The Department where CDs never go out of fashion

CD autolev cropToday was the second of two back-to-back Open Days the University runs for prospective students. A-level students thinking of going to university in autumn 2015, and their parents, visit the university to learn about degrees and university life. Today we had about 350 to 400 visitors in the Department, and maybe a bit more than half than yesterday.


Direct from the Sun


As a scientist I guess I should stop and admire the beautiful natural world a bit more than I do. Too busy doing stuff most of the time, which is a poor excuse. Anyway, above is a picture of sunset over the river Seine in Paris. To the right you can see twin squarish towers, this is I think the Notre Dame cathedral.


A personal study of nucleation

I study nucleation, but mainly via modelling on a computer. The guy below, Harley Morenstein, took a more personal approach. Incidentally, if you are bored of the Vine looping just click on it.

Drinks like Diet Coke, lemonade etc, are carbonated, i.e., have carbon dioxide pumped into them under pressure to make them fizzy. If you carefully take the top off and are gentle with then (as opposed to giving them a shake) most of the carbon dioxide remains in the drink. This means that the amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the water is actually above the solubility of carbon dioxide in water (at atmospheric pressure), and so this carbon dioxide wants out (technically speaking it is thermodynamically ‘downhill’ for the carbon dioxide to leave the water and go into the atmosphere).

The carbon dioxide comes out as bubbles and if the drink is not shaken these bubbles can find it hard to start to form. This initial step when a tiny bubble starts to form is called nucleation. If nucleation is not possible then this traps the carbon dioxide in the Diet Coke or whatever the drink is.

Until something comes along to make nucleation easier, like Mentos. Mentos are an American sweet, and for reasons nobody really understands, carbon dioxide bubbles nucleate like crazy on the surface of Mentos. So when the guy in the Mentos suit drops into the Diet Coke tub, bubbles of carbon dioxide nucleate like crazy, and you saw the result above.

Starve yourself, drink plenty of red wine, take statins, and listen to music, and you’ll never have a cold ever again!

A couple of weeks ago The Telegraph reported that: “Fasting for three days can regenerate entire immune system, study finds“. This sounds a bit like hard work to me, I have to say. I like food. Maybe you agree, if so we are in luck. Because, also according to the Telegraph: “Daily glass of wine boosts the immune system“. I have to say that that sounds a lot more like it to me. But what if you don’t like wine? Well, you are still in luck, because you can try taking statins: “Statins ‘could boost immune system’“. Don’t like drugs? No problem: “Music can boost your immune system“.


Believe first, ask questions later

Naively, you might think then when presented with a statement that is new to us, we start out not believing it, and then decide if we believe it or not. But apparently, it is the other way around. We have an inbuilt tendency to believe everything we are told, and only then afterwards do we check to see if it is true.


Is competition the answer?

Academia has always been pretty competitive. It took me about 2 years of looking to get a job as a academic, including a somewhat bruising  and unsuccessful interview at Imperial (the question “Do you consider yourself a loner?” did rather throw me). And if anything 2 years is shorter than average. If you apply for a job as an academic you should accept that maybe 30 to 100 others will be applying for the same job, including some smart, hard working and ambitious people. But despite the pressure and work load, being an academic is still a good job, with a lot more freedom than most other jobs. And, as I tell my tutees “Good jobs are hard to get as the competition is strong, so you need to work on getting a good CV”, so you should expect getting a job as an academic to be competitive.


How to get the right one?

Unique, snow flakeIn 1990s new anti-HIV drugs were being rushed into production to fight the then relatively new disease HIV. One of these was Ritonavir. It was approved in 1996. Like most drugs, it was sold as tablets that contain crystals of the drug molecule. All was well.


All models are wrong, unless you have limited data, in which case most models are right

I am very fond of the quote by the statistician George Box: “essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”. It is true, all our models are wrong if you look carefully enough. For example, Newton’s model of gravity is pretty good for calculating our orbit around the Sun, but if you look carefully enough you will see it is wrong. Careful measurements and general relativity have told us that it is an approximation. The same thing applies to pretty much every model we have.