28
Apr
2012

Solar Eclipse Oct05One of the ways of distinguishing between good science, and poor quality science and pseudo-science, is that good science leads to predictions that can be tested by experiments. Poor quality and pseudo-science does not. For example, we know there will be an eclipse of the Sun visible from parts of Europe on March 20th 2015. We can calculate the orbit of the Moon very accurately and so predict that the Moon will be between the Earth and the Sun then. This prediction is testable: Just go to the right part of Europe, and see if it goes dark.

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VW Golf VIThis post was inspired by a Guardian article about the American University Harvard (probably the world’s richest university) announcing that “Major Periodical Subscriptions Cannot Be Sustained” by which they mean that the journals (aka periodicals) where academics like me publish our research results are getting so expensive that Harvard can no longer afford them.

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Yesterday was the 2012 postgraduate graduation ceremony where physics graduands got their masters and PhDs. A student of mine got her PhD, so I was there, and very proud. She is from Malaysia so her parents could not be there, but her husband was and lots of pictures were taken so her parents could see what their daughter had achieved.

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Blue energy mechanismI have just got back from a scientific conference in Bristol. I thoroughly enjoyed it; it was great to hear of interesting science, and to meet up with friends I have not met for a year or two. Most of the talks were quite pure science and quite technical, but I did learn about ‘blue energy’.

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1belladonnaHomeopathy claims to treat illness with dilute solutions of molecules, very dilute solutions of molecules. A standard dilution is to take a solution of a plant extract and then dilute by a factor of 100, 30 times in succession. This dilutes by a factor of 10030. This is seriously dilute. Consider 1cm3 of a 1% solution of a plant extract molecule in alcohol (ethanol), then as 1cm3 contains around 1022 molecules of alcohol, it will contain 1020 molecules of the plant molecule. Diluting by a factor of 1060 reduces the average number of molecules to 10-40. Roughly speaking, if we could make 1040 samples, only one would have a single molecule of the plant extract, the other 1040-1 samples would have zero plant molecules in them.

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Over Easter, I had a very nice lunch back in south Wales, at The Butchers Arms in Alltwen. It was very good, I can recommend it if you are in that part of the world. We asked for a jug of water, which came with slices of both lemon and lime. Very nice. As a scientist I was curious about the fact that the lemon slice floated on the top of the water, while the lime slice sank to the bottom.

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Sir Isaac Newton 1702Extraordinary levels of drive. This kept both of them at the top of their respective professions for decades. I watched ‘The Secret Life of Bob Monkhouse‘ on BBC4 last night. Monkhouse was a driven complex man who worked very hard to stay at the top of comedy/light-entertainment from the late 1940s almost until his death in 2003. You might think the comedian and host of Family Fortunes would have little in common with Isaac Newton. But Newton was another driven complex man. Although of course clearly one with different talents, he was a mathematical genius with great physical intuition, but would have made an exceptionally poor stand-up.

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