Thursday, 31 December 2015

Stuff from the UoN in 2015

University of Nottingham 2015 news items that have caught NSB's attention.....


Apr 2015 : Caterpillar killing fungus may offer pain relief
Scientists at The University of Nottingham are exploring the painkilling potential of cordycepin, a compound found in cordyceps mushrooms, which are widely used in Chinese traditional medicine, thanks to funding from Arthritis Research UK.

Cordyceptin is found in the cordyceps mushrooms, which parasitically infect and then kill certain types of caterpillar. The mushrooms have been widely used in Chinese medicine for some time.

Dr Cornelia de Moor and her team at the UoN have been given a three-year grant of £260,000 from ArthritisUK to investigate cordycepin as a new type of painkiller for osteoarthritis, a common joint condition that affects more than eight million people in the UK.

Director of research and prpgrammes at Arthritis Research UK, Dr Stephen Simpson, said: “Dr de Moor’s research is certainly novel, and we believe may hold promise as a future source of pain relief for people with osteoarthritis. There is currently a massive gap in available, effective, side-effect-free painkillers for the millions of people with arthritis who have to live with their pain every day, so new approaches are very much-needed.”

To get a feel for the trajectory of this research, check out this press release from 2013.

You can read more about the rather grim way the Cordyceps mushroom kills off its caterpillar host here.


May 2015 : Insects as a food security solution
A series of research grants have been given to UoN researchers led by Prof Andy Salter to investigate the possibility of using insects, and insects derived products as food sources - both for people (think "cricket flour") and for farmed animals such as fish (where conventional fish oil foods are unsustainable).

The researchers already have a flying start (gettit?) with their existing links to commercial insect rearing companies such as Entofood in Malaysia and Monkfield in the UK.

You can read a report on the viability of insects as animal feed here. It puts the issue in context very early on with the comment :

"Meat production is already responsible for 18% of the 36 billion tons of ‘CO2 -equivalent’ greenhouse gases the world produces every year, and it takes 33% of all the arable land to produce enough feed for them. At the same time, therapidly expanding aquaculture industry is competing for feed inputs with other livestock - particularly the demand for fish meal which, if we carry on as we are, is likely to outstrip supply very soon"


Jul 2015 : Dr Clare Burrage awarded the Maxwell medal and prize

The Maxwell medal and prize is presented annually by the Institute of Physics for "outstanding contributions to theoretical physics, mathematical or computational physics."

The winner in 2015 was won by Dr Clare Burrage (see also here) with the IOP commenting that “Dr Burrage has pioneered the development of searches for dark energy in terrestrial laboratory experiments and astrophysical observations."

Dark Energy is a form of energy which is hypothesized to permeate all of space, tending to accelerate the expansion of the universe.

You can read more about the kinds of tests that Dr Burrage has been investigating in articles at Quanta, New Scientist and Science Daily.

Oh, and by the way, the NS article points out that one possible manifestation of Dark Energy could result in the universe experiencing a “big rip” as increasingly fast expansion tears apart the universe, starting with galaxy clusters and ending with atomic nuclei.

No pressure, then....


Aug 2015 : Helicobacter pylori's secret weapon

The disease causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) (and which was only discovered in 1982) burrows into the mucus of the human stomach and adheres to the stomach wall to resist being "flushed out" of the human body. It is present in about 1 in 2 humans, but does not cause problems for the large majority of these people.

Fascinating research from experts in the UoN School of Pharmacy who, together with AstraZeneca R&D, have figured out that actual mechanism that the bacteria uses to adhere to the wall, and this may pave the way to developing drugs that can combat the bacteria is disease is caused.


Oct 2015 : Britains forgotton slave owners
Katie Donington, Research Associate on the Antislavery Usable Past and Co-director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights talks about documentary Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners.

As part of the measures taken to end slavery in the Caribbean, the British government agreed to pay the slave-owners £20 million compensation [£69.93 billion in 2013 pounds!!] for their ‘property in people.’. The bureaucratic record associated with this provides a database of some 46,000 claimants, of whom around 3,000 lived in the UK and is a valuable insight into their lives, times and views.

More info also here and in a Wiki Article here.

Very touched by the words of William Cowper who wrote:

"We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein."


Oct 2015 : Climbers cut carbon capture
Clever and adventurous researchers from the UoN and other institutions have performed a remarkable study on the effects of woody climbing plants — called lianas — on the tree growth in tropical forests.

Tropical forests store nearly 30 per cent of global carbon and contribute to 40 per cent of the global carbon sink but Lianas have drastically increased in both numbers and bulk in recent decades, and are restricting tree growth and even killing trees by their tangling presence.

To try and quantify the effect the researchers marked out an area of the Barro Colorado Nature Monument in Panama into 16 squares with 80m sides. Then they cut down the lianas in 8 of the squares and monitored tree growth in the area for three years.

The researchers found that the study plots with lianas collected 76% less carbon in woody biomass over the experimental period because of reduced tree growth and increased tree death. The team calculated that lianas could potentially reduce long-term storage of carbon in tropical forests by one-third or more.



Oct 2015 : Funding for gel that mimics human breast tissue
A £417,000 research award has been given by from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) to a UoN team led by Dr Cathy Merry in the School of Medicine.

The team is developing a gel that will match many of the biological structures of human breast tissue and allow cancer research to be performed with reduced need for animal testing.

Dr Merry has recently joined the UoN from the University of Manchester, which is where the hydrogel technology was originally developed. The two groups will continue to work together on the technology.

You can read more about reserch aimed at reducing the need for animal testing here


Nov 2015 : Companion animal ethics book
A new book, written by Dr Sandra Corr, Peter Sandøe and Clare Palmerby is the first book to comprehensively cover the complex ethical issues of living with companion animals such as cats and dogs.

Sounds like a fascinating topic, but disappointing that this (presumably) publicly funded research, which has so much relevance to the general public, is not more accessible without shelling out at Amazon. The University of Nottingham


Dec 2015 : Rebecca Dewey takes part in the "Pairing Scheme"
Research Fellow in Neuroimaging at the University of Nottingham, Rebecca Dewey, a research fellow in Neuroimaging, took part in annual Royal Society "Pairing Scheme" where academics spend time with MP's (in this case Lilian Greenwood) and civil servants. The scheme research scientists with a behind-the-scenes insight into how policy is formed and how research can be used to make evidence-based decisions. It also gives parliamentarians and civil servants the opportunity to investigate the science behind their decision-making processes and improves their access to scientific evidence. The over-arching aim of the scheme is to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK.

You can find out more about the scheme, including case studies, here.

An important scheme to have at a time when believers in the efficacy of sugar pills can influence health policy and when MEP's can deny the existence of man made climate change.

Spookily, this meshes very nicely with a UoN news item from earlier in the year, entitled "Why Academics should engage with the media" which includes a genuinely helpful 20 point list of things to consider.

No 12 blew my mind.


Dec 2015 : Cumbrian Flooding
Dr Simon Gosling writes on the causes and reaction to recent flooding in Cumbria. NSB particularly noted the comments on how the Environment Agency weighs up the pros and cons of different flood prevention strategies :
"The Environment Agency aims to provide the best possible protection for a community that can be justified technically and economically, and which actually fits within the community. So, whilst flood defence walls several meters high could be constructed along the banks of a river, it would in turn prevent people from enjoying the river and the space it offers during the larger part of the time when the river is not in a state of flood – factors that make such areas attractive places to live. The Environment Agency consider factors such as risk of loss of life, potential physical and economic damage, and hydrological models that show the behaviour of floods, to decide where to prioritise the planning and construction flood defences."

Also information on previous "weather extremes" in "weather extremes" blog.


Dec 2015 : Monitoring the Climate Change Talks
Prof Brigitte Nerlich, and Dr Warren Pearce have been part of a team monitoring the Climate Change Talks - check out their blog here.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Post about Al Khwarizmi by No3 Son

No3 Son was writing about "The father of Algebra" -Abu Jaafar Mohammad Ibn Mousa Al Khwarizmi for his maths homework today. NSB learnt a lot, so sharing what No3 wrote (Image caption banter is all from NSB though)....

Al Khwarizmi was born in 800 CE Baghdad in modern day Iraq. Al Khwarizmi studied mathematics and Astronomy also he wrote a book Hisab Al-jabr W’al-Muqabala which was on quadratic and linear equations.

Linear..... Quadratic
(subtle Father Ted joke there...)

Al Khwarizmi was part of the House of Wisdom which was made up of a group of scholars who tried to solve problems of lawsuit, trade and inheritance using maths. The House of Wisdom used translated texts from the Greeks and others but did their own work too.

He is also famous for bringing The Indian number system, which was base 10, to Arabic science.

Some of his work used quadratic equations. These equations have two solutions. Al-Khwarizmi used words instead of letters. For example to solve x2+10x=39 he wrote:

“... a square and 10 roots are equal to 39 units. The question therefore in this type of equation is about as follows: what is the square which combined with ten of its roots will give a sum total of 39? The manner of solving this type of equation is to take one-half of the roots just mentioned. Now the roots in the problem before us are 10. Therefore take 5, which multiplied by itself, gives 25, and an amount which you add to 39 giving 64. Having taken then the square root of this, which is 8, subtract from it half the roots, 5, leaving 3. The number three therefore represents one root of this square, which itself, of course, is 9. Nine therefore gives the square.”
To make it understandable, here is a diagram of how he would solve the equation:

Bit easier to understand like this...maybe...

And here is a diagram of how we would solve the equation today:

Solving Quadratics the Modern Way.

Further Reading
Gulf News Article
Al Jazeera Article
Intmaths Article

Monday, 23 November 2015

Talk : Metrology for additive manufacturing

Recently went to an interesting UoN public lecture talk by Richard Leach, who is Professor in Metrology at the UoN Faculty of Engineering.

The talk was entitled "Metrology for additive manufacturing: the key to tight tolerances" and discussed the issues related to metrology for additively manufactured components.This post is based on the talk, with a little extra linkage thrown in.

Two Definitions
Additive Manufacturing : Processes such as 3D printing, laser sintering etc that make components "from the ground up" (Wiki here)

Metrology : Although a wide field, in this case focussing on the ability to measure the dimensions of a manufactured object to ensure that it has the shape it should have (e.g. does a nut have the correct dimensions so that it will fit onto an appropriate bolt)

Some more info
Metrology of additively manufactured(AM) parts can be particularly difficult as AM processes allow parts of have very complex geometries, for example like this :

A complex AM part

Currently, typical techniques used for metrology include :

Co-ordinate measuring machines - which physically touch the part to check its dimensions (See also here). Accurate but slow.
Optical systems - which uses lasers etc to discern the part surface. Fast but relatively inaccurate.
X-ray systems - which can also image the inside of components - suspect accuracy

One particular issue with optical systems is that machines designed to be very accurate can only measure a small area at a time, negating the advantage that optical scanning aims to provide.

Prof Leach also mentioned that mechanical CMM machines were out of favour for metrology of very small components, adding that the F25 Micro CMM he had been involved with at NPL had not sold well and was difficult to use.

The Prof went on to describe the "Information rich metrology" approach which aimed to use available data about the object (e.g. its CAD model, construction material etc) to help optical systems better define the surface of the part.

Also mentioned was the concept of "design for metrology", for example by putting markers in the physical design where measurements should be taken.

You can read more about the additive manufacturing group here and here.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

A year in the life of a tree...

Been taking pictures of a particular tree every couple of weeks for the last year.....

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Geeky Pumpkin Carving

Made a geeky pumpkin carving.

Can you tell what it is?

And for a well deserved bonus point, can you spot the tiny mistake I made?

Geeky Pumpkin Carving

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Lime Kilns in Derbyshire

Whilst having a walk along the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire NSB was gobsmacked to see huge concrete structures built into the hillsides...

huge concrete structures built into the hillside, nr Buxton

A helpful sign explained that they were lime kilns that operated from 1880 until 1944 and could convert quarried limestone into 50tonnes of quicklime a day for use in the steel, chemical and agricultural sectors. Quicklime production was (and to a degree still is) a significant industry in the Peak District. The concrete buttresses were added in the 1920s.

A helpful sign

But let's step back a bit and take some time to look at the chemistry and technology behind this process.

Limestone (as well as coral, sea shells and chalk) are all forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Some 300million years ago, in the Carboniferous period, Derbyshire was covered by a warm shallow sea and it was the shells of animals that died and fell to the bottom of the sea that later formed the areas limestone rocks.

Limestone can be converted to Calcium Oxide (CaO), also known as "quicklime", "lime" and "burnt Lime", by heating to 1100-1300C where it undergoes the following reaction:

CaCO3 + heat → CaO + CO2

Generally, the limestone is ground down to the size of pebbles before being heated.The resulting lime is a white solid that has a melting point of 2572°C. The reaction is reversible, however, and to slow this down the lime is often "slacked" by reacting it with water, either partially to form a dry powder, or with an excess of water to produce a putty. Slacked lime has the formula Ca(OH)2.

An extremely helpful video from the "BBC Edwardian Farm" explains the process of lime production in kilns similar to those by the Monsal trail. In particular, it gives some context for the discharge of the final lime product:

Checking that the limestone has converted to lime by its fizzy reaction with water

Edwardian PPE, to protect against the caustic lime

Removing the lime from the bottom of the kiln

Sieving the discharged lime to remove the fine ash and spoil

Lime and slacked lime have a number of important uses, including:

1) As a mortar (lime mortar) that was historically used in bricklaying (now replaced by Portland cement) - this application relies on the lime reverting back to limestone to form the bond.

2) In the formation of soda lime glass when mixed and heated with silicates such as silica sand and soda ash (itself also produced using limestone).

3) In the steel industry, again using limes ability to form high temperature molten solutions with silicates. Lime is added to the ore during melting. The lime forms a solution with silicate impurities in the molten ore. This solution floats on top of the molten iron and is removed. You may know this solution by its common name of "slag".

Whilst the kilns by the Monsal trial had to close due to land instabilities, there were many other kilns in the area and lime production continues as sites such as the Tunstead Quarry, also near Buxton, and one of the largest limestone quarries in Europe, capable of producing up to 6million tons of limestone per year.

Tunstead Quarry from the ground

Tunstead Quarry from the air

The site, has a state-of-the-art Maerz kiln, installed in 2010, and costing some £14million. The washed, high purity stone is then transferred by conveyors to the lime kilns. The limestone is burnt at very high temperatures (1,100- 1,300°C) to induce a chemical reaction that produces quicklime (calcium oxide).

Maerz kiln at Tunstead, under construction, 2009(Copyright Richard Law)

Some fascinating historical images of the Tunstead quarry here Tunstead also has cement kilns, you can find out more about these at the winningly named site and also at

Image Sources
Old kiln and Notice - BFTF own
Calcium Oxide Tunstead Quarry (and here)
Maerz kiln , under this CC licence

Related NSB posts
From the Tate modern to Lanarkshire
Coal Mining in Nottingham
Train Manufacture in Derby
Mining Memories
History of Coal Mining in the East Midlands
Rolls Royce UTC open day

Friday, 16 October 2015


Pictures that don't fit anywhere else in the blog....


Leaves on the ground, Dec 2016


Street through a rainy windscreen, 2016


 A bonfire 


A couple of pics of a bonfire (2016)

Another image of the same bonfire


A couple of pics taken while camping near Buxton, Derbyshire.

Fernlee Reservoir, Derbyshire, 2015

Trees, Derbyshire, 2015


2015 : Visited the incredibly beautiful Rhossili Bay recently. The image below really doesn't do it justice.

Rhossili, deservedly voted best beach in the UK

Rhossili Bay has been voted Britan's most beautiful beach. Not a surprise really...

Monday, 20 July 2015

Planes wot I have flown on

Been travelling quite a bit recently and have decided to try and keep some records on the planes that are ferrying me around and also to do a little digging on their history.

Airbus A330-300, code G-VGBR
McDonnell Douglas MD88, code N945DL
Boeing 757, code N17128
Saab 340, code N343AG
Embraer ERJ-145, code N834HK


Airbus A330-300, code G-VGBR, Spring 2017
Listed on as being delivered in 2012, this A330-300 is a rather new and shiny plane with a lot of UK content, most notably in the Trent 7000 engines and the wings which are made in the Airbus UK Broughton facility in North Wales.


Rolls Royce Trent 7000

Trent Image Source


Delta McDonnell Douglas MD88, code N945DL, Spring 2017 reveals that this is a pretty old plane, having been manufactured way back in 1989, and is powered by the venerable P&W JT8D-200 engine, introduced in 1980.

If you have ever wondered what an airline flight manual looks like, you can read one for the MD80 here.

MD88 flaps at various settings

NSB's view from the window....


United Boeing 757, code N17128, Summer 2015 states that it is a 757-200 that first flew in Mar 1998 and was number 795 on the 757 production line with construction number 27560. adds that the engines are a fine pair of Rolls Royce RB211-535E4B's It turns out that this was a transformative engine for Rolls. The International Aviation Services Group comments that :

"The longevity of the -535E4 version is well known, with one engine on an America West Airlines’ Boeing 757 accruing 2,047 days on-wing, flying over 12 million miles (the equivalent of 25 return trips to the moon) over 24,100 hours of operation..."

B757 N17128, soon to begin a flight from the US to the UK

Always keen to get this "OMG, you can see right through the wing!" shot on landing

Incidentally, an incredible site called "" allows you to watch recent flights of any specified plane - together will information on all the other planes that were flying at the same time. Here, for example, is how the skies over Northern Europe look on a typical afternoon.....

That is a LOT of planes.....


Silver Airways Saab 340, code N343AG, Winter 2014/5
A check on the Wiki entry for this type reveals another example of this plane type had its undercarriage mistakenly raised whilst on the ground, and that the pilot had died in a later accident. The final report section for that latter incident is something best read after, not before, flying on a small regional airline.

One might imagine that propeller aircraft are more fuel efficient than their jet powered cousins. To investigate this, NSB dug out the stats for the Saab 340, which revealed that, for a 300nm flight with 34 passengers, it consumed around 0.059kg fuel per passenger nm.

A little digging reveals that, inevitably, Wikipedia has a page with some useful data. It shows that, for example, the Boeing 757-200 (mentioned above) with 190 passengers consumes around 0.044kg fuel per passenger nm.

A smaller jet aircraft, such as the A320neo with 144passengers, consumes just 0.030kg fuel per passenger nm.

To get down to a jet engined plane with similar passenger capacity to the Saab, one needs to look at planes like the 37seat ERJ135. This plane consumes around 0.093kg fuel per passenger nm - about 50% more than the Saab!.

Saab 340


Embraer ERJ-145, code N834HK, Summer 2015
Spookily, the next plane on this post is an Embraer ERJ-145. Manufactured back in 2000, this plane has passed through a number of hands before arriving, in 2013, at United. One of its owners along that way was Brazilian regional airline Passaredo Linhas Aéreas, who are based in a part of Brazil that has an interesting agricultural history and is nicknamed the "Brazilian California".

ERJ 145

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum - Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center

Recently had the opportunity to visit the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center (one of the two Washington sites of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum). It was very Wow. Here are some pictures of a few of the exhibits (most images are clickable to get to a higher resolution version).....

First up, and the biggest card in this metaphorical deck, is the Space Shuttle Discovery:

TheSpace Shuttle Discovery, veteran of 39 space missions

Looks like the discussion about the shape of the main wheel door was on a Friday.
NSB imagines an engineer saying  "Look, just make it a rectangle dude" 

Very surprised to see that the surface is not at all smooth.... you can clearly see in this close up.

Black heat resistant tiles individually shaped and marked... can be seen in this close up

The business end of Discovery.
Second in line for a mention is the legendary SR-71 Blackbird, one of the fastest planes of all time. You can read a fascinating history of the planes development, written by Peter Merlin, here:

The SR-71 Blackbird

Very 50s look from this angle

The pointiest shock cones in aviation history

Always been intrigued by the downward pointing leading edge 

Rear of the plane makes a big statement

Don't be standing here at engine start time.

Here is a couple of pictures of an Air France Concorde, a plane that is without doubt the most beautiful airliner of all time, and was born from a joint venture between the UK and France.

The very clever and complex inlets on Concorde

Wonder why the edge of the  wing root / fuselage fairing  isn't a smooth line...

Now moving briefly to WW2....

WW2 German Arado Ar234 jet bomber...

...whose small size can be seen when compared to the FW190 next to it

Quick trip to the 1920s...

NSB thought this incredibly stylish 1920s Ballanca CF biplane must
 have been designed by an italian.... and it was! 

And now, rotorcraft:

The Hiller YROE is a very small helicopter indeed.

The reason some early 1950 helicopters have very bulgy noses
 is that this was where the engine was, as in the case of the Sikorsky H-19

Lastly, was very interested in the examples of "general aviation" and homebuilt aircraft that were on display, some of which are shown below:

The Beck Mahoney Sorceress, one of the most successful air racers of all time.

The Rutan Quickie, which has its landing wheels built into its front wings

The Rutan Vari-eze ("very easy" - geddit?) home build plane.
(It does have a nosewheel, which has been  retracted in this display)

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Interview with Apollo Astronaut Trainer and Geologist Prof Farouk El-Baz
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A trip to Cosford Air Museum
Apollo Programme Manuals
Curiosity, Twitter and the British Connection
Interview - Chris Lintott and the Zooniverse