Sunday, 30 March 2008

Friday, 28 March 2008

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Little Crunch, Big Crunch

very bent car, courtesy of Steve Ford ElliotScience made a big impact on me at the weekend. It started with the combination of particle physics and neuroscience, when the reflected photons from the oncoming Skoda struck my retinae and an urgent message started travelling through my brain. Then Newtonian mechanics came into play, as the momentum carried the car down the hill even after I'd taken my foot off the accelerator.

The running water covering the road on an otherwise dry day can be explained by physical geography — or perhaps the agricultural science of overflowing drainage ditches.

As my biological self contracted muscles and stomped on the brake, fluid mechanics came into play, and my little Mini Cooper started aquaplaning. I believe some other muscles may have tightened up around that point, too.

My faith in engineering science was dented by the failure of the ABS to do anything useful. It was restored a second or so later, though, as Mini met Skoda and the same kind of micro electro-mechanical accelerometer that senses you waving your Wiimote around told one of the car's on-board computers that we were all in trouble.

Thinking faster than the useless bag of biology occupying the front seat, the computer took a millisecond to assess the situation, then decided to play with its chemistry set, firing the explosives in the seat-belt pre-tensioners, and setting off both airbags.

This heralded the arrival of acoustics, specifically acoustic shock. Three days on, I still have a ringing in my left ear where some frequency response used to be. If you want to know how loud it is in car when it's busy remodelling its interior into a bouncy castle, take a look at this YouTube video of an airbag detonating. Now imagine sharing an enclosed space with two of the things.

And — like any good chemistry experiment — airbags stink.

Psychology would shed light on how we've managed to suppress our fight-or-flight reaction since we've moved out of caves and into cities. In particular, it would explain how we can stumble out of a violent, life-threatening encounter with another human being and politely ask them if they're okay while our adrenal glands carry on dumping Ug-hit-enemy-with-rock hormones into our bloodstream.

Luckily, both I and my co-crashee escaped injury, so it was back to classical mechanics as we shoved our vehicles out of the single-track road before anyone else joined our impromptu science fair. Phonology tagged the nice man who came to see what all the noise was about as a Welsh local, and his offering his driveway as temporary parking confirmed it.

After a little time to calm down and exchange details, it was all physics and electronics as we phoned friends and breakdown services, and I cursed low-earth-orbit satellites and the applied mathematics of in-car navigation systems. If my sat-nav hadn't mentioned that there was a more interesting way to get back to Bristol than staying on the A48, then my Sunday afternoon would have involved significantly less scientific interest.

And now we're left with economics clashing with the forensic psychology of eyewitness recall, as our insurance companies each try to figure out how to get the best result from their zero-sum game.

I just hope they manage to come to some agreement before we all get the chance to study the Big Crunch

Car image courtesy of Steve Ford Elliot.

It's not science but...

Noted this on the BBC Sport website in an article about N.I. striker, David Healey, who is about to receive an award from ex-French star Michel Platini for breaking the record for number of goals scored in a European Cup qualifying campaign:

Healy, whose side narrowly missed out on qualification, described the award as a "great award".

"It's a great honour. First and foremost I'm looking forward to meeting one of the greats of European and world football," said the Fulham forward.

"For him to take the time out to come to Belfast to present the
award is a great honour.

"I'm looking forward to meeting the great man.

"It's a great honour to hold the record."


"The hat-trick against Spain was the highlight. To score one against Spain was good but to score a hat-trick was great.

Has David Healey has been hanging out with Tony the Tiger again?


A selection of anti-quotes sent in by the lionhearted Crum Dudgeon

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
Ever tasted sour lemonade?

"A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush."
Not if you're a bird.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder."
Of the mistress!

"Today is the first day of the rest of your life!"
Till its the last.

"Every Rose has its thorn."
Roses wilt - thorns hang around.

"If you can't beat them, join them."
If they will let you.

More to follow....

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Fancy a Tattoo?

Ever wondered precisely how cool a sciency tattoo would look? Turns out you weren't alone. Here is a fantastic collection of tattoos, all with a nod to science in some form or another.

This particular one is the skull from an extinct early-human species, Paranthropus boisei, and I think looks particularly cool.

Having said that, I bet it really hurts. Maybe I'll leave off getting one myself for a bit.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

White dielectric material?

I do love reading about the history of science sometimes! Cosmic microwave background (CMB) remnants of the Big Bang were first seen at Bell Labs, New Jersey. While testing a sensitive antenna, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were vexed by a low background hiss on their signal. They checked and rechecked their equipment and even evicted a pair of pigeons. When the pigeons came back they had them shot and then went back inside the dish to clean off the old pigeon shit, just in case this 'white dielectric material' was causing the interference. Turns out the interference was actually the CMB - proof of the Big Bang!

Friday, 21 March 2008

Job Application: New Scientist Editor

Dear Mr Groves,

Having recently set fire to my research group's lab (it was a trifling incident really) I now find myself in a position to be able to apply for the role you advertised this week. I would very much like to be Editor of New Scientist magazine and hope you will consider my application.

The job specification calls for someone with:
  • A degree in science - CHECK! And a PhD in toad sex.
  • A good track record in journalism - CHECK! All my Wikipedia entries have been accepted so far.
  • Management experience - CHECK! I'm really good at telling people what to do.
  • A deep understanding of science - CHECK! Especially toad sex.
And finally, you ask for someone with "the charisma to inspire others"? Well, I've got a whole heap of charisma - as I think you'll agree when you've examined the attached photographs. (The one with the toad is my personal favourite).

Pick me!


The Prof.

P.S. It doesn't say anywhere when I should expect my first pay cheque. Will it be long? It's just that they're getting a bit funny about this electron microscope that got damaged in the fire...