My first academic paper. And it’s perhaps not what you’d expect.

Overcoming the Regulatory Hurdles for the Production of Hand Sanitizer for Public Health Protection: The UK and US Academic Perspective is an academic paper exploring the issues faced by researchers at the University of Bristol as they sought to manufacture hand sanitiser for use by public services during the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes a perspective from those doing the same in the United States

The Bristol academics making the hand sanitiser, who are colleagues of my wife, kindly provided me with a massive supply of hand sanitiser for the school where I’m a governor, which allowed the school to remain open to its most vulnerable young people. I helped to write this paper as a ‘thank you’ for their efforts. It’s published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Chemical Health and Safety. Read the paper online or get the PDF here.

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┬áto just stand idly by. Continue reading

A night at the observatory

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I recently joined the Bristol Astronomical Society. The Society is lucky enough to have a small observatory just outside Bristol and John, who manages the observatory, was kind enough to show me how everything works. This means that I’m now allowed to help out at the observing sessions that the Society runs on Saturday nights.

The observatory consists of a 12″ telescope in a small dome and an 18″ telescope mounted on a concrete plinth outside. In addition to these fixed scopes, members of the club generally take along their own equipment. Some of the more experienced among them have some pretty serious pieces of kit, including computerised mounts (where you just type in what you want to look at and the scope orients itself automatically) and telescope-mounted cameras.

Now, on this occasion, I’d remember to take my own camera along. So I seized the opportunity to snap some photos of my fellow astronomers doing their thing. Here we are setting things up. You will perhaps note that we are somewhat early in getting ready, given that it’s not at all dark. But it’s a lot easier to get telescopes, cameras, laptops etc. connected in the daylight.

As the sun disappeared over the horizon, a certain air of expectancy descended upon us. We began to squint towards the southern sky, where the first stars would soon make their appearance.

And we took this final chance to tweak a few settings…

As darkness fell upon us, things got serious. And as you can see, I wasn’t joking about the serious amount of kit that some members bring along. Bob here uses his telescopes and cameras to take some seriously fantastic images of deep sky objects.

And I can personally vouch for the fact that it is a lot easier to put a webcam on your telescope’s eyepiece and look at the stars on your laptop, than to spend the entire night hunched over the telescope itself. This chap’s got it sussed.

Unfortunately, before it had even got properly dark, the clouds came in and obscured the heavens above. But not before we’d seen the planets Mercury, Venus and Saturn, several satellites and the International Space Station. So even though it was cut somewhat short, we had a fairly decent night at the observatory.

A few observations

Having over time developed more than a passing interest in astronomy and astrophysics (as you do), I’ve recently joined the Bristol Astronomical Society. One of the many great things about the society is its small observatory in a field just outside Bristol. And last weekend, we hosted a horde of local schoolchildren and their parents for an evening of observation… and an introduction to the wonders of the universe.

It was light when we started, so we had a couple of solar telescopes (fitted with special filters to protect the eyes) that allowed people to see sunspots and solar prominences. And in the dome, we had the 12″ Cyril Swindin telescope pointed at the moon, which looked great even in the daylight. Here’s a view from the dome, with the moon in the distance. And yes, the telescope is exceedingly cool.

View from the dome

As it got dark, we replaced the solar telescopes with some regular ones and all attention turned to the planets. First up was Venus, followed closely by Jupiter with its moons. We then swung across the sky to have a look at Saturn, with its rings clearly visible. The reception from the kids (and their parents) was great. And, to be honest, I had quite a lot of fun, too.

I’ll be a runner yet

Regular readers of my blog will know that for the past few months I’ve been doing a bit of running. Nothing special, just a few miles three or four times a week. So the weekend just gone marked something of a watershed moment – my first proper race! Yes, it was the long-awaited Bristol 10k. No hills. No muddy scrambles. And no having to stop to wait for the dog to finish rolling in something disgusting. Just six and a quarter miles of flat, traffic-free roads.

Obviously, I was nervous as hell. I was fairly confident I could run the distance, as I’ve covered 10k a couple of times already in training. But I’m not so good with new situations or crowds. Both of which the race brought in spades. But I had my race number, my race plan (Try to enjoy yourself. Try to finish in under an hour. And try not to get overtaken by anyone dressed as a piece of fruit.) and my support team*. So I was good to go. In fact, here I am…

Before the start

I was towards the beginning of the first of two waves in the mass start, so there were all sorts of runners around me. Some were clearly quite experienced, very focused and hoping for a personal best. Others, like me, were less experienced and just hoping not to disgrace themselves in any way. And there were a lot of us. Somewhere north of nine thousand, in fact. Here come some of them now…

Let the race begin

I found my pace fairly quickly, though the first couple of kilometres involved a lot of weaving in and out of slower runners and getting out of the way of faster ones. After that, however, I found myself in a group of people all going at roughly the same speed as me, which made things a lot easier. As did the huge crowds of people cheering us on, which gave me a real boost. Here’s me doing my thing… (Yes, I really am that ungainly. Sorry.)

On the move

My support team seemed to be zipping around the course about as quickly as I was, as she managed to catch me on camera on a number of occasions. She also seemed a little stunned that I wasn’t right at the back (as, to be honest, was I), but managed to wave and make encouraging noises. Though she did say afterwards that I didn’t look as knackered as I should have done, so clearly wasn’t running fast enough. Nice.

Mission accomplished

As you can see from the photo above, I finished the race and got my medal. I even managed a bit of a sprint down the home straight. And having covered the course in 56 minutes and 9 seconds, I was pleased with my time. (Although it sounds a little less impressive when I point out that came 4,375th!). But I enjoyed myself, I finished in under an hour, and I didn’t get overtaken by a single piece of fruit.

* A rather unimpressed Natalie, who had been planning on a lie-in until I realised that the first train into town was too late to get me to the start on time and that I’d need a lift. Typical comment from my support team: “Oh, I didn’t realise you were running in fancy dress.” I wasn’t.