cool' for which I thanked him. I appreciate such comments as usually people don't say anything. Myself and the other ambassadors were not really keeping track of time and we stood outside MOSI chatting for a while before going our separate ways. It would be nice to work with them again but I wish them all the best with their futures anyway. I learned alot. I know graphene is the strongest known material but now I know that it used to be the spiders silk thread. Also it can be made in the lab by CVD (Carbon Vapour Deposition) I learned that it can be used in the body to direct drugs to the affected area. Also graphene lightbulbs may be on the market next year! From the questions I was asked it was clear that some people are aware of graphene and wanted to know about its applications whilst alot of people wanted to know what it is with genuine interest. The visitors obviously had a great time which makes this all the more worthwhile. I will leave you with some feedback which they gave. I hope you found this weekend through my eyes interesting too.

“fabulous guides”
“I have learnt lots about what graphene is and what it is made of”
“[I learnt that] graphene is the thinnest material you can make and it was discovered in Manchester”
“It’s the strongest material in the world”
“I learnt how to make a microscope”
“Being a scientist or STEM Ambassador is really interesting”
“I have learnt about STEM jobs, super materials, nanotechnology and nanometres”
“I learnt what motivated the scientists to do what they do now”
“I learnt how to pursue a scientific career”


The Experimental Weekender:Part 1 Saturday

I spent last weekend, 27.6.15 and 28.6.15 at MOSI in my role as a STEM Ambassador participating in an event called The Experimental Weekender. This was all about the wonder stuff known as Graphene. Although on both days the event was 11am until 4am we had to be there around 9am for a briefing. MOSI were kind enough to offer us a light breakfast of coffee/water and warm danish pastries. Very tasty, I had a cinnamon one, thank you! Better than this though whilst enjoying our refreshments it was nice to sit around a table, meet and chat to fellow Ambassadors. This event took place on the ground floor but other things were going on too. There was a circus and a funfair and an event in the power hall called electric pencils. Here people are invited to draw or scribble on a piece of card, then an LED is placed along the drawing and the circuit is complete as the LED lights up proving that graphite/graphene conducts electricity. Very cool! On Saturday I had my first taste of everything, and familarised myself with each activity. Some of the other volunteera are graphene scientists and very nice people they were too.Very happy to have met them. I made a 3D shape put it on a wooden skewer and then held it up to a large computer screen with various 2D shapes on it in shadow. This is a way of identifying a 3D shape. I then spent most of the day on one specific activity which was a demo illustrating how drug delivery systems work. It was a heart and lungs which had 2 squeezy pumps on the end of tubes to force the water (which represents blood) around. At various points there were iron oxide particles in the tubes representing nanoparticles.

We would get people to squeeze the 2 pumps whilst explaining what was happening. We had a magnetic cube too and a jar of water containing iron oxide particles. This allowed us to show what was happening on a larger scale as our model unfortunately wasn't working too well. As the water (blood) circulates, and you place the magnet near some of the iron oxide particles they all move together and congregate at the magnet. Once the magnet is taken away, the particles quickly separate and move away. We then placed the magnet near to the jar and see all the particles move in a big splodge towards the magnet and would also follow it. This illicited 'oohs' and 'ahas' of amazement from children and adults alike. A nice feeling. We had to be careful with the magnet because the table legs were made of steel and it can wipe phones in close proximity. I did make a loud noise on the table once, before I was aware of this but others did too throughout the event :)

At one stage a graphene scientist stepped into a nanotube and had trouble getting out of it. Fun to watch!


MOSI had a musician in residence who had composed some music especially for this event. She played with an orchestra giving us snapshots of this new work for 30 minutes at a time. It was beautiful and had a calming influence.
 At one stage quite a crowd had gathered with some people even sitting on the floor. This lovely orchestra was called The Graphene Suite.

There were 2 sittings for dinner and I was asked to go on the first one. A lovely buffet was set up for us, in the room where we'd had our briefing. There was a good selection of sandwiches, mini spinach flans, potato wedges (replaces with sausages and apple slices on Sunday), a selection of fruits, brownies and flapjack. A choice of tea, coffee, water and 3 fruit juices (apple, orange and cranberry). This was once again a great chance to talk to the others. After lunch I resumed what I was doing and watched what was going on around me, watching people, that is visitors and Ambassadors alike enjoying themselves. It remained busy and we started to pack up at 3.45pm. I left happy having had a great time and knowing I would be doing it all again tomorrow.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

An AIDS researcher

I have just found this video which I find quite inspirational and as I want to keep it and share it I thought I would post it here. Its a grad student who is studying AIDS at university in the US. I hope you enjoy it too.

Take care!

Friday, 29 May 2015


Following on from my last post about this years Pint of Science Festival, I have just found this wonderful video about Birefringence or Double Defraction. It is from University of Nottinghams YouTube series Sixty Symbols'. This is a very clear explanation by Professor Mike Merrifield. Much better than any textbook definition I've ever read. Hope you enjoy this too.


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Pint of Science Festival 2015

Last week May 18th-20th saw the third Pint of Science Festival. I only heard about this last year so for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, here are some interesting facts. This festival takes place on an international scale, in 50 cities across 9 countries over 3 nights with 6 themes. Every month I go to and enjoy the Didsbury Scibar at out local bowling club, The Albert. Monday 18th May sawthe POS festival taking place here instead and naturally I went. This event started at 7pm and finished at 10pm. There were 3 speakers. The theme was all about the weather including climate change and was entitled ''Atmosphere at The Albert''. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera but I did pick up this amazing flyer for the festival.

This event was sold out and it was easy to tell, I have never seen so many folks here and all were engaged in the talks and the POS volunteers were so chatty and friendly. The first speaker was an american prof who works at University of Manchester but lives in York!  Prof David Schultz ''Why do good weather forecasts go bad?'' The future of the atmosphere can be determined from a fairly simple set of five physically-based equations. If so, why are weather forecasts sometimes so bad? I was so pleased that I could remember the ideal gas equation and the value of the gas constant R. (8.3, in case you were wondering). He presented the scientific basis for why weather forecasts are possible, how modern weather prediction occurs by computer, and why we sometimes fail. Also, he described a web-based tool that anyone can use to forecast the weather on their own. He keenly gave out flyers advertising this app which he helped design. His demonstration of this app makes it seem interesting as well as easy to use. This app is  After a 20 minute break the second speaker was Dr Gregory Ser-Lane, a senior lecturer at University of Manchester, talking about ''From Antarctic gales to a storm in a pint pot: Observations and experiments in oceanic mixing and melting''. The fun thing about his presentation was that from time to time it involved demo's using water, salted water, ice cubes and green food colouring. Alas he never put any on our table for us to play with but thats what we get for sitting at the back near the door. Very entertaining. The final talk of the night came from Dr Grant Allen a senior research fellow at the University of Manchester. ''Methane: The Unatural Gas''. Before you ask, of course cows were mentioned for their contribution :) Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to rise at a rate not seen since before the dawn of mankind. As a result, the Earth’s global average climate is changing at a rate not seen in that same time period. He discussed measurements recorded by academic teams all over the world & airborne measurements of methane recorded by the Manchester team, e.g. campaigns in the Arctic, the UK & planned projects around the world. So a pleasant evening with alot to think about. We left just before 10pm. I managed to get through a lemonade, a coffee and a pint of 'Detention'. My better half had  a diet coke and a pint of beer. We took a break from this Tuesday evening. It is my usual swim night anyway and I am mindful of my better half needing to get up early for work All along I have been looking forward with much excitment to the last night 20th May. Two reasons really, it takes place in apub I love to visit but don't often enough and I'm a chemist. This night has a chemistry theme. So from 7pm we were at The Red Lion, Withington to see ''From Nature to Technology: Many Faces of Chemistry.'' This event has just 2 speakers and began at 7.30pm. We watched the guys set everything up and noticed each table had quiz sheets and little LCD's from 2010. I had a glass of lemonade and a pint of Belma.My partner nursed a pint of Oxford Gold all evening.

The first speaker was a physics prof and  to be honest, I had expected to enjoy the second talk more. I could'nt have been more wrong, both talks were ace! 

The first speaker was Professor Helen Gleeson who presentation was called ''Polarised Light: There's more than meets the eye''. Helen focussed on demystifying and exploring polarised light, something we all take advantage of on a daily basis when we don our Ray-Bans or watch TV. Her talk showed the simplicity and importance of polarised light in technology and nature. She was so enthusiatic. He she is on arrival sorting out her props/demos.
I loved this talk. For me personally this is the best kind of physics talk, relating it to our natural world. Helen explained what LCD'S and polarised light are. She had a couple of sheets of polarisers so she could demo how it works. I think this makes it easier to visualise how it works. She discussed why insects and arachnids such as the silverbacked spider have shiny reflective backs/scales.  I could also relate to this talk very well because she mentioned a few things I had leanred about during my masters degree even if that was 18 years ago! Nematic liquid crystals (made of long molecules which all line up) and something called birefringence. Look that up ;) She had a couple of sample tubes of liquid crystals to pass around as well. I'm glad I remembered my camera this time. 

 At the end of her talk she fielded some really good questions and also commented on how good they were. Next thing on the agenda was a quiz in three rounds.We called ourselves team Murray but alot of the other teams came
 up with some really funny (or punny) ones. I'm not that creative. The first round involved showing us some colourful close ups and asking to say whether it was art or a liquid crystal. Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night was in there. I can't recall the second round probably because it didn't include pictures. The third round involved showing us colourful closeups again, all of drinks and a list of drinks. We had to correctly name the drink from the pictures. This was impossible, or as my partner kept saying, its a crapshoot!  Answers and winners to be announced after the second talk.

The second speaker was Dr Matteo De Poli who is a research associate at University of Manchester. ''Cracking Chirality: Understanding the Chemistry of Life.''. This is a topic I know well and I wasn't surprised his first slide showed a pair of hands to illustrate how mirror images cannot superimpose on each other. His slide showed other things to demonstrate this too such as a pair of shoes, oh and a pair of feet.  What is the link between Chemistry & Life? Is there a way to define what life is, chemically? For many common objects like a ratchet, your hands or a pair of shoes, we can instantly tell what is left and what is right. By extending this concept (chirality) down to the molecular level, we can explore its relationship with a possible, intriguing definition of living systems. Matteo also spoke about using this idea to transfer light-triggered information at the nanoscale level. He demonstrated left and right handedness in nature using Molymods, L-amino acids and D-sugars. We were given 2 strips of paper and asked to identify their smells. One was orange and the other was lemon. You can do a little research on chirality yourself if you want to learn more.

                                                 Here he is explaining how polarised light works in telescopes.

After his talk he read out the quiz answers and I was rather pleased to see that we had got all the answer in round one correct. I think we did well in round two as well. We got all the questions in round 3 wrong so thought that was it for us. It seems that other teams must have got them all wrong too because we came third! I was stunned but very pleased, still am. We didn't get a prize and didn't see what the runners up won but the winners had to fight each other over one Pint of Science t-shirt, hahaha! So another lovely evening comes to a close and its the end of this years fesival. It goes so fast. I hope to attend next year again. Who knows perhaps I'll get to give a talk one year. All the volunteers I witnessed were fabulous as were the speakers. Thank you. I learned something.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Chemists without Borders

In February of last year whilst reading my current issue of  Chemistry World magazine, I can across an article which greatly captured my interest. I don't recall what the article was actually about but it mentioned an organisation called Chemists Without Borders. I was very heartened to read about this especially its founder's (Bego Gerber) reasoning for setting up such an organisation because I have always felt this way.Perhaps most chemists do? I have always been proud to be a chemist as it is the science which lies at the heart of solving many of the worlds problems. Poverty, world hunger, clean water for the developing world, life saving drugs. As soon as I was on my computer thereafter, I immediately looked up CWB and became a member. They have twice monthly conference calls and I have taken part in those when I can though sadly no so many as yet. If you are interested in joining/volunteering or just want to know more about them please visit their website:

They have 4 main themes but seem to focus on trying to clean up the water in Bangladesh by finding ways to remove the deadly arsenic from it. They also have a Facebook page.

After a conference call in February of this year I was lucky enough to be made a team member online which allows me to be more involved although I haven't uploaded anything yet. I do keep visiting this webspace though to keep up to date.
One theme is AIDS in Africa and for a couple of months I have been in contact with a CWB board member who has her own non-profit organisation AIDSfreeAFRICA which does alot of wonderful things especially in Cameroon. In fact she is there now as I write this. I am posting relevant things for them on their Facebook Page and also Twitter. Here is a link to our Facebook page

As those who know me can testify, HIV is a subject I am passionate about, or rather seeing effective treatments and in future a cure for this beast.

I want to finish this post with a new CWB video which its co-founder Bego Berger has just made in conjunction with the American Chemical Society. I love it and find it inspirational and very powerful. I hope you enjoy it too and watch it as many times as I have. 

You can let me know what you think of any of this in the comments below if you like. I would loveit if you do.
Thanks for reading

Warm wishes,


I am grateful for any feedback and comments. Thanks for reading and don't be a stranger xxx