Tuesday, 10 September 2013

British Science Association festival

There's lots of science going on this week at the annual British Science Association festival, held this week in Newcastle.

I was there on Family Sunday with my earthworms, crystal models, lumps of calcite and some microscopes. Apart from having to drive there (given that York and Newcastle are on the East coast line why is it not possible to get to Newcastle for 9 am on a Sunday morning by train?) I had a great day but was hoarse by the end of it and wishing that Emma had stayed around to the end of her contract so she could have been there to help. After all Newcastle is at least as glamorous as the Jet Propulsion Lab. and Pasadena, surely?

Visitor interest in my exhibit "Time travelling to past environments: What can we learn from earthworm poo?"

Lots of interest in the earthworms from three year olds - who tend to point at the earthworms and try and pull the balls off the crystal models - to people of indeterminate age. I think the really good thing about events like these are that people with an interest in science can come along and talk to scientists and hear about stuff that otherwise they wouldn't come across. I talked to lots of people who said they used to do science (say at school or university) but didn't any more and that events like these made them miss it.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Software fun

Having had three days to recover from the Goldschmidt conference it was time to be off again, this time to the Diamond Light Source users meeting down near Didcot at Harwell. Luckily the meeting only lasted one and a half days as my luggage still hadn't arrived from Florence when I left so I was running short of clean clothes!

The user meeting is a far smaller meeting than Goldschmidt and serves a different purpose as it brings together people who use the Diamond light source - physicists, chemists, biologists, material scientists - al sorts of scientists who use the high intensity radiation that Diamond produces to do their stuff. I came along as I will be at Diamond in December using beamline B22 (a.k.a. Miriam which of course stands for Multimode Infrared imaging and microspectroscopy). I haven't used this beamline before, (usually I'm on i18 working with X-rays to find out about element speciation) and the user meeting featured a day and a half course on how to use the software available at the beamline to interpret and display your data once you have got it. It was also a chance to meet up with some of the beamline scientists who will be helping us on the beamline and discuss sample preparation. The workshop was very helpful though I felt we spent to long looking at the different colours you could use to display data and there was a missed opportunity for a sing song when we explored the "Winner takes all" function. I'm sure we'll address this last point during our beamtime in December!

Getting ready to learn more software tricks for displaying FTIR data. Stefanie Lutz, Liane Benning and Andy Bray from Leeds School of Earth and Environmental Science are in the foreground.

On the evening of the first night there was an interesting talk on the Braggs (William and Lawrence) who were pioneers in techniques using X-rays to look at the structure of crystals. They got the Nobel prize for their work, Lawrence remains the youngest recipient of the prize to this day (25 years old). Their Wikipedia entries are well worth a read.