Marching for science

It’s probably fair to say that I’m a bit of a science nerd. In fact, it’s a little more than that. I think that science is essential to how we develop as a species. It is an ongoing search for truth and understanding. It is how we rise above our own parochial views and engage with the bigger picture of the world around us. So when science comes under attack, I’m not going to just stand idly by. Continue reading

The power of dreams

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

* * *

We all have dreams. Some of us continue to merely dream them, but others find the courage to make them reality. And to my great delight, two such individuals – or, rather, books by or about such individuals – found their way into my Christmas stocking. And given that I’d read them cover to cover by new year, you can probably guess that I found them both rather riveting. Continue reading

An unexpected day out

I had an unexpected day out in London last Wednesday. I don’t mean that someone grabbed me and Fedex’d me to Charing Cross or anything like that. I mean, that only happened to me that one time. But I had a really great day. It was the first time for ages that I’ve been to London and actually had some time to look around.

I’d planned to go to the capital for a couple of work meetings and had saved money by booking my train tickets a couple of weeks in advance. Typically, no sooner had I booked my (non-refundable) tickets than one of my two meetings got postponed. And then, while I was actually on the train out of Bristol, the other one got pushed to a later date, too. But what the hell. All the more time for sightseeing…

I started off with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. I thought at first that it wasn’t that impressive, but then realised that I’d come in through the back door by mistake. But as I made my way around to the front entrance, I was struck by how well everything had been put together. They had, for example, made some fantastic use of visual artwork to set a nautical tone. Here’s my favourite…

The writing on the wall

The other thing that impressed me was the scale of the place. Being in a rather large old building with a three-storey roofed courtyard in the middle, there was plenty of scope for larger exhibits and displays that really showed the majesty of some of our maritime heritage. Here’s a rather imposing display of figureheads…

Figureheads

There was also a particularly emotive exhibition about some of the people who have featured prominently in Britain’s seafaring heritage, with the stories behind them and displays of some of their possessions. Some of the stories were rather profound. And others were, quite simply, heartbreaking. The sea and untimely death, it appears, go hand in hand. There was also some more brilliant artwork…

More writing on the wall

I then wandered up the hill to the Royal Observatory, home of the Astronomers Royal, Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian. It’s funny, really, how something of such prominence in the history of the world should consist of such a modest, understated collection of buildings (if you ignore the massive dome housing a 28-inch refracting telescope). But as a keen physicist and astronomer myself, I was, to be honest, a little overawed.

Royal Observatory

There are also some great views from the hill on which the observatory is sited, looking north over the whole expanse of London. Here, for example, is Canary Wharf. (A sign, perhaps, that the era of understatement is over.)

Canary Wharf

And here’s the charming Millennium Dome, or whatever it’s called now. Which, apparently, you can see from space. But not, luckily, from Bristol.

The Dome

And here, far away in the distance, is the Gherkin. If you’re not sure which building I’m talking about, the Gherkin is the one with the diagonal stripes and a black lid. And no, I don’t know why it’s called the Gherkin. It looks more like a goth’s lipstick.

The Gherkin

Yes, I couldn’t resist. Here’s me standing over the prime meridian. My right foot is in the eastern hemisphere and my left foot is in the west. Zero degrees of longitude. The world starts here. I’m glad I thought to wear some smart shoes.

Me on the meridian

While at the observatory, I stopped in to look at the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition. And, quite simply, wow. I mean, wow. Some of the images just took my breath away. Clearly, the organisers will go nuts if I stick any of the photos up here, so check out their website and see what I mean. Or even better, catch the exhibition while it’s on (it’s there until 17th February next year – and entry is free) and learn more about the photos and the people who took them.

An my way back to the station to catch the train home, and after a mad dash to check out the flagship Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, I stopped in to see my little sister and her new baby, Otto. He’s only about a month old, so he’s still really teeny. Here’s the little fella. As you can tell, he was absolutely delighted to see me…

Otto

And then, after a rather tiring but absolutely fantastic day, it was time for home… and bed.

When science meets art (sort of)

I had been looking forward to a quiet day last Tuesday, to get back into the swing of work after the bank holiday weekend, but instead I found myself with Natalie in a chemistry laboratory at the university, helping her to set up and take photos of plants for a project that she is working on.

Her plan is to identify various flora that have chemical properties, such as those used in pharmaceuticals or biofuels, and to combine photos of them with their chemical structures and a description of how they are used. We were essentially just mucking around at this stage, though, to see how things looked.

We must have taken a couple of hundred photos over an hour or so. We also got a fair few odd glances from other people working in the lab. It was, however, excellent fun. Here are a few of my favourite images from our rather odd photoshoot.*

Eucalyptus
ZebraGrass
Rosemary
EchinopsRoll
Echinops
RoseBeaker
RosePaper
* Natalie would no doubt want me to add that these are just some rough images to get a feel for how things look and to develop a ‘proof of concept’ for her project. The end result will no doubt look a lot better, if only because it’ll be someone with significantly more talent than me taking the photos…

Oh, and please excuse the watermarks on the photos. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but rather that Natalie wants to use the photos for her project so it seemed sensible to protect them. (Thanks, Jenny, for the suggestion.)