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.