Fat catOver the last few days, I have been struck by the number of uses of the statistics term ‘median’ by a number of politicians and commentators. This is a relatively technical term and I rarely hear it from politicians, or indeed anyone else on TV or in newspapers. The terms has been used in the context of public sector pay. The statement is that median public sector pay is higher than median private sector pay. And it is, it is £22,902 in the public sector and £20,575 in the private sector. However, the mean public sector pay is lower than the mean pay in the private sector, £25,892 versus £27,195 in the private sector.

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Wikipedia-logo-hyNowadays when you are teaching a course at university, you are co-teaching it with Dr Wikipedia. Your lecture notes will be supplemented, for free, by Wikipedia. This is almost always good. Although it does mean that you if took inspiration and examples off Wikipedia, which I have done, you will be found out. Incidentally, the picture is the Wikipedia logo in Armenian – I thought I’d use it not the English one, for a bit of variety.

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I have been watching and enjoying the BBC’s Frozen Planet series on Wednesdays. This Wednesday they showed this amazing footage of a brinicle forming

worth the licence fee alone. The amazing thing is that this is salty water being frozen by even saltier water.

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GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689I had always thought this orginated with Newton, and thought it a bit odd as he was notoriously argumentative and touchy about receiving what he thought was the proper credit for his work. But according to the mighty Wikipedia it orginated with a chap called Bernard of Chartres. Newton did however say it as well. He was a 12th century French philosopher, and the quote was originally in Latin. I just coughed up £50 to the latest Wikipedia appeal, so I guess I am getting my money’s worth.

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White chickenOf course that is not true, your great grandpas were human. However, it has been known for a while that big chunks of your DNA is from viruses. Retroviruses such as HIV reproduce themselves by copying their genetic material, which is actually in the form of RNA not DNA,  into DNA which is then incorporated into your DNA. Then your cell’s machinery then copies the viruses DNA for it. Cunning. However sometimes things might go wrong, maybe a mutation, and the viral DNA can get stuck. If this DNA ends up in a sperm or egg the baby will have the viral DNA as part of the DNA in all its cells – it has a virus as a kind of an involuntary DNA-donor Dad. And in turn it will pass the viral DNA on to its children.

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This semester 16 of our BSc students have returned from a year spent working in companies and labs – they do this having already spent two years studying in lectures and labs at Surrey. The talks were good, as always, and as always the range of topics were very broad. I saw half the talks (I was in one of the two parallel sessions).

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12
Nov
2011

The recent controversy over the new data suggesting that neutrinos move faster than light has thrown up some fun stuff. This includes a candidate for shortest abstract of a scientific paper.

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Quill (PSF)Of course as a research scientist I write and publish scientific papers, but for the first time I recently wrote, with a Nature Materials editor, a News and Views article. These articles discuss in terms the main findings and implications of an important research article. Writing the News and Views article was an interesting experience.

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Haarlem Bavokerk - boven hondeslagers altarThe web tells me this is from the Bible, Luke 15:7 to be precise. So what will cause an atheist like me to quote the bible? In this case it is of course a sinner repenting. Fellow physicist Prof Richard Muller of the University of California Berkeley to be precise.

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Medicine DrugsOn Friday I was at a meeting in which most of the speakers were scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry. It was at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s London office which is just off Piccadilly in London. This was handy as there is an iron law of scientific meetings: The coffee is terrible. At lunch I popped out and grabbed a good cappuccino on Piccadilly; this kept me going in the afternoon session.

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