28
Jun
2011

NiniScientists do experiments with all sorts: semiconductor lasers, low temperature helium, … babies. There is a paper in last week’s Science by Gweon and Schulz on reasoning in (16-month old) babies. Scientists can reason, at least I hope I can. If my mobile is inert, I check the battery isn’t flat by plugging it in and charging it. I do this because this the common cause of my phone going into inert-brick mode. I can tell you this and so demonstrate my reasoning power to you because I can type. Babies cannot type, so how can you find out if they can reason or not?

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25
Jun
2011

Over the last two days perhaps 250 or more prospective students and their parents visited the Department, saw our labs, and heard talks from either Jim and Paul, or Paul and I. It was busy, as was campus, I think there almost 4,000 on campus on Saturday. It took a lot of effort to organise. The days were hard work, on Saturday I was glad of the (very good) giant brownie one of the students working on the day had baked and brought in. My thank-you email went to 22 people.

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Australopithecus africanus IMG 2924Of course, there is both good and bad coverage of science in the media. Entertainingly, a Mail Online article has both. It covers a Nature paper by Copeland et al., a team of anthropologists who measured levels of strontium isotopes in teeth from our early human ancestors. The Mail Online article starts “Scientists may finally have confirmed what every woman from Raquel Welch to Wilma Flintstone has always suspected. Even back in prehistoric times, the female of the species was very much the boss.”

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Summer Sun Setting Over Hendersyde - geograph.org.uk - 403921The 2011/2012 academic year ended yesterday. I think it is my 12th at Surrey – time flies. There is still some marking to do, and the undergraduates will only learn their exam results next week, but semester is mostly done. The undergraduates are off home, to summer jobs, on holidays etc, and in the case of most of the second-year BSc students, they are off to companies and labs for their Professional Training Years.

So it will  be quieter, but not only the academics but also the postgrad students, postdocs and other staff will be around in the Department. We academics will be sorting out our summer plans too. We’ll be arranging holidays, conference trips, writing papers with our PhD students and postdocs, writing to-do lists of things we absolutely must do over summer.

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Cox orange renetteI have just finished watching Apples: British to the core. A fun BBC4 program on apples. First of all, I didn’t realise that commercial apple trees are Frankenstein-like monsters with the fruiting top part of the one plant grafted onto a root from a different plant. Guess this is because I am an ignorant physicist.

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I was helping a PhD student of mine with a talk yesterday. I was doing the usual stuff, saying you basically want one slide per minute of your talk, that it should tell a story, just make a few points clearly, not try and make too many points and confuse the audience, etc. I am not sure I am very good a giving talks myself, but hopefully I can do the basics. But Prof Martyn Poliakoff, a chemist at the University of Nottingham is a natural.

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CPSnowmakerWe humans are keen both on controlling our environment (building houses, central heating etc), and on moving about (planes, trains and automobiles). We are not the only species to do some of this, beaver build dams, bees build hives, many birds migrate, etc. Friends at Surrey, Joe, and Bath, Douglas, independently drew my attention to work on a type of bacteria that manipulates the freezing of water to build itself temporary (and heavy) homes and so drop out of the atmosphere.

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I can’t leave the writing of all our departmental blogs to my colleagues, particularly Dr Sear, so I thought I would chip in with a brief report on my recent event with Professor Brian Cox.
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Diplodocus carnegieiA few years ago I did some research modelling evolution. A lot of the modelling of evolution is done by physicists not biologists, as we have more of the quantitative modelling and computational skills. One of the things I was looking at was the question of how good evolution is. Basically: Can evolution produce perfection, or because it is blind does it tend to produce highly imperfect bodies?

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