Chaparral Supercell 2Perhaps the most contentious area that scientists get involved in in public is global warming. Debates often get rather adversarial. On the one hand you might have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). On the other perhaps The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).  The 4th report of the IPCC states “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” GWPF is highly sceptical that warming is occurring.

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Short answer: No. Longer answer: There is no evidence for this. This is despite the scientific paper and BBC article that claiming that obesity can indeed spread from friend to friend. The original work was in 2007 by Christakis and Fowler and appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). NEJM is a very prestigious medical journal.

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The results of this year’s National Student Survey (NSS) are now out – go here and type “physics” and “Surrey” in the relevant boxes to get the Department’s numbers. The headline figure is that 98% of the students who filled in the NSS questionaire are satisfied with the course. Great. As an academic who has taught all these students I am very happy about this vote of confidence.

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Over the last week or so, and in the wake of the riots the prison population has increased by a few thousand. Also last week A level results came out and applicants learnt if they were successful and are going to university. The number of British students has not increased; the government has capped the number of British students. The government also of course have a large deficit, the gap between tax income and government spending. Clearly there are many issues here. I don’t want to comment on them here, but I can do some simple maths. And the maths is very simple, prison is very expensive, a lot more expensive than a university education.

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U-Boat UK2511I am reading The Theory That Would Not Die by Sharon Betsch McGrayne. It is a book on Bayes’ Theorem. Bayes’ Theorem is simple but a bit too subtle to describe in a couple of snappy sentences in a blog post, so I won’t describe it here. You can check out the Wikipedia page if you want to know what it is.

The book is also not about the Theorem itself so much as the history of its use over the last 250 years since the Rev Thomas Bayes first developed a special case of it, and Pierre Simon Laplace developed the final general version of the theorem. The book also answers the question: What does it take to make politicians, generals and civil servants seriously combine data and maths to work out what the best course of action is, and to do it?

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AneThis is the post with the link to FAQ page of the American Donkey and Mule Society’s site. That was not a sentence I thought I would be typing 20 minutes ago, but science takes you everywhere. There is an entertaining website Snopes, which examines urban truths and tries to assess whether they are true or not. The list of science urban myths is here.

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Molten lava and diet coke have something in common: too much gas. See here for gas escaping from lava, and throwing molten rock into the air, and see

just for fun, because it is just great. They are using simply bottles of Diet Coke and a brand of mint called Mentos. That’s all.

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Often, when physics academics like me meet up with each other, we moan about how little maths our incoming students can do. Certainly here at Surrey we are finding it difficult to convince some students with weak maths and little confidence in their maths ability to work hard at it, and to ask for help. Their lack of confidence can make some of them reluctant to put up their hand and ask for help in tutorials. Without this help they struggle.

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Sagrada Familia Eixample from MontjuicMost of our undergraduates go out of the University and spend a year doing a placement off campus. Almost all our MPhys students do this and a majority of our BSc students do this. During the year they are visited three times by an academic.

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LEGO-01I printed out an interesting paper by Delebecque et al. in the journal Science about a week ago and now I have got round to reading it. It is really rather impressive, they are assembling structures in cells, or more accurately getting the cells to express carefully engineered RNA molecules that spontaneously assemble into scaffolds actually inside the cells. RNA is a cousin of the better known DNA molecule. The structures are on the nanoscale, i.e., maybe 10 nanometres across, where a nanometre is a billionth of a metre.

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