Thursday, 31 January 2013

10 Great Sciency Stories from the Univesity of Derby in 2012

How many amoebas are there in the sea?
Marine biologist and specialist in planktonic microorganisms Dr Phil Carey is conducting research to estimate how many amoebae live in the world's oceans. The only other study to date, which has tried to estimate the numbers of these organisms in oceanic waters, took place in the 1970s when an American team of scientists estimated that there was just one amoeba in a litre of water. But using new microscopic equipment to analyse samples, Dr Carey discovered between 1,600 and 10,000 amoebae in a litre sample of water taken during research activity in the Maldives, and is now planning further studies.(read more)

Changes in the number of heavy snowfalls
Richard Wild’s part time Doctorate involved painstaking searches of all known records and journals so that he could analyse changes in heavy snowfall trends since meteorological records began in 1861.

Richard, a meteorologist at Bournemouth-based Weathernet Ltd and Director of TORRO (Tornado and Storm Research Organisation), is regarded as one of the country’s leading snow experts and has been undertaking a part-time PhD at the University of Derby.

Heavy snowfall is defined as 13cm or more in 24hrs and Richard has found that Between 1890 and 1899 there were 27 heavy snowfalls. This has steadily risen until it had reached just under 60 between 1990 and 1999. (read more)

Other items
Two news items is, of course, a long way from the ten promised in the title.

I tried to find more, but I couldn't.


10 Great Sciency Stories from University of Leicester in 2012

Work ongoing to develop a blood test to detect breast cancer
It has been know for some time that breast cancer in women is accompanied by a change in the DNA in their blood, but what has not been known is whether this can be used as an early warning signal of the disease.

To investigate this, Dr Jacqui Shaw, is working with Cancer Research UK on a programme that will look at blood samples from women who have undergone routine breast screening to see if they can spot any common factors.
It is hoped that this might lead to the development of a simple blood test that can detect cancer at an early stage, and with more reliability than current mammography techniques.(Read more)

Addressing the need for microscopic speed
Watching biological processes as they happen is key to many research programmes, but existing microscope imaging techniques can only image at 1 frame per second, far slower than is required. But a new device developed by a team led by Prof Nick Hartell from the Dept of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, overcomes this hurdle and can image, with remarkable clarity at around 100frames per second..

With work now looking at commercialising the technology, Prof Hartell comments that “We are very excited because we have been able to go from a concept, to a working prototype that is useful for my research into neuroscience. There is a good chance that we will be able to make a product and see that being used in labs in the UK and worldwide” (Read more)

Images from the new microscope

Discovery of tiny fossil new to science
Professor David Siveter, from the Department of Geology has led a team that has found fossils that have been preserved to a remarkable degree

Fossils do not usually show the details of the animals soft parts, but the fossils of a type of ostracod, just 10mm in length, found by the University of Leicester team (in collaboration with other universities) were buried under volcanic ash and show details of the animals shell, limbs, eyes, gills and alimentary canal.

The team were able to visualise the internal organs by cutting the fossil into 20micron thick slices, imaging them and then converting them to a 3D model.(read more)

Life-saving drug should be given more widely in UK hospitals – new study
The inexpensive drug Tranexamic Acid is used to stop bleeding in battlefields casualties and also to A&E patients to patients with severe trauma.

But a study co-investigated by Professor Tim Coates, from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences has revealed that giving the drug was one of the investigators in a review of 13,000 injured patients which revealed that giving the drug to patients with less severe bleeding would save an extra 150 lives per year. (read more)

Tranexamic Acid looks like this

Blood sugar diabetes risk for South Asians
Dr Mostafa, a Clinical Research Fellow in Diabetes and Endocrinology has been involved in a study that has revealed that South Asians have higher blood sugar levels, independent of factors such as exercise. This has implications for the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes in this demographic (read more)

Astronomers put forward new theory on size of black holes
Many galaxies, including our own,contain black holes at their centre, but some galaxies have black holes that are so large, and must have grown so fast, that current models cannot explain their development.

Professor Andrew Kind from the Department of Physics and Astronomy has been working with colleages in Australia on a mechanism that might explain the fast growth of some black holes.

The new theory considers what would happen if the clouds of gas surrounding a black hole were circulating at different angles and found that this could cause the clouds to collide and fall into the hole at a rate much faster than usual.

As Prof King explained ““If two guys ride motorbikes on a Wall of Death and they collide, they lose the centrifugal force holding them to the walls and fall,”(read more, and more)

Angled gas clouds interacting around a black hole

[black holes] The potential danger from Acrylamide
A team led by Professor Peter Farmer is investigating the effects of Acrylamide, a potential carcinogen which is found at low levels in fried carbohydrate foods, such as crisps.

Professor Farmer said: “There is great potential worldwide for reducing cancer incidence by making dietary changes. In order to give informed advice to the public it is essential to identify the risk factors in diet and the relative extent of the risk associated with them.”(read more, and more)

Novel Electric Motors
Whilst not strictly a news story, the research page of the Centre for Advanced Electronically Controlled Machines and Drives is fascinating, and describes work being undertaken to develop a new type of electric motor that is energy efficient, electronically controlled and of a low cost to manufacture. And, incidentally, if you want to see what a PhD thesis looks like, check out this example from Saeed Ahmed . (read more)

Example of the novel electric motors being developed at Leicester

The Earths Crust
Another research page of interest is that of the Crustal Processes Research Group who are working on understanding the causes of volcanic eruptions and their effects on the environment. Winningly they comment that the group is “currently studying flood basalts in Siberia, rhyolitic super-eruptions in the Snake River Plain, and pyroclastic systems in Pantelleria”.

NSB does not begrudge them a penny of the research funding the get to visit and work at these sites, and thinks it is certainly better to spend money here than on sending politicians on jollies abroad.(read more)

Quantum Dots
Far from being the title of the next Bond Movie, this title relates to the semiconductor nanostructures being investigated by the Condensed Matter Group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Quantum dots are a new and potentially revolutionary area of research that have particular applications in optical applications and as “quantum computers” (read more)

Image Sources
All via University of Leicester press releases, except Tranexamic Acid which was via Wikipedia

10 Great Sciency Stories from the University of Sheffield in 2012

Leaky water pipes problem solved by Sheffield engineers
With some 20-40% of the country’s piped water supply being lost through leaks and damaged pipes, a means of quickly and accurately finding the location of leaks has long been a capability that water engineers wanted.

But existing methods, based on acoustic techniques only had a short range, especially in plastic water pipes, and were inaccurate.

A new tecnnology pioneered at the Univesity of Sheffiel (UoS) takes a very different approach by sending a pressure wave along the pipe. The wave is reflected back by any leaks or other damage and the equipment can then locate the site of the fault to within 1m (within 20cm in plastic pipes)

The technology, led by Professor Stephen Beck in the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering is not being trailled by Yorkshire Water.(Read more)

University of Sheffield researchers announce finding of particle thought to be Higgs boson
A team led by Dr Dan Tovey have been heavily involved in the Large Hadron Collider experiment at CERN, and were understandably chuffed to hear the news in 2012 of strong evidence for the Higgs Boson.
The team, together with other universities, had created the SCT tracking detector, which is located right at the centre of ATLAS, surrounding the region where all the collisions will take place, and had also been involved in writing the millions of lines of code for the software that processes the huge amounts of data from the experiments. (Read more, and more, and more ).

The SCT (ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN)

Scientists to investigate 'magic bullet' cancer therapy
Higher rates of the most deadly cancers, such as colorectal and breast cancer, have been linked to obesity or high fat diets because cancer cells use fat to grow larger and more dangerous. They are able to uptake fat by producing large amounts of structures on their surfaces called receptors, which allow chemicals to bind with the cell.

Dr Irene Canton, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Biomedical Science, plans to produce smart nanoparticles that are taken up by two of the main receptors, known as SR-B1 and CD36. These nanoparticles could then be used to carry therapies directly to the cancer cells, without affecting healthy cells. (Read more)

Space tornadoes power the atmosphere of the Sun
One aspect of the Sun that has long puzzled astronomers is that the atmosphere around the Sun is much hotter than its surface. Clues to the cause of this have been discovered by Applied mathematicians Professor Robertus Erdélyi and Dr Viktor Fedun who, working with teams at other universities, have discovered that huge 1,000 mile wide magnetic tornadoes cover the surface of the Sun and carry magnetic energy from the interior of the Sun to its atmosphere. This is of interest as it may have applications in fusion power or other advanced energy production techniques in the future.(Read more)

Magnetic Solar Tornadoes Credits: Wedemeyer-Böhm et al. (2012). Image produced with VAPOR.)

Study shows pollution levels in some kitchens are higher than city centre hotspots
Air Pollution is something that people generally associate with urban outdoor areas, but researchers from the Faculty of Engineering, ledy by Prof Vida Sharifi, have found that nitrogen dioxide levels in the kitchen of the city centre flat with a gas cooker were three times higher than the concentrations measured outside the property and well above those recommended in UK Indoor Air Quality Guidance (read the paper here)

Prof Sharifi comments that “"We spend 90 per cent of our time indoors and work hard to make our homes warm, secure and comfortable, but we rarely think about the pollution we might be breathing in… as we make our homes more airtight to reduce heating costs, we are likely to be exposed to higher levels of indoor pollution, with potential impacts on our health." (Read more, and more)

Landmark study to pave the way for diabetes treatment of the future
Researchers have been awarded over £310,000 to carry out a study that could help revolutionise the way clinicians treat the pain experienced by thousands of people with diabetes. The research represents the first major study to investigate how the brain processes the pain often caused by diabetes, potentially paving the way for new therapies in the future.

A team led by Professor Solomon Tesfaye, Consultant Physician and Honorary Professor of Diabetic Medicine, has been awarded a grant to investigate the cause of debilitiating diabetes related pain felt by some 600,000 people in the UK. Previous research in Sheffield has shown that an area of the brain, called the thalamus, plays a crucial role in the condition, becoming engorged with blood in those that suffer the condition.

The study aims to establish whether the abnormal pattern of blood flow in the thalamus is causing the pain, or whether it is actually a response to the pain itself. (Read more)

The Thalamus is right here...

New research goes down the drain
Kieran Williams and Professor Adrian Saul of the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering are working with local roof drainage specialists Fullflow to develop their symphonic roof drainage system for large buildings.

“Syphonic” drainage is much more efficient than normal “gravity fed” systems and require significantly fewer downpipes, so it is no surprise that Fullflow have worked on prestigious projects ranging from Farnborough Airport to a Ford Motor Company production facility in Mexico. (Read more)

Ancient plant-fungal partnerships reveal how the world became green
Dr Katie Field, of the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences is leading a team that is investigating the origins of the symbiotic relationship that plants share with the fungi that coat their roots. Dr Field comments that “, said: "Our research shows for the first time how Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems were initiated in partnership with soil dwelling fungi nearly half a billion years ago and how these fungi played a crucial role in enabling plants to diversify into fantastically rich and biodiverse modern floras….the fungal symbiotic efficiency of the more sophisticated, recently evolved land plants with complex organs such as leaves and roots, increased as CO2 levels decreased. (Read more, and more)

Flax root cortical cells containing paired arbuscules

Virtual microscope lens delivers a real revolution in imaging
Professor John Rodenburg, of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering has attracted significant funding and investment for his fascinating technique of microscope imaging that requires no lenses! Instead, it relies on computer processing of a number of diffraction images - something that was previously thought to be too complicated to compute.

Prof Rodenburg has spun off his technology into a company called Phase Focus which has already As the lens is the most expensive part of a microscope, the ability to dispence with it offers huge potential to reduce the cost and size of imaging systems. eaaction imagesinvented a process that can generate high definition images of an object without the need for the high quality lenses that account for a significant element of the cost of high-performance microscopes.

The system is also able to see, to a degree, within objects, which opens up other possible uses, including those in the contact lens and opthalmic industries. (Read more, and more, and more)

Ultrasound can now monitor the health of your car engine
Rob Dwyer-Joyce, Professor of Lubrication Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering has devised a method of using ultrasound to measure how efficiently an engine’s pistons are moving up and down inside their cylinders and is now ready to commercialise the technology.

“There is a real urgency, now, to improve energy consumption in cars,” says Professor Dwyer-Joyce. “Our method will allow engine manufacturers to adjust lubrication levels with confidence and ensure they are using the optimum level for any particular engine, rather than over-lubricating to ensure engine safety. The energy used by the piston rings alone amounts to around 4p in every litre of fuel – there is a lot at stake in getting the lubrication right.”

Because cylinders are enclosed spaces, it is not easy to test what is going on inside. Computer models don’t effectively allow for changes as an engine speeds up and gets hotter, and more invasive methods – cutting open the cylinder – interfere too much with the mechanism to get an accurate test result.

The Sheffield team are measuring the lubricant film by transmitting ultrasonic pulses through the cylinder wall from sensors attached to the outside. The reflections from these pulses can then be recorded and measured.(Read more)

Image Sources
Solar Tornado, Thalmus, Mycorrhiza

10 Great Sciency Stories from NTU in 2012

This post has moved to here


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

10 Great Sciency Stories from Loughborough Uni in 2012

New £4.5M project to improve exhaust system efficiencies in HDVs
Loughborough are collaborating with Johnson Matthey and Caterpillar in an Energy Technologies Initiative (ETI) project to investigate ways of improving the efficiency of diesel engines catalytic converters, which may result in fuel consumption and CO2 emission improvements of 3-4%. (Read more)

Loughborough University Professor creates ‘petrol from air’
Tony Marmont, a Visiting Professor at Loughborough’s Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology (CREST) has invested more than half a million pounds to set up a company called “Air Fuel Synthesis(AFS)” which extracts CO2 from the atmosphere by capturing it with Sodium Hydroxide and then releasing it by applying an electric current. Further processing can then convert the CO2 to a hydrocarbon fuel. The process does require a significant energy input, and the company expects this to come from a renewable source in actual production plants. According to their (very interesting) FAQ, the EROIE on a 1 tonne-a-day plant suggests that 3units of (renewable) energy in will give 1 unit of fuel out. Interestingly, the FAQ also mentions that existing industries that produce a lot of CO2 (e.g ammonia synthesis, algae farms) may be good locations for AFS plants.

It will be interesting to see whether it is the vision of the “Air Fuel Synthesis” route or the “Intelligent Energy” route, or perhaps both,

that succeeds in the low carbon energy world that we are heading towards.(Read more)

Petrol - the UK uses around 250million litres per day

Ricardo & Intelligent Energy Announce Partnership Loughborough technology spin-off Intelligent Energy is a company with some 400 patents to its name which is focussed on the design and manufacture of fuel-cells for automotive and other applications. Fuel cells are powered by Hydrogen (as a fuel) and Oxygen from the air, with water being the only by-product.

Intelligent Energy are partnering with automotive experts Ricardo to investigate synergies between the fuel cell technologies of Intelligent Energy and the low carbon vehicle design technologies of Ricardo. Intelligent Energy also announced a joint venture with Suzuki in February. (read more)

Loughborough University to be part of green fuel revolution

CynarPLC is a company that manufactures production facilities that can take end-of-life plastic products and then convert them back into liquid fuel products. It achieves this through the process of pyrolysis, where the plastics are carefully heated in an oxygen free atmosphere where they break down and form hydrocarbon vapours, which are then distilled to produce liquid fuels.

Experts from Loughborough University’s Department of Chemistry will use their expertise to analyse in detail the chemical processes that happen as the waste plastic materials are broken down, using a lab-scale Cynar recycling plant that will be installed at the University. The aim is to further improve and optimise the process.

Cynar are no pie-in-the-sky technology company, they already have a production plant operating in Ireland and an agreements in place for 10more in the UK. (Read more)

A Pyrolysis plant

3D concrete printing promises new artistic freedom for architects
A team, led by Dr Richard Buswell and Professor Simon Austin from the University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering, have been using additive manufacturing technologies to allow the manufacture of very complex concrete structures.

Conventionally, concrete is poured into temporary formwork. This is an efficient method of moulding if the shapes are simple but expensive for complex geometries. In contrast, Loughborough’s Freeform Construction process uses a special type of concrete which iis deposited very precisely under computer control, layer by layer, from a 3D computer-aided-design (CAD) model.

Speaking about the project Dr Richard Buswell said: “…Because each piece would be tailor-made, there would be virtually no waste. The possibilities are endless; it is a very exciting project.”

And the research team has now obtained technology-transfer funding from the EPSRC to commercialise the process, collaborating with Foster + Partners, Buro Happold and Hyundai Engineering & Construction. Their expertise and advice is essential to the team’s understanding of the needs of industry, the potential of their ideas and the creation of an innovation path.(Read More)

Artificial vascularised scaffolds for 3D-tissue regeneration (ArtiVasc 3D)
A team at the Additive Manufacturing Research Group (AMRG) are involved in a long term European Framework 7 ARtiVasc project involving 16 partners from 7 countries to develop the technology required to produce additively manufactured for soft tissue implants for regenerative surgery, after traumatic injuries and tumour treatment.

In addition, the project partners are investigating the possibility of using vascular test beds instead of animal testing during drug tests
Additive manufacturing (which you may know as 3-D printing) is a method of manufacturing that relies on building up components “additively”, usually layer by layer. This removes the need to produce expensive tooling and allows designs to be improved interatively much faster that with conventional processes.(Read More)

Additively manufactured vascular structures

The Science of Silence
But now a new patented technology, developed by a team from the University’s Department of Physics, looks set to revolutionise noise control and is already attracting a lot of interest.

The work has developed a new type of “sonic crystal” (cylindrical series of structures that absorbs specific frequencies of sound). These are often used in industrial applications to absorp sound from noisy machinery without having to resort to full enclosures, which have their own issues of cost and ventilation.

Conventional sonic crystals only work with specific frequencies whereas the systems developed at Loughborough can absorb a number of different frequencies. The technology has already drawn a lot of interest from industry, as well as funding from bodies such as European Regional Development Fund and the Royal Academy of Engineering. (Read More)

Development of fabric based antenna systems for Search and Rescue Applications in the 400 MHz range Researchers at the School of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering are investigating the characteristics of radio antennas that are woven into fabrics, initially for search and rescue applications. In a paper they comment that efficiencies are lower than for conventional rigid antennas but that this must be weighed against the flexibility, comfort to the user, cost and the speed of fabrication. (Read more, and more)

The importance of VOC’s
Not really a specific bit of research, but some very touching words by Prof Paul Thomas on the history and ubiquity of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)(Read More

Image Sources
Freeform, Gasoline via Wikipedia, Pyrolisis via University

Thursday, 17 January 2013

How to slow down the Earth's speed of rotation.

A work colleague sent NSB a list of physical constants earlier today, amongst which was one which rather caught NSB's attention.

The property in question was the Earths "Equatorial Moment of Interia" and it got NSB thinking that, whilst the earth no doubt has a lot of inertia, whether there was some practical way of slowing it down a bit. Just for a laugh.

As NSB is somewhat mathematically challenged, the advice of a number of colleagues was sought during the lunchbreak, with the initial conversational gambit going something like this..

NSB (to colleague) : Can I ask you a technical question?

Colleague : Sure

NSB : If you had a large solid ball... say, perhaps, the size of the earth...

Colleague : Yeeess?

NSB : And suppose that it rotated at a particular speed... say, perhaps, once every 24hours...

Colleague (a bit nervously) : Mmmmm?

NSB : How could you work out how much force you needed to apply to slow it down?

Colleague (very gamely going with the flow) : Well, first you would need to know the Earths moment of Inertia.

NSB : Oh, I've got that number!

Colleague : How silly of me, what was I thinking. Of course you have that number just lying around your person. After all, who doesn't?

...and so on.

The colleague was very helpful, but what really made NSB's life easy was finding out that a contributor to New Scientist had already done all the maths.

Somewhat ambitiously, they had attempted to find out how long it would take the thrust of the Space Shuttle (lying flat at the equator and directing their thrust opposite to the earths direction of rotation) to slow the rotation of the Earth down to a complete stop.

And rather discouragingly, the result was 840billion years, or 60 times the age of the Universe. NSB imagines that it will be difficult to sustain enthusiasm for the project over such a long timescale, and fuelling the rocket motors for that length of time would also be a significant technical challenge.

So NSB decided to take a much more practical and pragmatic approach by using a more easily fuelled power source (jet engines) and a more realistic target (slowing the length of a day by 0.1 seconds).

Of course, one jet engine really isn't going to make much of a difference, so it might be necessary to requisitiion all of the worlds finest Rolls Royce aero-engines in service today (NSB has no doubt that airlines could be persuaded to donate their engines by the potential PR benefits of being associated with such a world-changing project.

And one would need to site all the engines on the Equator for maximum effect, which would provide a significant engineering benefit for the (often developing) countries concerned.

Another approach might be to simply fly the relevant planes to airstipes on the equator, tie the planes down, and run the engines whilst still attached to the planes.

Anyway, leaving aside these small technical details, NSB crunched through the numbers and came to the result that, woth all of Rolls-Royces installed base aero-engines (some 400million lbs of thrust) operating round the clock, it would take around 24,000 years to slow the earth down such that the day was 0.1 second longer than it is currently.

Which still seems rather a long time.

Realistically, NSB suspects that the airlines will want their engines (or planes) back before the project has achieved its aims.

And NSB can't think of a practical way of achieving the desired aim in a shorter period of time.

So, dear reader, do you have any suggestions of ways to slow the earth down more quickly?

Hello, Can we plesae borrow your engines for 24,000 years?

Image Sources

Trent 900

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

History of Coal Mining in the East Midlands

A look around the “local history” section of Nottingham Central Library resulted in finding a gem of a book entitled “Mining in the East Midlands 1500-1947” by A R Griffin (pub : Frank Cass & Co Ltd, 1971).

A great read, the book describes how the coal industry has developed up to the point of nationalisation in 1947.

Records show that the Trent valley collieries produced some 12 thousand tons of coal in the mid-16th century, which rose to around 40thousand tons by the early 17th century, when some 150-300 men were working in the mines. And by the early 18th century output had reached around 125thousand tons, with some 500-1000men working in the mines. Between the 16th to 18th cent the most important colliery owners were Willoughbys from Wollaton.

During the 18th century management of collieries moved from being from the “big butty” system where one “butty” was placed in charge of the whole mine - to a “little butty” system where a butty (or pair of butties) would manage 8-10men who worked a part of the coal face. During this time safety legislation became stricter and mines became more complicated.

A measure of how long the working hours were can be gauged from the fact that, in 1841, boys working at Lord Middletons pits worked from 7am to 8.30pm and that this was a short working day compared to most other pits where, for example, six year old Samuel Davis left home at 4am to get to Brinsley pit and did not return home until 9pm, describing himself as “quite knocked up” by that point.

Many miners were paid at least partly in “truck” ( tokens that could only be redeemed at company stores or pubs). The District Mines Inspector noted in 1851 a probably explanations for this was that “Butties are often directly or indirectly connected with taverns or shops, where the miners earnings are spent in the purchase of bad and dear ale and provisions”.

Unsurprisingly, the truck system was a major source of grievance for miners of the period. However, legislation and bad publicity resulted in the system virtually disappearing by the 1860’s.

The Methodist revival of the mid 19th century improved the standards of the mining communities. Methodists drank lightly, did not gamble and kept their houses clean and tidy. Money that would have been spent on beer or gambling was instead used to buy soap, curtains and so on.

St Mary's Church - possibly the site of the first Sunday School in the UK (1751)

In terms of education, there was a general move towards children attending Sunday schools in the early 19th century. The and, after the Coal Mines Act of 1842 made it illegal for a child under 10 to be employed underground, so many children then went to school. Thus a survey of 676 adults in the Butterley area showed that some 216 could not read. This number reduced further after the 1872 Mines Act which made part time school attendance compulsory for pit boys.

Griffin points out that trade unions tend to flourish when trade is good, as the wish to make a profit whilst conditions are good encouraged employers to reach an agreement. This in turn results in more members joining the union, bringing with them resources in terms of subscriptions.

In contrast, when economic times are hard, unions are generally unable to resist the wagecuts and redundancies imposed by mine owners, union membership decreases and union funds are depleted by payments to members during lockouts etc. The first Miners Union in the East Midlands was the local branch of the Miners Association, which formed in 1841 and reached the East Midlands in 1844. Few of the mine owners would tolerate organisation amongst the men and a meeting of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire pit owners resolved to refuse employment to union members - and a clause forbidding workers from joining a union was a feature of a many dispute agreements thereafter.

One aspect of 19th century mining that seems incredible now is that there was no agreement on what actually constituted a “ton” of coal. It could range from 25cwt to 28cwt at many pits, whilst some miners argued that it should be 20-21cwt. The arguments were only really solved when the Coal Mines Act of 1872 standardised a ton as being 2240lbs or 20cwt.

Another aspect that may be a surprise to some is that coal mines are far from static, long lived enterprises. Many coal mines closed during the 19th century, either due to being uneconomic or due to becoming unworkable after extended stoppages due to a poor market, strike action or lockouts.

Pit technology underwent a transformation during the mid 19th century, with the introduction of furnace or fan ventilation, guided cage lifts, decent roadways and underground haulages.

One problem that the Nottinghamshire coalfields had historically faced was that they could only supply local markets, the poor roads made it impossible to compete with shipborne Newcastle coal in the lucrative London market. This all changed with the arrival in the late 1840’s of the railways. The railways provoked much of the transformation in the Nottinghamshire coal mining industry from a large number of small pits to a smaller number of relatively large collieries.

The increase in output can be seen in the chart below. Note the dips in production during strikes in 1893, 1921 and 1926.

Coal output and Manning in the Coal Industry

Unfortunately, these increases in efficiency did not match those being seen on the continent (although NSB wonders whether that might have something to do with the fact that Ruhr coals was often surface mined).

Productivity of a number of countries

The new larger collieries, often some distance from population centres, resulted in dedicated housing being built for the miners. Welbeck Colliery built some 877 houses between 1912 and 1926, while New Ollerton colliery built around 800 houses for it’s miners in the 1920’s. These latter houses were recorded as being of a very high quality being in small detached groups, each with a front lawn and rear garden and supplied with hot water and electricity.

One important development was the Welfare Levy of 1d per ton that was imposed by the 1920 Mining Industry Act. The funds were administered by the various Miners Welfare Committees, each of which had equal representation from colliery owners and workers, and were used to fund construction of pit head baths, canteens, medical centres, welfare institutes, sports grounds, swimming baths, scholarships and so on.

The 1930s saw the introduction of the Coal Mines National Industrial Board, which set up what was effectively a national cartel. This had a number of adverse effects, not least of which was that it discouraged investment that would result in higher output - as this output could not be sold.

Save Clipstone Colliery Headstocks
The Clipstone Colliery, , produced coal from 1927 until 1993, and then again from 1994 to 2003. The imposing headstocks were amongst the tallest in Europe when built during upgrades in the 1950s and were given Grade II listed status by English Heritage in 2000 as being ‘special architectural or historic interest’.

The site is currently owned by Welbeck Estate, who would like to demolish the headstocks - although others are campaigning for the site to become an adventure park including a mile long zip line! (see also

Clipstone Colliery

There is an e-petition to save the headstocks. BFTF has signed it, and hopes you will too.

A history of Clipstone colliery here and some images of the colliery here and here.

Headstocks look like some kind of alien engineering
has been placed in the middle of the village

Related Posts
This is one of a three part series of posts on Nottinghams Coal Mining History:
Coal Mining in Nottingham
Mining Memories
History of Coal Mining in the East Midlands
Image Sources:
St Marys Church

Mining Memories

Memories of the Nottinghamshire Coalfields - David Bell - Countryside books

This fascinating little book, which NSB borrowed from Nottingham Central Library, describes the working and community lives of miners in Nottinghamshire.

The book includes a section on the banter that the miners enjoyed, perhaps the best example of whih relates to Ralph Richardson, one of the engine men at Thoresby Colliery, who used the quiet periods during the day to cut the hair of colleagues who were in the know. This worked well until the day that Mr Thorneycroft, the manager, happeded to catch him in the act. . .

"I pay you to wind, not to cut hair. Explain yourself" demanded the manager

nter "Sir , this hair had grown in company time so why can't I cut it in company time?" replied Ralph

"It didn't all grow in company time, did it?" retorted the manager

"I know, so I'm not cutting it all off" responded Ralph, winningly.

Keith "Scouse" Pruden recalls how, at Rufford Colliery, they had a delivery of wooden blocks from Russia. Unbeknownst to the miners, the wood had hornet larvae in it and in the heat of the mine they were soon boring out of the wood and flying around as 2-3inch long hornets!

Pit Ponies
One of the tricks of the pit ponies (who were extremely well looked after, btw) was to steal miners food from unattended jackets that were hanging up, especially if the food was not in a tin or plastic container. Keith Stanley comments that "I've actually seen a pit pony suck an orange through the fabric of the coat. And when the miner came back for his orange, all that were left of were a mosh. The pony had sucked all the juice out through the coat pocket""

The Best Of It
The universal answer was that is was the friendships and camaraderie that was the best thing about working in the pit. But some also commented that the money was also an attraction. Roy Mills, a coal face machine driver who was not afraid of overtime, managed to earn nearly £50k at Ollerton in 1991.

The Worst of It
The image of a coal mine that usually comes to mind is one that is dry and dusty - but this was not always the case, and difficult conditions were one of the hardest aspects of mining. Roy Mills commented that "Sludge is a horrible thing to work in, especially if you have to kneel in it or shovel it cos your machines are bogged down"

Keith Pruden comments that, as a youngster at Rufford he was "working in mud up to my knees, carrying material through mud and water. And the heat, it was like 100 degrees (F)

Miners recalled some of the more serious injuries they had seen. Keith Stanley recalled what happened when a large side of coal fell onto the back of fellow miner Terry Noone ". .I shot over the chains to him and helped the coal off him but he said "I'm sore down here" So I lifted his shirt up and he days "Is it all right?" It had gone that deep that you could actually see inside him. I could see this purple thing moving in his back, some blooody internal organ. But I just shoved his shirt back and I said "Neah, Tet, it's not that bad, it's just a scratch" I bandanged him up and he went out of the pit. He was in hospital for two or three days for that"

Ron Booth gave an account of an accident he was involved in which occurred in difficult working conditions at Bestwood colliery "there was a coal cutter coming round, and in the fast end it were real bad work. I was bringign the coal cutter into the fast end , and the roof was shaley and soft. It all collapsed and buried me. One of the chaps. . had the sense to run back and scrape all the clay and clag off my face, else I would have suffocated"

According to Bob Bradley "It was usually somebody doing sometihng worng that caused 99% of accidents - it was very rare you got a true accident in the pit. It was usually somebody taking a short cut or something. Invariably when it comes out it's put down as an "act of God" so that people get compensation"

The 1957 Sutton Colliery Disaster
Bob Bradley was part of the rescue team at the Sutton Colliery disaster of 21st Feb 1957 and describes what happened ". . the panzer motor had got an electric cable going through it, a great thick cable. This great big piece of rock dropped out, hit this cable and chopped it off. The rock had brought gas with it. There was a flash. Bang! It cleared the deck, killling 5 people and injured numerous others. . . The part that I remember was the smell. It must have been burning flesh. The smell was slightly different to a rotten egg, slightly different to a dead rat, slightly different to a gob fire, but it was the smell of burning.

"The other thing that fascinated me was when I picked up a "bacca" tin, I opened it to look inside and there was a silver file, usually containing a twist of pigtail, but inside there was only a wisp of ash. The force hadn't melted the tin, but it had burnt what was inside. That's incredible, isn't it?"

The 1950 Creswell Colliery Disaster
One of the worst mining disasters of recent times, this occurred on 26th Feb 1950 and was caused by a fire started by a worn conveyor belt. Ninety-Nine men were trapped beyond the wall of flames and, of these, only 19 escaped and 3 bodies recovered before the order to seal off the area was given. The seals were broken after 12hours and 44 bodies recovered but the area had be be resealed and it was not until a year later that the remaining bodies could be recovered. A memorial garden in Creswell village cemetery lists the names of the men who list their lives in the disaster.

This is one of a three part series of posts on Nottinghams Coal Mining History:
Coal Mining in Nottingham
Mining Memories
History of Coal Mining in the East Midlands
All were originally published in the Building For The Future Blog in May 2012

Coal Mining in Notttingham

NSB has, for some time, been fascinated by the industry of coal mining and its history in Nottingham. In particular, the stories of miners, their strong cameraderie and the dangerous and hard nature of their work is something that is deeply impressive.

But NSB did not really have a good handle on how many mines there were in Nottingham and its immediate surroundings - so had done a bit of digging and compiled a map of Nottingham labelled with all the mines that have been worked there over the last couple of hundred years - amny of which were still in operation only a few decades ago.

Coal Mines in Nottingham - Click on image to enlarge

Babbington and Cinderhill
Hucknall No1
Hucknall No2
Trowell Moor

This is one of a three part series of posts on Nottinghams Coal Mining History:
Coal Mining in Nottingham
Mining Memories
History of Coal Mining in the East Midlands
All were originally published in the Building For The Future Blog in May 2012

Sunday, 13 January 2013

From the Tate Modern to Lanarkshire

NSB happened to briefly pop into the Tate Modern recently, after having visited HMS Belfast with No1 and No3 sons (cannot recommend Belfast highly enough, by the way, No3 son described it as his “best day out in London EVER”) and was a little disappointed that there was no huge slides or multitudes of boxes to walk around in the huge Turbine Hall..

A slide? At an art gallery? Cool!

The huge Turbine Hall

…but did notice that some of the 20” steel girders that formed its structure has the words “Lanarkshire Steel Co. Ltd Scotland” embossed on them and wondered what the story of these girders was.

It proved to be a fascinating tale.

The Girder stamped with "Lanarkshire Steel Company"

The Tate Modern Building
The Tate Modern is built in the building that formerly housed the Bankside Power Station (see also here, and here), which itself has on the site of a previous power station.

The first power station, built in 1891, had been extended and its equipment renewed on several occasions, the last major upgrade being in 1921-28 when the station was brought up to a maximum output of 85 MW(megawatts).

Post war planning had to meet demands of increased capacity and reduced pollution, but there were still technical and other difficulties in locating power stations away from urban areas.

Added to this the power cuts that hit the country in 1947 (due to unavailability of coal and people switching instead to electricity for heating) and a compromise solution to providing power was perhaps inevitable.

It was decided, after much debate, that the existing Bankside power station should be demolished and a new, oil fired, one built at the same site, set back from the river to allow development of the waterfront.

The new Bankside power station was steel framed, brick skinned and roofed in reinforced concrete. The chimney was deliberately slightly lower than St Pauls, which caused pollution problems through the life of the station. The station was built in two parts, the western section and the chimney in 1947-53 and the old powerstation was demolished to allow the building of the eastern section of the new power station in 1959-63. The total capacity of the new Bankside powerstation was 300 MW.

The former Bankside Power Station

The Lanarkshire Iron and Steel Works
Located in Motherwell, the works began on a small scale with three blast furnaces, two rolling mills, s steam hammer and a ball mill - producing some 450 tons of steel per week. Refinancing in 1897 allowed new plant to be installed which increased production to some 4,500tons of steel products per week, which ended up locations as varied as Hong Kong, Buenos Aires and Guatemala. By 1961 the company had some 1,500 employees producing their well regarded joists, sections and other constructional steelwork. You can find out more about the company here, here and here; and there is a great set of images here and here)

Lanarkshire Steel Company Ltd. Steel Works, Motherwell. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing east. - Britain from Above

Other Iron and Steel companies in Lanarkshire
The Lanarkshire Steel Works was not the only steel making factory in Motherwell. On the contrary, the city was home to a great concentration of Iron and Steel companies. Some feeling for the intensity of the industrialisation in the area can be gained from this listing of the number of blast furnaces in the area:

Lanarkshire Blast furnaces
1830 : 16
1839 : 45
1843 : 71
1848 : 84
1869 : 90
1880 : 83
1901 : 59
1951 : 8 (but just three of these, at Clyde, produced 600,000 tonnes per year, equal to total output of all 83 furnaces in 1880

In the early 20th century there were iron works in around nine Lanarkshire locations:
Clyde : 1786 to 1978
Calder : 1800 to 1921
Shotts : 1801 to 1947
Gartsherrie : 1828 to 1967
Summerlee : 1836 to 1930
Coltness : 1837 to 1927
Carnbroe : 1838 to 1921
Langloan : 1841 to 1919
Wishaw : 1858 to 1930

Schematic showing locations of major Lanarkshire Iron and Steel Works in the early 20th Century (click to enlarge)

More info on the regions steelmaking history here and here.

Many of the ironworks in and around Motherwell were demolished as the huge Ravenscraig steelworks was built in the mid 1950s and decades of under investment finally caught up with the steel industry with Ravenscraigs closure in 1992.

Ravenscraig was entirely levelled, producing a eerie landscape where one can almost hear the ghosts of the workers as they cast the white hot steel into slabs amid a shower of sparks. Heartbreaking.

The derelict site of the former Ravenscraig steelworks

The Size of Steelworks
The fact that only three 1950 era blast furnaces could produce as much steel as 83 furnaces back in 1880 left NSB wondering just how big steelworks can get..

Well, back in the late 19th century the Barrow Hematite Steel Company had the largest steelworks in the world, with a capacity around 2.6million tonnes.

By way of comparison, the current Teeside Steelworks can produce some 3.5million tomes per year.

And the Scunthorpe Steelworks can produce around 4.5million tonnes per year

While the Port Talbot Steelworks in South Wales is capable of producing some 5 million tonnes of steel slab per year.

A brief bit of research suggests that these capacities are comparable with other high capacity plants around the world.

Steel production in the East Midlands is largely at a lower capacity using “mini-mills” that melt scrap to produce, often very high quality, steel products. For example, in Sheffield, Finnish steelmaker Outokumpu runs a former British Steel facility that is has designated the “Stainless Melting And Continuous Casting” (SMACC) plant. Here an electric arc furnace can melt 130tonnes of stainless steel in around 80 minutes to a temperature of 1620°C, at which point the steel can be discharged for further modification or processing.

An article in the FT reports that, in 1970, the UK produced around 27.8million tonnes of steel, against 18million tonnes in China and a world total of 595 million tonnes.

In contrast, the figures for 2011 were 9.4million tonnes, 683million tonnes and 1,490million tonnes respectively

A Final Comment
And NSB wonders whether society has ever really given steelworkers the respect they deserve for producing such an important construction and industrial material.

So NSB would like to raise a salute to the steelworkers who worked at the Lanarkshire Iron and Steel Company some 60 years ago, and to the steelworkers at the Port Talbot, Scunthorpe, Teeside and other UK steelworks today, and to steelworkers around the world….

…and say "Thank you, for you have truly made the modern world”

Port Talbot Steelworks

Slide, Bankside, Ravenscraig, Port Talbot

Other links
Steelmaking (BOS process)simulation
Bessemer Process

Other NSB Content
Fee - An autobiography of an Iron Atom
Carbon Capture Technology

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Geometric Snow Art of Simon Beck

Simon Beck, 54 hails from the south of England but spends his winters in the French ski resort of Les Arcs creating beautiful gemetric desings in the snowfields around the resort.

An example of Simon Beck's Snow Art

An alumni of Oxford University, Simon works as an orienteering mapmaker (converting maps to a form suitable for orienteering) and, even as a young person, had an interest in geometric designs, commenting that “I used to draw a lot of geometric designs, used spirograph a lot, and made polyhedral.”

His internet home is on Facebook where you can find pictures of his work as well as an interesting set of interviews, a few points from which form this blog post.

Simon made his first snow design in 2004 and his designs typically take about 10 hours to create from start to finish - making it a challenge to complete a design and still have daylight to photograph it, indeed Simon comments that “ and are often based on classic mathematical constructions such as the Mandelbrot set, Koch curve or Sierpinski triangle, Simon suggests that a good beginners design are “Sierpinski triangle, flower of life, stars formed by surveying the corners of a polygon and joining them up”

A design based on the Kock curve

Of course, a common question to Simon is to ask how he plots out the design and actually makes it in the snow...

A snow art design

Simon initially draws the design on paper using a pencil, ruler and protractor - and then transfers then to the actual snow using a handheld orienteering compass, with distance being estimated using pace counting or measuring tape - with the lines being kept straight by walking towards an aim point in the distance. Simon uses snowshoes, which do a good job of marking out the lines and filling in areas.

Curves can be judged or made using a clothes line attached to a centre point. This latter method is more accurate, but means that Simon needs to physically walk to the centre of the circle, which may not be ideal for some designs.

How the snow art looks up close

As it takes so long to complete a design, they are often completed in the dark and Simon has to wait until the next day to take a photograph. Indeed, Simon estimates that “at least 25 percent have to be done again because of failure to get the photo”.

Another hazard is making an error, as Simon explains “The hardest past is avoiding a 'stupid' mistake, and the most frequent cause of those is a wrong aiming point (straight lines are made by aiming at a point in the distance but one can easily accidentally aim at the wrong point)”

Another beautiful Kock based design

The designs generally last until the next heavy snowfall (which can sometimes be the same night they are completed) - but may survive as a “ghost” below fresh snow, or even other designs, for several months.

A design based on the circle of life

Perhaps the most touching, and thought provoking, of Simons comments relates to what he hopes people will get from seeing the designs:

“I hope to spread the message the mountains and snow are beautiful and worth preserving, and there are better things in life than spending so much time doing things you don't want to so that you can spend money you haven't got (yet) to buy things you don't need to impress people you don't like”

And finally, one for those who remember the 80's

All images used by kind permission of Simon Beck.