We are revising our modules for the 2012/2013 academic year (note that this is not the next academic year, the 2011/2012 year, but the one after that – we plan ahead here in British Universities). The University is going to a system of 8 15-credit modules per year. So another academic, Joe Keddie, and are combining our 2 modules into a new one and then changing/rewriting them to make it a coherent module. We are also updating the content. The provisional title is Soft Matter and Biological Physics. Today is a particularly appropriate day to think about this combination as today is Fredrich Wöhler‘s birthday.

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Emiliania huxleyi coccolithophore (PLoS)Some of the most interesting stuff at the crystallisation conference in Maine last week, was on trying to understand how living organisms control crystallisation. Many living organisms, including us, need tough strong structures and many crystals are strong, and much harder than living cells which are soft and squidgy. So many organisms have evolved to produce crystals, often in incredibly well organised ways. Our bones are based on a crystalline form of calcium phosphate, and many other organisms make structures out of crystalline calcium carbonate. At the top left is the calcium carbonate “armour” of a single celled plant called Emiliani huxleyi.

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As we learnt in school, some planets, asteroids, comets etc orbit faster than the Earth, for example Venus takes 225 days to orbit the Sun. And some orbit slower, for example Mars takes 687 days to orbit the Sun. Now astronomers have discovered an asteroid that orbits at exactly the same speed as Earth, i.e., it too takes 365 days to go round the Sun. Continue reading »

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Yesterday, I was sent, as I periodically am, the “Old Newportonian” newsletter, for old members of my school – Newport Free Grammar School, a comprehensive in Essex. I looked through it, to see what news there was of the school, and of old pupils. It’s a pretty short newsletter, and I didn’t see mention of anyone I knew, though in looking through the obituaries, I noticed someone who I’ve come across in my physics research that I didn’t know went to my school.
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22
Jul
2011

My trip to the USA is almost over. I am writing this in Boston airport. The conference has just finished, and I really enjoyed it. It was very informal, as good conferences should be. The chair of one session used this:

to kick off her summary of the applications of the research in her session.

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Before heading out to a conference in Maine (on the north atlantic coast of USA) I visited a couple of museums that are part of Harvard University. Now Harvard is one of the most prestigious, and one of the richest universities in the world. Wikipedia reckons its endowment is $26 billion (£16 billion). Harvard is just outside Boston, in Cambridge (this is Cambridge, Massachusetts not Cambridge in England of course).

I learnt that shortly after it was founded, it had an Indian College. Here indian means what we would now call native americans (i.e., indian as in Big Chief Sitting Bull not indian as in chicken korma).

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MA State HouseThis is the blog post partly written in Boston Common (a large park in the middle of Boston, USA). To prove it, the picture is of the Massachusetts State House, which is just north of Boston Common. As I write this a swan is gliding by on the lake in the park to the accompaniment of a really good busker playing the saxophone on a bridge over the lake. Normally I don’t pay buskers because they are bad but he is really good, so I gave him 5$. I figured I should pay as I am enjoying it.

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Last week one of our research groups exhibited at the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition.  This exhibition runs from Tuesday to Sunday and is attended by thousands of school pupils and members of the public.  The stands cover a wide range of research from quantum physics (ours) to bats to invisibility (well timed with the release of Harry Potter).  About 10 of our academics and PhD students manned the stand and spent a few days explaining the intricacies of quantum physics and quantum computing – and we all had a fantastic time.

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Traffic jam Rio de Janeiro 03 2008 28So, I have done some editing on the first section of the Wikipedia page on the Nagel-Schreckenberg model – a simple model that show traffic jams. See my earlier post for why I did this. The first section is the one that describes the model itself. The other sections I have left because I don’t know anything about the model’s applications.

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If you think about it a bit, it should be obvious that sexual reproduction is a bad idea, in evolutionary terms, i.e., we should never have evolved to reproduce sexually. Consider two species: H. sapiens (i.e., us) and H. amazonius: a hypothetical species entirely of women who can give birth without sex. Now, if we start with say 1000 H. sapiens and 1000 H. amazonius, then as the 1000 H. sapiens only includes 500 women they will only produce half as many babies as the 1000 H. amazonius women.

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