Last night CaSE (the Campaign for Science & Engineering in the UK) ran a ‘Science Question Time’ on education.  These Science Question times are designed to encourage discussions between those in the scientific community, the outcomes of which can then feed into the campaign work CaSE does.  The panel for the education  session was Alom Shaha (Physics Teacher), Prof Michael Reiss (Professor of Science Education) and a representative from CaSE.  Some interesting points were thrown up in discussion - including professional development for teachers and free schools.

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The highlight of my day was solving a simple partial differential equation problem, that I had set myself. It was a good day. I am not sure that I should admit this in public, but there you go, I have now. A lot of science and math is problem solving and scientists and mathematicians often get a lot of satisfaction both out of working out the solution, and getting the final solution. I know I do. Continue reading »

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GoldNuggetUSGOVI am currently reading a book on the elements called The Periodic Tale by Hugh Aldersley-Williams. It’s pretty good. One thing that I have learnt is that gold has an E number – as in the number that all food additives permitted by the EU are assigned. It is E175. It strikes me that if someone just offered you a kilo of E175, you’d probably say no. Continue reading »

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Today was the last UCAS day of this admissions round. UCAS days are where we invite along prospective students who have applied to do physics at Surrey. They come along, often with a parent or two, and we show them the Department, they talk to our students, and to academics like me.  Continue reading »

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BananasOur colleague Paddy Regan has been on all the networks from the BBC to Aljazeera, talking about the Fukushima reactors and the dangers from the radiation. Radioactivity is not my field, Paul knows more than I, see the previous post, but I saw this very nice chart. It illustrates in one image, doses from that from eating a banana, 0.1 μSv, to the dose that will quickly kill you, 10 Sv. Continue reading »

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The recent earthquake and tsunami is a terrible tragedy for Japan and the Japanese people.  At current count there are 17,000 dead or missing, according to the BBC news web site, and my heart goes out to the Japanese people in this difficult time.

Despite the terrible destruction and loss of life caused, the news headlines are largely fixated on the overheating fuel in a nuclear power plant which has been damaged by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  So far, some radioactive material has been released from the plant into the nearby environment, and people are worrying about it.  Should they be?  It’s hard for a layperson to know what the potential dangers are, and what the real risks of radiation are.

Here at the Surrey Physics department, we have a large nuclear physics group, and one of our staff members, Prof Paddy Regan, has been very busy in the last few days appearing on the news to make sure that the stories have some proper science content in them.  He is the director of our MSc course in Radiation and Environmental Protection, and is an expert in the effects of radiation on people and the environment.  Part of our role as researchers and experts in specialist areas of science is to stand up and lend our expertise when important news stories happen.  Paddy has been particularly good at this over the years, and you can see him on the news, trying to bring a rational voice to the news coverage.  Good job, Paddy.

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DiffusionI am teaching things called partial differential equations at the moment. One of the most important of these is the diffusion equation. As the name suggests, it describes diffusion. Diffusion is everywhere. For example, in your body, diffusion is how the oxygen gets from your blood into the cells where it is needed.

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Since I’ve got to the blogosphere a little later than the others, I’ll briefly introduce myself.  I am the outreach officer for the physics department which means I organise physics events for local schools and the community.  This ranges from workshops in schools, to talks from our academics, to our Science Circus day for families.  As with most people who work in science communcation, I am moving into one of our busy periods as National Science and Engineering week is next week.  There are events happening all over the country on lots of different aspects of science for all ages and abilities.

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This is the blog post in which I hope to segue smoothly from tequila to the planet Uranus. Let’s start with tequila. A couple of years ago some Mexican scientists got some press attention by making diamonds from tequila. Continue reading »

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Film crew making beautiful science doc in Brecon Beacons

The best thing about making a television documentary is that you get to visit and gain access to locations you would either not be allowed to see or simply did not know about. In the past few years I have had the privilege of holding Newton’s first edition Principia Mathematica (and even checked out some of his sums – they were correct); I’ve stood on Galileo’s lecturing pulpit, looked through Herschel’s telescope and leafed through Michael Faraday’s notebook. Continue reading »
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