Maths paper beats physics, with a thousand times as many authors

There has been head scratching over a paper on the Higgs boson with 5,000 authors. That is a lot, think my record is about 12 or so. Five thousand authors means a 29 page long author list, plus 4 pages of actual physics. This does look a bit silly. High energy physics is now done on an industrial scale, but all who contributed need to be credited in the conventional way — on the author list.

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Five hours of questions on fourteen courses

Yesterday was the third of this year’s open days for prospective students. I was on campus for about five hours, fielding questions from prospective students and their parents. It was fun, and it is a real pleasure to help people. Particularly if the parents did not go to university themselves the whole business of applying to university can be a bit intimidating and confusing.   So, on Open Days staff and students are there to help.

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How your calculator works is surprisingly controversial

Solar calculator casio fx115ES cropThe calculator to the left is solar powered, via the little solar panel at the top right. Small cheap solar panels like those in calculators are made from amorphous silicon, because its a lot cheaper than its more efficient but pricey, cousin crystalline silicon. In crystalline silicon the silicon atoms are arranged in a regular crystal lattice — as it happens the arrangement is similar to that of water molecules in ice.

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The global village and our poor estimation of risk

I am reading Risk by Dan Gardner. It is largely about how rubbish people are at estimating risks. This is nothing new, we have had good data how badly we estimate risks for decades. And arguably politicians and marketers have been exploiting it for a lot longer.But the book is well written, and is clear on why we should expect this: because we are the product of evolution.

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Naturally sweet

Stevia-rebaudiana-totalAfter years of being dimly aware that there are two types of diet Coke*, the Coca-cola company has decided to further confuse me by launching a third: Coke Life. Coke Life’s tag line is “sweetness from natural sources”. The source is shown to the left, it is the stevia plant. This produces an extract, also called stevia, that contains a bunch of molecules called steviol glycosides, that taste very sweet, so only small amounts are needed to sweeten drinks. So although if you drink Coke Life your body will metabolise the steviol glycosides and so produce energy, as such small amounts are needed these calories are pretty negligible.

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You are safer in hospital on a weekend

The UK’s Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, spent part of last week annoying those working in the NHS. He quoted a couple of numbers in support of his contention that the contracts of consultants should change. One was from a 2012 paper by Fremantle et al. in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. In his speech he said: “You are 15% more likely to die if you are admitted on a Sunday compared to being admitted on a Wednesday.” Compare this with: “Thus for every 100 deaths among patients admitted on a Wednesday, we would expect 116 among otherwise similar patients admitted on a Sunday”, from the discussion section of Fremantle et al.. The number refers to deaths within 30 days of admission to hospital. So Hunt’s sentence is a fair reflection of something Freemantle et al. said. Continue reading