Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Info : Rolls Royce Plc

NSB was surprised to find out recently that the activities of aero-engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce are actually very broad. The customer base of the company includes over 500 airlines, 160 armed forces, over 2,500 marine customers, and energy customers in over 100 countries. To focus on perhaps the most unexpected of these, click here to see the diversity of the company’s activities in the marine area.

Home to a large part of the civil aerospace and submarines business sectors of the company, Derby has over 10,000 working in the city. The work is wide ranging and covers the full spectrum from R&D to manufacturing to business support. Whilst the aero-engine business is well known, you may be surprised to learn that submarines sector, based at Raynesway, manufactures nuclear reactor cores for Royal Navy nuclear submarines. In addition, the Rolls-Royce Apprentice Training is located here and recruits some 150-200 apprentices annually. Check out this video to get a feel for some of the awesome technology involved in aero-engine manufacture.

Modern Submarines can hold their breath out of the water for up to two hours

The Trent 1000 cowling was designed by Laura Ashley, allegedly

Ansty (nr Coventry)
Home to a number of operations, the Ansty site employs some 800 people. The largest business on the site is the Rolls-Royce Aero Repair & Overhaul (AR&O) facility which supports and overhauls gas turbines that are in operation around the world. In addition the site supports the Fan Case facility which manufactures titanium and aluminium fan cases for the Trent family of civil aero engines.

Overhaul this !

Hucknall (nr Nottingham)
This site is home to operations manufacturing gas turbine components (including combustion casings and liners) and has seen recent investment in new pre-production facilities for JSF work. Some 900 people are employed at Hucknall.

The combustion chamber is the very, very, very hot bit

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Notts Uni Science Public Lectures 2012

A new series of Science Public Lectures starting at Nottingham University in January. All lectures are 6 to 7pm and in the B1 Lecture Theatre (School of Physics and Astronomy)

12th January : The Space Shuttle Story (Dr Daniel Fantin)
23rd February : How to Get Down from a Yak (Dr Mike Clifford)
15th March : Brewing Science (Dr David Cook)
19th April : Magnetic Resonance Imaging (Prof Sir Peter Mansfield)
17th May : Dung Beeltes and Their Battle Against Drugs (Dr Helen West)

No admission charge and no need to book in advance

More information here: www.nottingham.ac.uk/astronomy/publictalks.html

You can read reviews of some recent (and invariably very interesting) public lectures here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Where Do Graduates Go? 2011

"What Do Graduates Do?" is a report written by the members of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS. It looks at those who graduated in 2010 and describes their status six months after graduation.

Key Data is shown in the Table below. One thing that struck NSB was the large number of graduates who were working in retail and catering jobs, presumably not the kind of employment that they did a degree course for (click on image to enlarge). . .

There is also some data on salaries, but it is not quite clear (to NSB at least) what the data represents. It seems to be averages from different regions, but that is something of a guess. In addition, it can be seem that there is no line item for the very many graduates who are in retail and catering jobs (which presumably pay very little), which makes NSF somewhat nervous about the data. On the other hand, thre text of the report clearly states:
"Amongst first degree graduates working full time in the UK who have reported their salaries in the DLHE survey, the average salary ranged from £17,720 to £23,335"
Anyway, here is the data . .

Friday, 9 December 2011

A morning of public lectures from Notts Uni Scientists.

The Festive Lectures: A morning of public lectures from University of Nottingham Scientists.
Monday, 19th December 2011 at the Keighton Auditorium, School of Mathematical Sciences, University Park, Nottingham.

All welcome, refreshments provided!

09:30 Dan Lee: ‘MRI from a user’s perspective’
10:15 Eleanor Grimes & Jennie Lord : ‘Drug delivery, targeted therapeutics and the future of medicine’
11:00 Tea/coffee
11:15 Hannah Smith & Susan Zappala : ‘Staying Alive: Plants, soil and their importance for us’
12:00 Oli Croad & Gareth Shannon : ‘Probing Proteins: from the laboratory to the super computer’
12:45 Close

For more details and to confirm attendance, please contact Jennie Lord paxjl6@nottingham.ac.uk

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Public Lecture - Chris Lintott - Astronomer

To close out their current series of public lectures, the Astronomy Department at Nottingham University aimed high and managed to persuade Chris Lintott to present a review of 2011 astronomy highlights.

Chris is an astrophysist, co-presenter of The Sky at Night and involved in a number of projects aiming to bring popular science to a wider audience.

A very engaging speaker, Chris’s talk was entitled “From Mars to the Distant Planets” and he began by pointing out that there was a great deal of astronomy being performed, with some 2,500 press releases landing in his inbox over the last 12months. He then started the talk proper by discussing what has been happening on Mars. . .

The Mars Rover “Opportunity”, which has been in operation far longer than its original design life, has travelled some 21km since landing on the red planet. This has mostly been over gentle sand dunes and in the direction of the Endeavour crater to investigate the rock structures. Endeavour is of interest because craters allow rocks that are normally buried below ground to be investigated. Along the Opportunity has taken some incredible images and made some important discoveries. For example, recently the rover examined the rocks in a boulder field and found them to be gypsum, which must have been formed in the past by underground flowing water.

The new Vauxhall could do a lot more than just automatic parking

A different view of Mars comes from the orbiting HiRise camera(see here and here), whose website has the tagline “Explore Mars, one giant image at a time”. Chris picked out one set of images that showed evidence of seasonal salt water flows on hillsides (although other researchers have claimed that the flows are merely dust flows.
Apple were determined to address the criticisms of the camera in the iPad2

And there’s more, another Mars lander has just set off from Earth to begin its mission, This vehicle, called “Curiosity” is much larger (about the size of a small car) and is intended to have a much greater range than the previous rovers. Because of its large size, it cannot land using the usual balloon cushions, instead it has to use a frankly bonkers system of hovering carrier craft and winch. You can see just how bonkers this procedure is in the video below (if you are in a hurry, start at 33sec)

Curiosity has four mission goals :
1.Determine whether Mars could ever have supported life
2.Study the climate of Mars
3.Study the geology of Mars
4.Plan for a human mission to Mars

Having miraculously survived its landing sequence, Curiosity was ready for action

Another highlight of the year for Chris was the investigation of the asteroid Vesta by the Dawn probe (see here and here) which revealed a huge mountain and that Vesta was composed of an interesting mix of old and new rocks.
Powered by Ion engines, just like a TIE fighter !

A Chaotic Solar System
It has long been known that many of the craters on the surface of the moon were produced during an intense period of activity known as the “Late Heavy Bombardment” but it is only now that researchers are beginning to understand what may have caused the Bombardment.The early solar system was very chaotic, to the extent that it may have ejected a fifth gas giant and Uranus and Neptune may have swapped places!

As the orbits of the planets shifted, they may have nudged material from stable orbits in towards the sun or outwards away from the solar system. It was this incoming material that may have formed the basis for the Late Heavy Bombardment.

Surprisingly, it has been the study of planets orbiting other stars that that has given clues to the formation of our own solar system. A key tool in this investigation has been the Kepler satellite which is “specifically designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover dozens of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets”. The satellite only has one instrument - a photometer that continuously monitors the brightness of over 145,000 main sequence stars in a fixed field of view. The instrument registers the very small dips in a star’s brightness that occur when a planet moves in front of it. To do this, the instrument needs to be able to register a reduction in brightness of just 0.01% - an astonishing level of accuracy.
Recently, Kepler recently found a planet (Kepler 22B) that was in the “goldilocks” zone around a star where temperatures are in the range that allows liquid water to form. There seems little doubt that the accelerating progress in this area will results in many such planets being discovered in the future.

Chris pointed out that planets are not just being found orbiting stars, but also floating freely in space, presumably because they have been ejected from unstable young solar systems. Surprisingly, there are a lot of these “free” planets, in fact, in our galaxy there may be more lone planets than there are stars!

The Lockman Hole
Telescopes wishing to look at objects outside our own galaxy often turn their direction to a region of the sky known as the “Lockman Hole”, as this has an unusually low amount of Hydrogen gas present in it. The Herschel Telescope has been looking in this direction and managed to produce some stunning images. For example, in the image below, each dot is a galaxy. I’ll say that again, each dot is a whole multi-million star GALALXY !!!!
WARNING : Thinking about this picture for too long may result in your brain melting.

Are you for SCUBA?
Moving back to Earth, Chris listed a few highlights of the ground-based telescope year. First off was the SCUBA-2 submillimetre camera which is now working in a telescope on Hawaii. A program plagued with bad luck (including losing 9 months of development because the lab was sealed due to a plutonium spillage), SCUBA2 will be able to see into the dust clouds where stars are forming, thus giving further insights to this process.

The huge ALMA project in Chile, comprising some 66 radio telescopes (of which 19 have been set up so far) arranged in an array. Gobsmackingly, the individual dishes are mobile, which allows the array to have a variable “zoom”.

Press Release of the Year
Chris peppered his talk with some humorous asides, largely related to the way astronomical research is presented in the media. His favourite related to an image of the oldest quasar yet found (see red dot near centre of image below). . .

. . . was turned into the following by a PR department :

Lastly, before the Q&A session, Chris provided a few links for prople who were interested in learning more about astronomy:

The Milky Way Project aims to sort and measure our galaxy. We're asking you to help us find and draw bubbles in beautiful infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Understanding the cold, dusty material that we see in these images, helps scientists to learn how stars form and how our galaxy changes and evolves with time

Astronomy and science chatter from astronomers Chris Lintott and Robert Simpson can be found at : http://recycledelectrons.tumblr.com/

Lastly, you can email Chris at : chris@zooniverse.org

Image Sources : Wikipedia and AP Photo/ ESO, ESA/SPIRE/HerMES

Update (11 Dec)
Chris has subsequently very helpfully mentioned that most astronomy papers are available at www.arxiv.org

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Public Science Lectures - 19th Dec (am)

The Festive Lectures: A morning of public lectures from University of Nottingham Scientists.
Monday, 19th December 2011 at the Keighton Auditorium, School of Mathematical Sciences, University Park, Nottingham.
All welcome, refreshments provided!

09:30 - Dan Lee: ‘MRI from a user’s perspective’
10:15 - Eleanor Grimes & Jennie Lord : ‘Drug delivery, targeted therapeutics and the future of medicine’
11:00 - Tea/coffee
11:15 - Hannah Smith & Susan Zappala : ‘Staying Alive: Plants, soil and their importance for us’
12:00 - Oli Croad & Gareth Shannon : ‘Probing Proteins: from the laboratory to the super computer’
12:45 - Close
For more details and to confirm attendance, please contact Jennie Lord paxjl6@nottingham.ac.uk

Public Lecture - Galaxy Formation

The Astronomy department of the University of Nottingham held another of their public lectures this week. Titled “Galaxy Formation and Transformation” it was presented by the wonderfully accented Dr. Alfonso Aragon-Salamanca - who will be referred to as Dr A for the rest of this post.

Dr A began by providing some background information of galaxy types, explaining that galaxies can be broken down into the following categories

Spiral Galaxies. With large numbers of young stars, these galaxies have the recognisable spiral arms, sometimes with a central bar.

Lenticular Galaxies. These are flat discs, as with the Elliptical galaxies, these contain few young stars and no gas or dust (which are the raw materials of star formation).

Elliptical Galaxies. These look like large balls of stars, with no particular structure. They contain few young stars and no gas or dust.

Keep the Lenticular and Spiral types in mind - we will be coming back to them later.

As well as these main classes, there are also irregular galaxies which have shapes that are, well, irregualar. Dr A explained that this was generally because these galaxies were either very small (and thus lacking in gravity) or the result of a car-crash between two separate galaxies.

These various types of galaxies can be shown on the Hubble Morphological Classification System

The Sc spiral? Just keep going and turn left at the lenticular galaxy. You can't miss it. If you see an Esso garage, you've gone too far

Dr A then moved on to the question of how galaxies formed. The detail was easy to explain - astronomers don’t really know !

However, researchers are able to explain galaxy formation in more general terms. To do so, we need to go back to the beginning. . .

Immediately after the Big Bang, the Universe was very hot, so hot that even atoms could not form, and was also opaque to light and other electromagnetic radiation. And it stayed this way for around 400,000yrs.

After this time, the universe had cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of the neutrons and protons, the building blocks of the elements. At the same time, the universe became transparent to light, and the light radiation that was released at this time has been travelling ever since, slowly getting cooler and cooler. It can now be seen by telescopes as the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.

Upon coming back from his holiday, Adam realised that he had forgotton to put the pizza in the freezer

It is the small differences in this radiation that gave rise, over time to stars and galaxies. You can see how this process might have worked in simulations by the Max Plank Institute (scroll down to the clip titled “The 4D Universe”). These simulations are believed to be more or less accurate because they describe the kind of distributions of galaxies that we actually see in space around us.

When astronomers look at galaxies the amount of matter they can see is a lot less than is required to explain the way they move. So they have proposed that there is another type of matter (known as “dark matter”) that provides the rest of the mass. Dark matter does not interact with light or with the ordinary matter we see around us - but does have mass and reacts to gravity. Weird eh?

Different telescopes are designed to operate at different wavelengths, from X-rays to radio waves, and these different frequencies of electromagnetic radiation are emitted by different types parts of a galaxy. For example :

UV shows massive, hot, young stars
Visible shows middle aged stars
Near Infra-red shows old stars
Mid Infra-red shows dust
Far Infra-red shows hydrogen

Thus galaxies that are emitting strongly in the UV, Mid and Far IR have young stars and the raw materials (dust and hydrogen) to form new start. (For example, M81)

Conversely, galaxies that are emitting weakly in these areas (but strongly in the Near IR) are composed of old stars and cannot make significant numbers of new stars. These galaxies are dying. (For example M84)

With the capabilities of telescopes such as Hubble, astronomers have been able to look at galaxies billions of light years away. As the light we are seeing from these galaxies left them billions of years ago we are essentially seeing them as they were then.

Studies on these images have shown that six billion years ago, the universe had a high proportion of spiral galaxies (often in clusters) and few lenticular galaxies.

Today, it is the lenticular galaxies that are found in clusters, with a few isolated spiral galaxies around them.

So what happened?

Research is suggesting many of the spiral galaxies that fall into clusters had the gas and dust stripped from them due to shock waves from interactions with other galaxies in the cluster.

These “stripped” galaxies can no longer produce new stars so, moving forward to today, we are left with the preponderance of (dying) lenticular galaxies that are observed around us.

You can see a lot of the slides presented in the talk here (although, to be fair, they are rather heavy going if you do not have an astronomer to guide you through them.

In short, a fascinating lecture, that provided a possible narrative for the evolution of the universe and contained some spectacular animations.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

East Midlands Aerospace Companies

The UK has a fine aerospace history, with aircraft such as the Spitfire, Airbus and Harrier having become household words.

And the products of this industy can touch the soul too. For example, Concorde, a heart-breakingly beautiful aircraft, never fails to halt NSB in its tracks whenever it appears on the TV, on the internet or in the print media.

That Aerospace tradition lives on, and you can read about just how alive it is by visiting the website of the Midlands Aerospace Alliance

NSB has compiled a list of some of the companies in or around Nottingham who are active in this field, largely taken from the MAA database. So, if you are thinking about a career in industry, why not consider the Aerospace sector - where you can literally be at the leading edge !

Accrofab Ltd
Accrofab offer precision fabrication and machining services for both development and production work. Working with exotic alloys and titanium, Accrofab manufacture new build and legacy components and serve a range of aerospace and high integrity end-users.

Advanced Composites Group
Advanced Composites Group (ACG) is an established provider of composite material technology for the aerospace industry, and a leading manufacturer of prepreg material for UAV platforms. ACG manufactures OEM qualified structural prepregs for out-of autoclave processing of civil and military aircraft structural components.

Atlas composites
Atlas designs and manufactures carbon/glass/aramid fibre composite components and tooling for defence and aerospace. We work from concept to construction using in house CAD/CAM technology with the ability to receive any format of data.

Avingtrans Aerospace Division
Avingtrans Aerospace is a division within Avingtrans plc, specialising in the supply of rigid piping, precision components, fittings and services to the aerospace industry.

Barton Precision Engineers Ltd
Barton Precision is a dynamic, proven supplier and manufacturer of ultra high integrity precision engineering solutions.

Bulwell Precision Engineers Ltd
A manufacturer of precision components, sub assemblies and critical performance assemblies to aerospace primes and the aerospace supply chain. Provision of a full service of machining, fabrication, surface treatment and assembly makes the business a solutions provider to customers worldwide.

C&H Precision Engineers Ltd
CHP have the specialist capabilities and production processes for accredited finishing on a wide range of components including: turbine blades and vanes, engine casings, undercarriage landing gear parts, one-off alien parts, blisk polishing.

Castlet Ltd (Lincoln)
Castlet is a UK based SME electronic engineering company with a respected and stable market position within the power generation industry, particularly in the UK and Far East. The aerospace division has a range of high quality ultra reliable electro-mechanical and electronic components and systems for a range of sophisticated aerospace platforms within the military and civil sectors.

Delta Aircraft Services
Delta Aircraft Services are specialists in the manufacture of formed tube assemblies and welded assemblies. CNC and NC bending up to 2.5” diameter in stainless steel, aluminium and titanium

Doughty Precision Engineering Ltd
Doughty is a leading global supplier of intricate sub-contract machined parts to aerospace, electrical engineering and other leading companies. Doughty specialise in a cost reducing 'one-hit machining' philosophy wherever feasible.

Gardner Aerospace (Ilkeston)
Gardner Aerospace Ilkeston Limited machines, fabricates, treats, assembles and repairs small-to-medium precision parts, kits, sub-assemblies and assemblies in soft, hard and exotic metals.

Glenair UK Ltd
Glenair manufacture a wide range of military and aerospace qualified circular and Micro-D connectors, backshells, conduit, braiding, harness accessories, heatshrink boots and tooling. Other products include fibre optic components and assemblies, composite components and enclosures. www.glenair.com

Gould Alloys Ltd (chesterfield)
Gould Alloys is a leading supplier of high quality metals to the aerospace industry, holding major aerospace company approvals.

Intelligent Energy (Loughborough)
Intelligent Energy is a clean power systems company, focused on the provision of cleaner, low carbon power through its leading fuel cell technology. Successes include the development of the world’s first fuel cell motorbike and supplying the fuel cell system to Boeing which powered the world’s first manned fuel cell aircraft

Manthorpe Engineering
Manthorpe Engineering Ltd is a supplier to the power generation, aerospace, defence and processing industries through its impressive precision machining and fabrication facilities. With CNC machining capacity including 5 axis milling/turning up to 3.0 metre diameter and fabrications up to 30 tonnes we can offer a wealth of experience working in aluminium, carbon steels, stainless steels and the exotic alloys including nimonic, inconel, waspaloy and titanium.

Midland Aerospace
Midland Aerospace are a vibrant aerospace subcontractor supplying high integrity 3/5 axis machined components into prime contractors within the UK. Midland also have the process capability to manufacture precision fabricated and welded assemblies.

Paul Fabrications Ltd
Paul Fabrications manufacture complex fabricated and machined assemblies for the aerospace, defence and nuclear power sectors. With over 40 manufacturing processes in-house you gain an appreciation of the breadth of engineering capability available.

Rolls-Royce PLC
Rolls-Royce is a world-leading power systems company operating in civil aerospace, defence, marine, energy and nuclear markets. In civil aerospace Rolls-Royce offers the industry's broadest range of engines and more than 600 airlines rely on Rolls-Royce power, including 9 of the world's top 10. The installed civil engine base is 12,500 and engines for both the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus XWB programmes are in development. In defence aerospace we are involved in many of the major global programmes, powering approximately 25% of the world's military fleet and have 16 engine programmes in different stages of development, production or service.

SPS Aerostructures
SPS Aerostructures' machining facility in Mansfield, England provides a world-class capability for precision machining of a wide variety of aircraft structural components. It is equipped with state of the art machine tools ranging from 3-axis vertical to 5-axis horizontal CNC machining centres

CNR Services International Ltd
CNR delivers leading-edge engineering design services to a wide range of industry sectors. From concept generation and development, through the design and optimisation of the product, to the effective integration into the manufacturing process,

Jaivel Europe Limited
Provider of knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) services to the aerospace and power generation industries.

Sim-Cast Limited
Sim-Cast are a provider of improvement solutions to foundries producing vacuum cast components, specialising in single crystal, directional solidified and equiax casting processes. Using a range of quality tools such as ProCAST solidification software as well as 6 sigma and lean methodologies, Sim-Cast can provide turnkey improvement services to the aerospace, automotive, power generation and medical markets.

SCITEK Consultants Ltd
Specialists in providing the link from initial ideas to industrial solutions by delivering everything from complete turnkey development test rigs to advice borne from experience.

Cullem Detuners
Cullum Detuners Limited specialise in the design, manufacture, installation and commissioning of noise control equipment associated with gas turbines and in particular have over sixty years experience supplying jet engine test facilities, hush houses, silencers and other bespoke testing equipment associated with the aircraft industry.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Median Salaries for Chemists - 2010

Some interesting salary data on various careers in Chemistry was recently reported in the New Scientist magazine.

Based on the Trends in Remuneration 2010 survey by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the data describes the median salary (independant of gender and age) in various chemistry sectors:

Oil and Allied Products have a clear lead with a median salary of £53,600

Pharmaceuticals and University careers are close behind with medians in the range £47,600 to £49,500

Pharmaceuticals - Big Money !

Consulting and the Nuclear industry are next on the list at £45,000

Plastics, the Water Industry, Government laboratories and the Food/Beverage Industry come in with medians in the range £39,300 to £42,000

Food and Beverage Industry - Not-Quite-So-Big Money

Bottom of the list (although this is, of course, a relative term) are Schools, Research Institutes and Contract Research with medians in the range £34,400 to £36,000

Interview - Dr Deborah Kays -Chemistry Lecturer

The NSB was chuffed to have the opportunity to interview Chemistry Lecturer Dr Deborah Kays recently.

The interview kicked off with a few questions about how Debbie had become interested in Chemistry. Debbie recalled how, as a youngster, one of the books that she possessed had a section on chemistry which included an article on how two very reactive and dangerous chemicals, Sodium and Chlorine, react together to form safe, edible, inert table salt (sodium chloride). This left a deep impression on Deborah and was one of the reasons she later took up Chemistry as a career.

It was also worth noting that Debbie “only” took the standard double-science GCSE exam (although one suspects that her grade was far from standard !) which shows that you do not need to take the three separate sciences at GCDE to make a career in the sciences.

Debbie obtained both her graduate degree, PhD and initial postdoctoral research post at Cardiff University, with her research work focussing on the chemistry of Boron and on investigation the nature of chemical bonds. After a spell at Oxford University she was appointed Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Nottingham in 2007.

NSBV asked Dr Kays for her top tip for students as whatever strategy she was using had celearly worked. Debbie's response was that students should practice, practice, practice as there is a significant component of the study of Chemistry that is simply rote learning of facts, tables and reaction schemes.

Regarding her time at Oxford, Dr Kays mentioned that one unusual aspect of Oxford University was the college system. Usually, after spending the working day with other chemists, the evening meal would be at the college and one could end up sitting next to a historian, engineer or physicist !

This was quite different from more conventional universities, where one easily spend all ones time surrounded by people from a similar technical background.

A large part of the interview involved a discussion covering the basics (in layman's terms) of what atoms are and how they bond to each other. So let's get down and dirty with the basic components of all the materials we see around us. . .

All the matter you see around you, the chair you are sitting on, the metal case of the computer you are using, the muscles and blood in your body, even the air around you - is composed of basic building blocks called atoms.

Atoms are very, very, very small. 10million of them lined up end to end would form a line just 1mm long.

They are composed of a small nucleus (containing protons and neutrons) which is surrounded by a cloud of electrons. It’s probably easiest to see an example in pictorial form:

As you can see, the number of +ve and -ve charges balances out.

It’s worth mentioning that the nucleus is typically just 1/10,000th of the size of the atom, so the overwhelming majority of an atom is just empty space !!

By the way, the simplest element is Hydrogen, which has just one electron and one proton:
There are about 90 different types of naturally occurring atoms. These are the elements we recognise from everyday life (oxygen, iron, carbon, gold etc). Each element is known by its “chemical symbol” (Oxygen= O, Iron=Fe, Carbon=C, Gold=Au etc)

Different elements have different numbers of protons in the nucleus (the number of neutrons also changes but it is the number of protons that is key)

For example, Oxygen has 8 protons (and thus also 8 electrons) while Iron has 56 protons (and, wait for it, 56 electrons)

Importantly, the electrons form distinct layers (known as shells) and elements that have full shells are inert and will not react with other elements.

The innermost shell can hold 2 electrons. As you have seen, Helium atoms have this shell filled nicely. This is why Helium does not react with anything (and why Helium airships are much safer than Hydrogen ones).

The next two shells can hold 8 and 18 electrons respectively. Let’s take a look at the example of oxygen:
As mentioned previously, atoms want to fill their electron shells. One way they can do this is to bond with other atoms and “share” electrons.

When two or more atoms bond together, they form a “molecule”

To take an example of how bonding can do this, let us look at water, a simple but oh-so-important molecule. In the diagram below, you can see how the Oxygen forms a bond with each of two Hydrogen atoms. The bonds allow the Oxygen and the Hydrogen to share electrons, thus filling the spaces in their respective outer shells.
The two Hydrogen atoms share their single electrons with the Oxygen, thus giving the Oxygen a full outer orbital of 8 electrons, whilst the Oxygen shares two of its electrons with the Hydrogens (one each), thus giving them a full outer orbital of 2 electrons (remember, the first shell only holds two electrons)

The picture painted here is, in reality, quite a simplistic one. There are many types of bonding (e.g ionic bonding, double bonds, metallic bonding, delocalised bonding) and the behaviour of electrons is actually more like a wave than a hard particle moving around a nucleus. However, this simple approach does have the tremendous advantage of being intuitive and of explaining a fair amount of basic chemistry.

As you may have worked out, Oxygen will often make try to make two bonds with other atoms. And in just the same way as this is characteristic of the Oxygen atom, so other elements have their own characteristic number of bonds that they will try to form. For example:

Hydrogen 1 bond
Chlorine 1 bond
Magnesium 2 bonds
Nitrogen 3 bonds
Carbon 4 bonds

Often, the bonds between atoms are represented by lines, so water could be represented as :
It’s worth mentioning that Carbon has the interesting property of being able to form long chains. For example, Polythene (as used in carrier bags etc) is formed of molecules thousands of atoms long and has the structure below (remember, Carbon wants to make four bonds, Hydrogen wants to make just one):
Another, somewhat less laborious, way of writing the structure of Polythene is like this :
Lastly, when chemists draw structures, they often don’t bother putting all the Hydrogen atoms down, and sometimes just use kinks in the line to denote where the carbons are (chains of carbon are genuinely kinked like this, so it’s not an arbitrary convention). For example, the Polythene molecule shown above might be notated as :
By the way, you can read the fascinating story of how Polythene was discovered here. Dear reader, if you have gotten this far, I salute you. The hard work is now over, and it’s payback time.

You should now have the tools to understand, more or less, the structure of many of the chemical compounds that are around us.

To kick off, why not check out these bad boys at Wikipedia (one tiny note, if you see bonds that are wedges or dashes, it just means that they are bonds angled towards you or away from you respectively)

Lactic Acid.This is the chemical that causes the burning sensation in your legs or arms after very vigouous excersise.
Vitamin C

Whilst the compounds above are pretty straightforward, the proteins that are produced by plants, animals and bacteria are staggeringly complicated.

Have a look at Haemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen in your blood.

Or Testosterone, the hormone that makes males. . .er. .. male.

Or Fibrilin, a building product of elastic fibres in connective tissue

Lastly, check out these protein image galleries. Literally awe-inspring.

Now, to be fair, we have drifted some considerable distance away from the discussion in the interview so let us get back there by mentioning Dr Kays' comments on the research that she undertakes.

Given that Dr Kays' work in very much in the “blue sky” area, with no immediate compounds or industrial applications on the horizon, BFTF asked how the research was funded. Debbie explained that the work was investigating the nature of chemical bonds and this improved understanding would be of value to chemistry generally. Having said that, these “complexes” as they are known, may lead to improved catalysts in the future.

Dr Kays then went on to explain how the process of making (or synthesizing) new chemicals works. Firstly, the researcher looks at the literature to see what kinds of reactions, or combinations of reactions, are likely to get them from their starting compounds to the molecule that that wish to make and study. At each step of the process, they will assess what chemicals have been made before filtering, distilling or otherwise processing the material to remove unwanted compounds (or unused reactants) before moving to the next step. Debbie commented that some reactions may work well, with 100% of the reactants being converted to the chemical required for the next step in the process whereas in other cases only a small fraction of the reactants may be converted. In the worst case, the reaction may not give the researcher what they want at all !

On the other hand, Debbie said that it is a wonderful feeling to produce a new chemical, perhaps a chemical that no one has ever seen before and that this had been one of the highlights of her PhD work.

Wondering whether this was something that you or I could share in, NSB mentioned a recent article by Ben Goldacre which described how an ordinary member of the public had been able to show that the “'Threefold variation' in UK bowel cancer rates" reported by the BBC was very largely the effect of small health authorities having more variable cancer rates that larger health authorities (in the same way that a people tossing a coin twice will have a much more variable rate of “heads” than people tossing a coin 100 time). Debbie was certainly supportive of the public getting involved in this kind of “Citizens Research” activity

NSB was interested in the kind of jobs that chemistry graduates might end up in. Debbie responded by saying that a degree in chemistry was highly values across many careers because it was perceived as being difficult and in requiring a numerate, organised mind. Thus graduates could move on from their initial degree to a further qualification, or to industry or to a completely different sector such as banking.

Moving towards the end of the interview, NSB asked Debbie to name a chemist that she particularly admired. Expecting a response along the lines of Curie, Rutherford, Mendeleev or Ibn Hayyan, BFTF was surprised to hear Debbie choose Professor Phil Power.

With his name not being one that could be described as “household” (and the subject of scientists not being as well know as footballers is something that we could perhaps discuss another day) Debbie explained that for many years the maximum number of bonds that had been produced between tow atoms had been four and that many chemists had believed achieving a “quintuple” bond was impossible.

But Prof Power only went and did it, didn’t he !! His development of a Chromium complex that contained 5 bonds was a real breakthrough. You can read about it here.

Penultimately, this is perhaps a good time to mention a few pointers towards more information about Dr Kays and her work. You can find out more about her research here and she appears in one of Nottingham University’s groovy “Periodic Videos” here

UPDATE: 14 June 12

Researchers have managed to create the first room temperature Boron triple bond - could open up whole new vistas of chemical possibilities.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Granular Dynamics and Asteroid Formation - Pt 1 - Lecture

Another fantastic public lecture at Nottingham University ! These really are wonderful FREE events that the local community can take advantage of.

This one was titled "Granular Dynamics : Patterns in the Sand" and was presented by James Clewett, a 3rd yr PhD student in the University of Nottingham Physics Department.

Granular Dynamics is the study of how systems containing large numbers of particles behave. For example :
* Dry Sand (and how it forms sand dunes)
* Wet Sand (and how it can be used to form sandcastles)
* Mixing of powders in foods and medicines (want to ensure even mixing)

An interesting property of granular systems is that they can behave as solids (e.g. damp sand), liquids (e.g. sand in an hour glass) or gases (e.g. sand in a dust storm)

Another aspect of the behaviour of granular systems, especially those that are being agitated in some way, is the "Brazil Nut Effect", so called after the phenomena shown by Brazil nuts rising to the top of a bag of mixed nuts.

James and his colleagues have been looking at asteroids and considering whether they may have a granular structure.

One piece of evidence that at least some asteroids may have a granular structure came with the discovery of the KW4 asteroid (see here), which comprises a main asteroid about 1.3km in diameter, which is orbited by a "moon" that is about 360m in diameter. By measuring the speed of the orbit of the moon, it became clear that KW4 had a low density and must therefore be quite porous.

Another piece of evidence was the finding that, whilst small asteroids have a variety of spin speeds, larger asteroids only spin slowly. This is important because it is consistent with a granular nature. Granular bodies are weak and tend to break up if subjected to larger stresses (i.e. being massive and fast spinning).

A third piece of evidence was found when the Japanese Hayabusa Space Probe visited the Itakawa asteroid (see here and especially here) with the aim of scooping up some of its surface and bringing it back to earth. The probe photographed the asteroid in great detail and it can be seen that it has a very rocky surface (at least in parts, some areas appear very smooth). This kind of surface is consistent with operation of the "Brazil Nut Effect", possibly on timescales of millions of years. James' group has written a paper on the possibility of another asteroid, Eros, also having a similar surface appearance (see here)

NSB has found itself going back to the pictures of Itokawa and gazing at them wondrously and for some considerably time.

As an aside, NSB found a really interesting paper titled "Asteroid Density, Porosity and Structure" (see here) on the Internet whilst preparing this post. About half way through there is a cracking chart showing the different structures of various asteroids, and a lot of other information besides. The suggestion is made that these low density asteroids are basically big piles of rocks and sand - essentially a pile of rubble!

The lecture covered a number of other aspects of granular dynamics. NSB suspects that it would do a pretty poor job of explaining these so is going to respectfully point you, dear reader to the University of Nottingham Granular Dynamics Group Webpage (see here), where you can find out much, much more about the research that goes on there. There is also an interesting video on the behaviour of vibrating granular systems as part of the "60 symbols" series (see here)

Oh, and you can find out more about James, including his past as a World Champion Tetris player, at his website (see here)

Links (same as those embedded in text above)
KW4 asteroid

Itokawa asteoid

Asteroid Density, Porosity, and Structure

The Brazil Nut Effect on Eros

Summary of reports in "Science" of Hayabusa imagery

University of Nottingham Granular Dynamics Group :

Granular Dynamics at the 60 Symbols series

James Clewett's Website

Granular Dynamics and Asteroid Formation - Pt 2 - Modelling at Home

About half way through the lecture on Granular Systems at the University of Nottingham see Part 1 here the presenter began showing some short videos of how the particles in granular solids behaved when agitated. One of the effects shown was the "Brazil Nut Effect" and, on seeing this, Number One son leaned over and whispered "We could do this in Phun".

"Phun" is a free software program that allows you to create shapes and simple machines that can then be "run" in an environment that has gravity, air resistance and other characteristics of the real world. I could go on but, to be honest, the short demonstration video below says it all. Dear Reader, if you can watch this without a sense of "wow" and a wish to have a go yourself, then perhaps you need to check whether your heart has somehow turned to stone. . .

Awesome, isn't it! You can download the software, for free, here (scroll down to the section called "old verions" to get the free version).

Now, to get back to the lecture. NSB had a go at modelling (more or less) the "Brazil Nut Effect" in Phun.

This was done by making a box that had a load of small balls inside it, as well as one larger ball. The whole thing was then agitated by two triangular cams located below the box that were rotating at about 100rpm. Somewhat to NSB's surprise, the model worked, with the larger ball rising to the surface each time. Three screenshots of a typical run are are shown below, one from the start, one from the middle and one at the end (i.e. when the larger ball had reached the surface)

In the example above, the larger ball is twice the diameter of the other balls. What do you think would happen if the larger ball was three, four or five times the diameter of the other balls? Would it rise to the top even faster? BFTF certainly thought so and tried it. The results are shown below (they are all the time to rise to the surface, the average of three runs and are corrected for the fact the larger balls don't have to rise so far before the get to the surface)

2 x diameter of standard ball : 125sec
3 x diameter of standard ball : 107sec
4 x diameter of standard ball : 131sec
5 x diameter of standard ball : 87sec

Not exactly the clearest of trends is it? The result for the 4xdiameter ball seems a little out of place, so BFTF ran that one a further three times to get more data, and found the average to go up to 143 seconds for his trouble.

That really does seem weird, and BFTF could not really understand why there was no trend. NSB also noticed that, once it had reached the top, if the ball moved to the side it would often get "dragged down" towards the bottom of the container for a while before moving towards the centre and rising to the surface.

What was going on? NSB had no idea. . . until it noticed this article that described how particles behaved like a fluid, with convection currents (like peas in a pan of boiling water).

This would imply that the standard balls would also rise to the surface, as they were just caught in the current, as it were. NSB tried this in Phun, but found the marked ball to stay resolutely where it was and not move upwards particularly.

NSB suspects that this is because the balls are all the same size and so pack together really well, thus limiting movement, so perhaps using two or three different shapes of particles would work better.

Out of idle curiosity (and, in case you are wondering, NSB does have a day job that pays all the bills so is not actually idle), NSB then took the "4xdiameter of standard ball". . .er . . .ball and progressively reduced its density down from 2.0g/cc (the same as all the small balls) to 0.5g/cc. Dear Reader, what do you think happened this time. . .?

Well, the results are shown in Chart below:

Presuambly, giving the larger ball a density much bigger than 2g/cc would result in it being too heavy to be "pushed" to the surface, but NSB has not tried this.

So there you. "Phun" - it is brilliant, and you can do real physics on it.

If you haven't already, why not download it and have a go - you know you want to.

Drug Delivery, targeted therapeutics and the future of medicine

NSB went to a fascinating public lecture at the University of Nottingham today. Part of the “New Science Sessions” series, the talk was titled “Drug Delivery, targeted therapeutics and the future of medicine” and presented by two PhD students - Eleanor Grimes and Jennie Lord.

Slightly scary title, it has to be said, but the inclusion of “and the future of medicine” certainly gives them a lot of scope. It’s a bit like a politician giving a talk called “Housing Benefit, targeted welfare and what might happen in Europe over the next hundred years”.

But anyway.

Jennie Lord began the presentation and explained that there are many ways that drugs can be administered (injection, absorption through the skin, orally etc) and that, of these, oral administration is preferred for its obvious attractions of ease, convenience and relatively low cost. A show of hands in the audience indicated that there were far fewer people who would be happy about taking a weekly injection than there were people who would be happy with a weekly tablet.

The example of Ibuprofen was given. This is a drug that blocks hormones that cause pain, welling and inflammation. When given via a tablet, it takes approximately two hours before the peak effect is achieved. Now, the pain relief would come a lot sooner if Ibuprofen were given via injection, but that would be more expensive, more painful (oh, the irony) and would probably require a trip to the doctors.

Having said that, oral administration of medicine does have its problems, particularly in relation to the potential attack by acidic gastric juices and enzymes.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was using some kind of material from nature, that we know is very safe, to deliver drugs. Touchingly, Jennie wondered “Can I help the lives of people out there?”

The talk went on to describe the fascinating structure of the outer cell membranes and how they are built with molecules that have one end that is attracted to water and one end that is repelled by water. These align themselves to form a membrane that is two molecules thick, with the water repelling parts of the molecules buried within the wall (see here for nice description). Critically, the cell wall has a number of proteins embedded in its surface. They perform a number of functions, including allowing some molecules to enter the cell.

Jennie went on to describe the “nano-particles” that her research was looking at. These particles are so tiny that, if scaled up to the size of a football, a football would be the size of the earth! Jennie hopes to be able to use these nanoparticles to encase drugs that would not ordinarily be able to survive a trip into the digestive system and allow them to be absorbed by the transporter molecules into the cells and thence into the bloodstream.

A beautiful microscope image was shown of a cell wrapping itself around a nanoparticle, much like ivy wrapping around rock to envelope the particle.

Incidentally, there is a whole area of “Nano Medicine” (see here) and also journals devoted to this topic (e.g. see here)

At this point the reins passed to Eleanor who described the research she was involved in that was looking at targeted therapeutics and also ways of imaging cancerous areas of the body.

When tumours grow rapidly, their blood supply sometimes can’t keep up. This results in the centre of the tumour being starved of oxygen, a state known as hypoxia. Unfortunately, a lack of oxygen significantly degrades the effectiveness of the two main cancer therapies (chemotherapy and radiotherapy).

Work that Eleanor is involved with has resulted in a drug that specifically targets these regions of “hypoxia”

In addition, her research has looked at a technique to finding these areas of hypoxia in the body by MRI (which is relatively common) as opposed to the current technique, PET (which is only available in Manchester and London). Whilst the details of her research remain under wraps until publication of her thesis, it is known that Glucose tagged with radioactive Fluorine18 is taken up by cells but (becaues of the Fluorine) cannot be metabloised and remains trapped in the cell. As cancerous areas take up a lot of glucose, they also take up a lot of the radioactive Fluorine18. Cancerous cells (due to their high rate of cell division) are vulnerable to radiation and are killed by the positron particle released when the radioactive Fluorine decays. You can read more about some work performed on this technique back in 2003 here

Eleanor mentioned, as an aside, that an element called Gadolinium is used as a contrast dye to show up blood vessels during MRI scanning (they are otherwise difficult to see by this technique). NSB, having never heard of Gadolinium before, was convinced that this was a wind up and wondered whether the presenters would try and push their luck by suggesting that the element lay between Gandalfinium and Obiwonkenobium in the Periodic Table.

Upon checking the Internet later, however, it seems that Gandolium is a pukka material (see here) - which just goes to show.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Biofuels - The Good

The possibility of using fuels derived from crops and other biological sources - so called "BioFuels" for transport applications is very much in the news at the moment. This three part post aims to have a look at some of the positive and negative aspects of Biofuel production, with a final part asking some questions and trying to put the information gained to some useful use.

This post was initially provoked by a fascinating public lecture at Nottingham University earlier this year. Part of a series of lectures from the Midlands branch of the British Science Association, this particular event was titled "Biofuels - what are they and where are they taking us?" and presented by Dr Roger Ibbett who is a researcher in this area.

Dr Ibbett classified the various Biofuel technologies as being First, Second or Third generation.

First Generation Biofuels are derived from plant materials such as sugar beet, sugar cane, corn starch and wheat starch - i.e. plants that would otherwise be used as food. First generation Biofuel plants are already up and running in the UK, with British Sugar producing 70million litres of ethanol per year from 650,000 tones of sugar beet. A by-product of the process, CO2, is supplied to local greenhouses. One aspect of biofuel production that needs to be borne in mind is that the process of biofuel manufacture itself required energy, and if the amount of energy is too high then the whole process becomes self-defeating. Other biofuel plants in the UK include a Vivergo grain ethanol plant in Hull (420 million litres of bioethanol p.a), an Ensus bioethanol plant in Teeside (400 million litres of bioethanol p.a. - plant not yet operational). Biodiesel plants can also be found at Immingham (300 million litres of biodiesel p.a) and Teeside (375 million litres of biodiesel p.a). A significant fraction of the feedstock for these bio-diesel plants is waste cooking oil. Currently, the UK's transport fuels in the UK are 3.3% renewable.

Second Generation Biofuels are derived from non-food agricultural crops, such as wheat straw, corn stover or willow coppice. It is much harder to convert these to fuels than with the sugary/starchy drops used for First Gen Biofuels. There are currently no second generation biofuel plants in operation in the UK.

Third generation Biofuels are very much at the initial research stage and include technologies such as fuel from algae.

The talk went on to describe how US projections suggested that by 2050 biofuels could, if all planned technologies come on stream, comprise perhaps 10% of the liquid fuels market - and this is a market that will have grown by some 50% in the meantime. So biofuels are clearly not the complete answer, but are part of the solution - in combination with more fuel efficient vehicles, hybrid/electric drivetrains etc.

BFTF certainly found the talk to be food for thought, and did a little research on the Intranet later. This revealed that Brazil and USA accounted for some 88% of world biofuel production in 2010 with the Brazilian bioethanol being produced using state-of-the-art processs with sugar cane as the feedstock. The cane stalks, leaves etc were burnt separately to produce heating. All Brazilian vehicles now run on fuel that contains a minimum of 20% bioethanol (some vehicles run on 100% bioethanol).

A well timed article in the 21May2011 issue of the New Scientist, described for 3rd generation biofuels are attracting serious investment. Exxon-Mobil has committed some $600million to developing algal biofuels with gene sequencing pioneer Craig Ventner while a number of other companies such as Joule Unlimited and LS9 are at the pilot plant stage, with plans for large plants being drawn up for the future.

Taking a somewhat different approach to biofuel generation, Action Aid report that the 30million tonnes of agricultural manure and food waste each year is capable of generating sufficient methane to meet 16% of transport fuel demand, and that so-called "Biogas" fuelled vehicles are becoming widely used in a number of countries, with Germany having installed some 800 gas filling stations by 2008.

On any topic, one source of information that is often overlooked is the government. In the case of biofuels there is something of a "mother lode" of relevant information and consultation at the "gov.uk" website (see link below).

Government Policy and Research on Biofuels

Wikipedia article on BioFuels in Brazil

LACE (lignocellulosic conversion to ethanol) Project

Sustainable Bioenergy Research Centre

Guardian Article on the deforestation caused by biofuels

IEA Biofuels reports

Action Aid list of recent reports

Policy Statement from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport

Dr Ibbett can be contacted at: roger.ibbett@nottingham.ac.uk

Biofuels - The Bad

Whilst Part 1 of this post looks at some of the positives of biofuel generation, Part 2 (which you are reading) looks at some of the downsides. . .

One aspect of Biofuel production that needs to be borne in mind is that it can be easy for production of the crop feedstocks to take up land that was previously used to produce crops for food, or to result in clearances of natural forest to make way for feedstock plantations. Occurrences of this latter phenomena have been widely (reported).NSB also found a report from the International Energy Authority (IEA) which, with charming optimism, suggests a "roadmap" that may result in biofuels comprising some 28% of transports liquid fuel needs by 2050.

The 2008 Gallagher report, commissioned by the government, looked specifically at the indirect effects of biofuel production (i.e. if biofuels are grown insted of crops, where are the crops grown?). Although data was limited, the report concluded that "there is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry but that feedstock production must avoid agricultural land that would otherwise be used for food production. This is because the displacement of existing agricultural production, due to biofuel demand, is accelerating land-use change and, if left unchecked, will reduce biodiversity and may even cause greenhouse gas emissions rather than savings."

In order to ensure that biofuels were truly from sustainable sources, Gallagher recommended that the rate of biofuel introduction should be slowed down. Care also needs to be taken with second generation technologies as some of these require larger areas of land to produce a unit of fuel, and thus have an increased risk of displacing food production to land that was previously not cultivated.

Somewhat worryingly, the report mentioned that "feedstock for biofuel occupies just 1% of cropland but the rising world population, changing diets and demand for biofuels are estimated to increase demand for cropland by between 17% and 44% by 2020. However, the balance of evidence indicates there will be sufficient appropriate land available to 2020 to meet this demand." Recognising that sustainability criteria need to be Europe wide, the report recommends that strong, mandatory, sustainability criteria should be included in the 011/2012 EU Renewable Energy Directive

Taking a different perspective, Action Aid argue, that C02 reductions can be achieved in the transport sector without recourse to industrial biofuels. They point out that, amongst other proposed measures, doubling the fuel efficiency of new cars would result in a saving of 12 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year whilst increasing the percentage of journeys by foot (from 24 to 36%) and bike (1.5 to 15%) would save some 7 million tonnes per year. This is compared to the 2.5million tonnes a year that the current biofuels policy will achieve.

Whilst some of the changes suggested by ActionAid would require significant changes in peoples behaviour (good luck with getting people to leave their cars at home one day a week, for example), the paper does, as mentioned in Part 1 of this post, describe how animal and food wastes could provide very significant amounts of methane (although it is not clear what proportion would be food waste and whether this would be easier or more difficult to collect than the animal waste.)

A bright spot on the horizon mentioned in Part1 of this post was biofuels derived from algae - but even here there are issues. Commercial success is not guaranteed, as shown by the case of US start-up GreenFuels Technologies who went bust in 2008 after difficulties in maintaining its algae growth chambers at its Arizona pilot plant. In addition, there are question marks over whether large industrial plants will show the same performance seen in initial lab and pilot plant trials.

In the UK, the Carbon Trust was funding a "Algae Biofuels challenge" which aimed to "find a winning formula for cultivating 70 billion litres of algae biofuel a year by 2030" - but funding for this has recently been cut completely.

Some reassurance can be found in a statement from Norman Baker, the (deep breath) Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, who wrote in 2010 that " Biofuels have an important role to play in efforts to tackle climate change, particularly where there is no viable alternative fuel on the horizon, as is the case with aviation and HGVs. In addition, they also have a role to play in promoting the security of energy supply. But we firmly believe that the
potential carbon benefits of biofuels can only be realised if they are produced in a sustainable way", going on to say "In particular, my Department takes the issue of indirect land use change seriously. . . I have written to the EU Energy, Environment and Climate Commissioners to impress on them the need for an
adequate and robust solution".

So there you have it. It's complicated. This post has only been able to scratch at the surface of just a few of the issues involved.

Government Policy and Research on Biofuels

Wikipedia article on BioFuels in Brazil

LACE (lignocellulosic conversion to ethanol) Project

Sustainable Bioenergy Research Centre

Guardian Article on the deforestation caused by biofuels

IEA Biofuels reports

Action Aid list of recent reports

Policy Statement from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport

Dr Ibbett can be contacted at: roger.ibbett@nottingham.ac.uk

University of Nottingham Mayfest

Universities have long had "Open Days" for propsective students, but having such events for the local population is a much more recent, and very welcome, phenomenon.

Nottingham University had their first open day for the community in 2009. The success of this initial event resulted in a bigger and better open day in 2010 and then in this years extravaganza called "Mayfest".

[See also 2012 May Fest (with pictures) and 2013 May Fest (with pictures)]

A free, day-long occasion held on May 7th, Mayfest is perhaps best descibed in the words of the programme - "Old favourites return to sit alongside many exciting new activities. The fantastically popular 'Thunder and Lightning' sessions are back, you can find out what it takes to be a vet, try some brain games or chat with scientists in the labs about the world-leading research being carried out on your
doorstep. Or you could explore our campus with a tour of the secret gardens. We’re a major employer in the region, so you’ll also be able to find out about opportunities to work or study here."

The programme goes on to give a comprehensive listing of all the events taking place which cover subjects as diverse as archaeology, astronomy, biology, geography, physics and eco-housing !

Having been to the (much smaller) 2009 event and enjoyed it tremendously, Nottingham Science Blog (NSB) was very excited about the 2011 gig and found that, quite simply, there was not enough time in the day to fit in all the stuff that there was to do and see. The wee ones also really enjoyed the event, especially the "Thunder and lightning" demonstration. . .

Now, if you only remember one thing about science lessons at school it is likely to be the experiment where the teacher showed what happens when lithinum is put in water, or the one where mangnesium reacts with a ferocious white flame to form magnesium oxide. Well, in "Thunder and Lightning" they took it to the next level. High points included the spectacular ammonium dichromate "Volcano reaction" (the clue is in the name) in which the amount of material present after the reaction seemed to be a lot more than there was before it; the rather loud "Barking Dog" reactions that demonstrated how flame fronts propagate and a series of demonstrations of the chemistry of some explosive compounds. This latter part of the programme included firing a wax candle from a breech loading musket through three layers of plywood and also a demonstrantion on how small amounts of explosive can bend metal plates (and make a bang so loud that it will leave your ears ringing ! Utterly top quality stuff- guaranteed to make science seen interesting and exciting. NSB will certainly be there next year.

Later, in the physics department, NSB was able to see the Universities telescopes and see live images of sunspots on the. . .er. . .sun. Also, a range of experiments and demonstrations were on show, including a desktop microscope that can resolve down the atomic level (let me say that again - it can see individual atoms!!!) and experiments involving liquid nitrogen (there seems to be no limit to the fun that can be had with this cryogenic material).

Moving to the Portland Building, where further activites were on show, BFTF was able to "fly" around a 3-D model of the lake disrict in the geography section, move a ball through the power of thought alone in the biology section and talk to a researcher from the "science and society" department about the assessing the risks of introducing new technologies.

This last point touches on something that is a wonderful feature of open days such as Mayfest - you can talk to the researchers and students who are working in these specialised fields. Now, it is certainly the case that students are called students for a reason, and it is remarkably easy to trip them up by asking the most innocent of questions. Most memorably in Mayfest 2011, asking a physics student about how light rays in a fibre optic cable "knew" whether to bounce off or go through the outer wall of the fibre resulted in the student saying that this was a very good question and that he would need to find out the answer in the library that night!). In contrast, talking to the senior researchers is rarely anything other than a fascinating learning experience that brings the opportunity to see many aspects of a field that the mainstream media simply does not report.

Sadly, as mentioned earlier, there simply was not time to see everything, so NSB missed out on the chance to see how Nottingham Universtity is a Human Rights Hub, any of the Engineering displays, the interactive poetry areas, the Philosophy section, the Archaeology section. . .well, I think you get the picture.

The event was certainly very well attended, by both parents and children alike and numbers did not noticeably drop until the University staff started packing up at about 5pm.

It is worth mentioning that Nottingham University (as is the case with many other Universities) has a calendar of public lectures on various topics. These are a great way of learning about a field of study from an expert in the area. There is always a question and answer session, so you can quiz the presenter if you feel that they are missing a trick or if you want to clarify a point.

One need not feel restricted to lectures in a subject that you are knowledgeable about, public lectures are a great opportunity to find out more about topics that are in the news (for instance Nottingham

University has just had a public lecture on "European Politics in 90 minutes") or are simply interesting (such as another recent lecture entitled "Why do chemists want to make new molecules")

These lectures are, in NSB's experience, invariably a great learning experience, and offer a chance to hear about topics from experts in their field without the distorting lens of the media gettting in the way.

For parents, particularly those of children in secondary school (and if you the youngsters are interested), public lectures provide an opportunity and reason to actually visit a University and to see what the buildings and lecture theatres are like. This can only help break down any fears a youngster may have about higher education. Also they get a chance to see, at first hand, the enthusiasm of researchers and the kind of teamwork that is characteristic of research activities. It is a real eye opener to hear the efforts that people go to in order to find answers to the questions they are puzzling over.

So there you go. University Public Open Days and Public Lectures. Its all Good.

Find out about the actions that this event provoked in part two of this posting - here.

Further infornation:
University of Nottingham Mayfest
University of Nottingham Institute for Science and Society
University of Nottingham Community Engagement