Sunday, 19 October 2014

A trip to Cosford Air Museum

NSB has been to Cosford Air Museum a few times, and on the latest trip took these pictures...

EAP - technology demonstrator for the Eurofighter

Dinky, dinky Gnat beside Lancaster

Mig-15, note cannon...


TSR - a sad story

TSR2 Avionics bay

TSR2 avionics bay detail

TSR2 main gear well

TSR engine (Olympus) the same as used in Concorde

Bad-to-the-bone Victor


Vulcan bomb bay

Bristol Britannia riveting

There were some very thought provoking displays in the Cold War hanger....

The Cold War in South America

The Cold War in the Middle East

Further displays were present for Africa, and included mention of:
Algeria 1954-62. War of Independence. 100,000 dead.
Guinea-Bassau 1981-82. Civil War. 1,050,000 dead.
Liberia 1990-96. Civil War, 150,000 dead.
Nigeria 1967-70. Civil War. 2,000,000 dead.
Sudan 1963-?. Civil War. 2,000,000 dead.
Congo / Zaire 1960-65. Civil War. 100,000 dead.
Angola 1961-75. War of Independence. 55,000 dead.
Angola 1975-2002. Civil War. 500,000 dead.
Madagascar 1947-48. War of Independence. 15,000 dead.

And South-East Asia, including mention of:
Korea 1950-53. Civil War, 3,000,000 dead.
Philippines 1972-95. Civil Wars. 89,000 dead.
Indonesia 1945-49. War of Independence. 5,000 dead.
Indonesia 1965-66. Civil War. 500,000 dead.

And other areas as well.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Talk - 3D printing with atoms?

A recent University of Nottingham Science Lecture featured a fascinating talk by Prof Philip Moriarty. The talk was entitled "3D printing with atoms?" and looked at how researchers can now image and manipulate individual atoms to create rudimentary atomic scale structures. This post is based on the talk, with some added linkage thrown in...

Prof Moriarty began by explaining that the "?" in the talk title was important - and that the answer was no, we cannot currently "print" with individual atoms - but that some of the enabling technologies and science is being developed in labs around the world.

One direction that technology might take is to develop machines that take one material, for example grass, and turn it into something else, such as steak. This vision of the future was developed and publicised by Eric Drexler in the 1990s, most notably in his 1992 presentation to Congress, who wondered if such technologies might eliminate world hunger and result in whole populations being able to live a life of leisure, with nanomachines doing all the hard work.

Prof Moriarty moves around a lot, this is about as clear as it got...

Whilst Drexler's vision proved controversial, and he had many critics, the dream of a nanofactory lives on in organisations such as the Nanofactory Collaboration. It is this idea of autonomous nanomachines that has resulted in concerns such as the world being overwhelmed by "Grey Goo". There is continuing discussion on the viability of Drexlers ideas, for example this discussion by Prof Moriarty and this debate between Drexler and Richard Smalley. See also this Wikipedia article.

And of course, Richard Feynman started the whole ball rolling with his famous "There is plenty of room at the bottom" presentation way back in 1959.

Moving back to the talk, it was interesting to see that the audience had been given "clickers" with which they could answer multiple choice questions posed by Prof Moriarty, some of which are shown below :

1) What is the wavelength of red light?
0.6nm 6nm 60nm 600nm 6000nm
(nm=nanometer, a millionth of a millimetre)

2) What is the size of a red blood cell?
50,000nm 5000nm 500nm 50nm 5nm

3) What is the size of a single Gold atom?
3nm 0.3nm 0.03nm 0.003nm

(Answers at the end of the post)

Liked the clicker, loved the grafitti on the left

Prof Moriarty continued by explaining that one of the key concepts of nanotechnology was that simply by changing the size of an object, we can change it's physical, chemical and biological properties.

For example, the element Gold has its characteristic colour because of the way electrons in its structure collectively form waves, known as plasmons - but when gold is in the form of nanoparticles, there is not enough room on each particle for these plasmons to form, and hence a dispersion of gold nanoparticles in water has a red colour.

Differing sizes of gold nanoparticles have different colours

Prof Moriarty then showed a beautiful image (shown below) which he described as the "most important image in the history of science". Called the "Corral", it was created by Don Eigler and colleagues at the IBM Almaden Research Centre in 1993 using the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to position 48 iron atoms into a circle on a copper surface. The wave patterns in the image are formed by copper electrons confined by the iron atoms. It

The waves are electrons reflecting of the "corral"

The Prof pointed out that, incredibly, the patterns formed by the electron waves could be described by exactly the same maths as used to define wave patterns on a drum skin.

More examples of atomic manipulation were given, the Nanoputians, and "A Boy and His Atom" - a stop motion movie of atoms !

The talk then moved onto an explanation of how it is that researchers can image and manipulate atoms, given that light has a wavelength hundreds of times larger than the size of atoms and so cannot be used as an imaging technique.

The answer turns out to be the Scanning Probe Microscope (SPM), which is described by Prof Moriarty here (albeit in a font that could perhaps most charitably described as "unhelpful"). In essence, a probe with a very fine tip is used to scan across a flat surface. An electrical force is built up between the probe tip and the surface. The probe scans across the surface and detects variation in the electrical force when the probe encounters changes in the surface, such as steps, holes or the presence of atoms lying on the surface.

You'll be wanting your atomic force probe to be just one atom wide at the tip..

As the probe scans across the material, it detects the changes
in electrical force as the surface dips or rises

A paper entitled "Mapping the force Field of a hydrogen bonded assembly" by Prof Moriarty's group has been published in Nature, no less, and the Prof showed an image from the paper which showed how actual images of molecules correlated very well with the representations of molecules that chemists had been using for many years. Its a fascinating paper and well worth looking at.

Incredible to see correlation between actual image (left) and theoretical model (right)

Another paper entitled "Toggling Bistable Atoms via Mechanical Switching of Bond Angle" describes how the group used SPM to "toggle" molecules between two states, simply by applying an electrical force.

To close out the talk, a few more questions revealed that there are as many atoms in a sugar cube as there are stars in the observable universe (10 to the power 22, since you ask) - just imagine how much memory storage a sugar cube sized volume could hold if even a small fraction of those atoms could be used to store data.....

You can read more about the nanotechnology research being undertaken by the UoN physics department at their webpage

Update 19 Oct: By the magic that is Twitter, NSB has been informed that Dr Drexler is currently at Oxford University

Update 19 Oct: Have also been informed of the existence of and, where you can see just how awesome the state of the art actually is.

Related Posts
NTU Talk by Dr Philip Breeder on Smart Materials
Royal Society Summer Science Display on Biological Nano-Motors
UoN's Clive Roberts talk on Nanotechnology in Healthcare
Cambridge Uni's Prof Ian Hutchings on Inkjet Printing
UoExeter's Prof Roy Sambles talk at NTU on Butterflies and Battleships

Unrelated Posts
Interview with Eben Upton of Raspberry Pi
Fee - An autobiography

Image Sources
Corral (Don Eigler, IBM Almaden Research Center and NISE Network)
Scanning Atomic Force Probe
Colloidal Gold

Answers to the questions:1) 600nm, 2)5000nm, 3) 0.3nm

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A cool balancing trick...

Some time ago, NSB found out that it was possible to balance a coin and two forks on the edge of a glass in a way that appeared to defy gravity.It's very easy to do and a couple of pictures are shown below....

A coin and two forks balancing on the edge of a glass

Same trick from the side, spookeh no?

The secret is that it is all about the centre of balance. In the image below, the blue line marks where the coin touches the glass. For the coin to stay in balance all that has to happen is that the mass on one side of the line (marked in red) needs to match the mass on the other side of the line (marked in green). As can be seen, it is entirely possible that this is actually the case.

Its all about the centre of balance...

Still pretty spooky though, and managed to completely confuse some people who had disturbingly high academic qualifications.

A good explanation of the phenomena can also be found here.

Monday, 13 October 2014

A visit to Wollaton Hall Natural History and Industrial Museums

Always a pleasure and a learning experience to visit the Natural History and Industrial Museums at Wollaton Park. Here are a few pictures and comments from a trip there a few months ago...

First time I'd spotted this Anteater, up on a high ledge...

Snakes have a LOT of vertebrae and ribs

Motorbikes used to be made in Nottingham

Never, ever, underestimate the power of a old skool phone to fascinate small children

A steam engine, made by Tangyes of Birmingham in about 1850
and used for brickmaking in Nottingham from 1868 to 1966

More on Tangyes here and here

Famous Boots Products Brufen and Epitone

Learn more about Ibuprofen here

Lovely Nottingham Post Article on Stewart Adams, one of the scientists who discovered Ibuprofen, here

Another article on Stewart Adams here.

Related Content
Train Manufacture in Derby
Coal Mining in Nottingham
Mining Memories
History of Coal Mining in the East Midlands
From the Tate Modern to Lanarkshire

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Talk : Is Vitamin D the elixir of health?

Went to a talk recently about Vitamin D, but instead of being from an expert researcher (as is usually the case from organisers), it was actually from a person who was being VERY selective in the sources he chose to refer to.

For the purposes of this post, lets just call him "Pete".

Pete began by explaining a few facts about Vitamin D:
1) It is oil soluble - which means it can be stored by the body
2) It is one of only a few chemicals that all body cells have a receptor for.
3) When activated, it acts as a steroid. Its level can be measured in the blood.
4) Has an impact on the expression of over a 1000 genes (5% of the total)
5) Vitamin D exists in an unactivated form in the skin all the time - but is only activated by the action of sunlight
6) Vitamin D can be obtained from food, but at levels much lower than those from the effect of sunlight on the skin.

Pete then considered what might be the optimum levels of Vitamin D for humans and looked to Africa for the answer to this question. It seems that tribesmen (presumably living similar lifestyles to those of thousands of years ago) in Africa have a level of 50 nanograms per millilitre of blood (see here).

The highest level that Pete has seen in the UK, irrespective of skin colour, and even at the end of the summer (when levels should be highest) has been 26ng/ml - suggesting that people living in northern latitudes may be deficient in Vitamin D. Indeed, during the winter in the UK, the sunlight is so weak that the Vitamin D production process is not activated even if one were to walk around shirtless at mid-day.

This presents a problem, as excessive exposure to sunlight increases the risk of skin cancer (and even SPF8 suncream cuts down Vitamin D production by 95%) - supplements may be another route to getting adequate Vitamin D.

Pete suggested that people should get their Vitamin D blood level checked, and if they feel it is low, talk to a suitably qualified health professional to devise a programme to restore the Vitamin D level.

Regarding supplements, Pete suggested that no adverse effects were likely if one stayed at daily intakes of 5000 IU (international units) per day, with the RDA being 400 IU's

Pete stated that the body uses Vitamin D in two pathways - the first (prioritised) pathway relates to Calcium absorption. The second pathway is only activated at higher blood levels of Vitamin D (above 40ng/l) and impacts on bone mineral density, nerve health, brain health and other effects. Pete also claimed that Vitamin D was implicated in a large number of health conditions, including autism, diabetes and depression.

The Vitamin D Council was mentioned by Pete on a number of occasions as being a reputable source of information.

During the Q&A, it became clear that the audience was lucky to have some people who worked in the health sector amongst its members, and they pointed out that advice could also be obtained from sources other than the Vitamin D Council, for example the Scientific Advisory Council for Nutrition (SACN, whose report on Vitamin D can be found here(pdf)); the Nottinghamshire Area Prescribing Committee (whose protocol on Vitamin D can be found here(pdf)); and of course also at NICE (information here(pdf))

Further Information
BFTF has stumbled upon the following while researching for this post:

1) The US Institute of Medicine has investigated the health benefits of Vitamin D supplements and commented that :
"The committee assessed more than one thousand studies and reports and listened to testimony from scientists and stakeholders before making its conclusions. It reviewed a range of health outcomes, including but not limited to cancer, cardivascular disease and hypertension, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, falls, immune response, neuropsychological functioning, physical performance, pre-eclampsia and reproductive outcomes. This thorough review found that information about the health benefits beyond bone health - benefits often reported in the media - were from studies that provided often mixed and inconclusive results and could not be considered reliable."

2) Whilst the Vitamin D Council may be a "non profit" organisation, its chairman, Dr Cannell is certainly making bucks selling "Dr. Cannell's Advanced D(TM) Vitamin D Super Formula", a product that is described as:
"Formulated by the Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council, Dr. John J. Cannell, Advanced D is a next generation vitamin D complex which includes patented Super Boron, vitamin K2, zinc, and magnesium"

60 capsules for only $47 ! - although NSB suspects that this represents quite a significant mark-up.

2) This article showing how complex the issue of Vitamin D levels can be.

3) Wikipedia is, of course, a good place to start.

4) A Paper describing how Vitamin D may play a role in a number of ill health conditions

5) Perhaps what NSB found most disturbing was the way the talk was very convincing, and it was only after spending a few evenings researching that the cracks in the evidence - and the narrowness of the references - became clear. NSB has noted this down as a cautionary tale.