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