The Anonymous Widower

How Chemistry Overcame Politics

I sometimes describe myself as an engineer/scientist, despite the fact that I made most of my money by programming computers.

So this morning, this article entitled Thatcher and Hodgkin: How chemistry overcame politics,  on the BBC’s web site caught my eye. Here’s the introduction.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dorothy Hodgkin’s Nobel Prize, a play – The Chemistry Between Them – has been written, looking at her friendship with Margaret Thatcher. Its creator Adam Ganz describes their ongoing mutual respect.

Whether you love or hate Margaret Thatcher, you must read the article about the relationship between two of the most influential British women of the twentieth century. There is this significant paragraph.

It’s a peculiar fact that the UK’s Margaret Thatcher and Germany’s Angela Merkel both studied science at university, yet no male leader of either country has had a science degree.

Is the lack of scientific knowledge amongst world leaders the reason, why the world is in such a mess?

I shall be listening to the play on Radio 4.

As regards the play, I can’t think of a serious play or film, with the exception of The Killing of Sister George and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, that has two female leads and no significant male parts.

August 19, 2014 Posted by | World | , , , , | Leave a comment

Could This Be The Key To Hydrogen Power?

Jerry Woodall has form as a scientist and inventor as he developed the first commercially-viable red LEDs that we see in car brake lights and traffic signals.

Last night I was searching for something else and came across this video on YouTube. This is the description to go with the video.

The actual process: gallium and aluminum combining, add water. stir – bubbles of hydrogen with only white aluminum oxide. as demonstrated by John Woodall – Jerry M. Woodall, National Medal of Technology Laureate, Distinguished Professor of School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette.

To put it simply, you add water to aluminium doped with gallium and the aluminium combines with the oxygen in the water and the hydrogen is released. The hydrogen can then be used to power a small engine.

There’s more description here on phys.org.

It’s early days yet, but could this simple process be the key to hydrogen power?

I always remember in the Electrical Engineering Department at Liverpool University in the 1960s, we were shown one of the first lasers.  In some ways then, it was just a scientific curiosity and people were speculating about how they could be used. Now everybody has at least one, if they have a CD player. Many people reading this will be navigating the Internet using a laser mouse, as in fact I am with a Logitech M525.

It may not use Jerry Woodall’s invention, but at some time in the future, you’ll just put water in the fuel tank of your car and just drive away, emitting nothing more than water vapour.

There are many problems to solve, but the internal combustion engine will be here hundreds of years from now.

 

July 20, 2014 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

The Milan Science Museum

This science museum, made ours in South Kensington seem particularly narrow in scope, very small and boring.

They also had no objections to the taking of pictures, providing you switched the flash off.

It was very busy with families and lots of kids.

One of the great things about a lot of Italian museums, is they seem to open early, unlike in some countries like Denmark.

October 13, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , , | Leave a comment

Voyager Has Boldly Gone

In the past week or so, the Voyager-1 space probe has left the solar system. The story is reported here on the BBC.

The probe is expected to still be transmitting data back to earth until possibly 2025.

Who said that 1960s technology wasn’t any good and thoroughly unreliable?

September 24, 2013 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Wheatstone Remembered

As I passed Kings College by the Aldwych yesterday, I passed this tribute to Charles Wheatstone.

Wheatstone Remembered

Wheatstone Remembered

He was one of the more unusual scientists this country has ever produced and was a true scientist and inventor.

August 26, 2013 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Happy Hundredth Birthday To Isotopes

I was having a cup of tea in a cafe, when the geologist I was talking to, said that isotopes, were first discovered a hundred years ago, and that there was a bit of a celebration.

I learned about isotopes in my physics many years ago, but now all that I seem to remember is that two isotopes of the same element, have the same numbers of electrons and protons, but differ in the number of neutrons. Carbon for example has three forms, Carbon 12, Carbon 13 and Carbon 14. The three forms all contain six protons and electrons, but 6, 7 and 8 neutrons respectively. If you ever have heard of the Carbon 14 dating of objects, there is an article here, which describes the process.

I used the different isotopes many years ago, in one of the first pieces of decent software I wrote.  I was trying to analyse the compounds in the output of a mass spectrometer. The samples contained lots of carbon compounds and I was told that the two common isotopes of Carbon 12 and Carbon 13, were in the ratio of ten to one, which meant that if you had a compound with several carbon atoms, you got a particular pattern. Experienced operators could identify the patterns.  So I worked out how to calculate the patterns and match them to the compounds.

So that is how I learned about one of the uses of isotopes in the analysis of compounds.

This was in 1969 and the mechanics of writing the program on a machine with only 4 Kb of memory, were much more difficult than the methods involved.

June 26, 2013 Posted by | Computing, World | , | Leave a comment

A Blue Plaque In Stepney

I found this blue plaque as I walked back to the Overground from the river.

A Blue Plaque In Stepney

A Blue Plaque In Stepney

Sir William Henry Perkin, FRS 4 July 1907) was an English chemist best known for his discovery, at the age of 18, of the first aniline dye, mauveine. So it is not just today, when people create something amazing before their twentieth birthday! But how many today do such work, when they were born into relatively humble circumstances?

He was certainly one of the world’s greatest chemists.  He is even commemorated by the Americans with the Perkin Medal.

June 2, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

More CERN Photos

There are more CERN photos uploaded here to Flickr by other visitors from our Liverpool University Alumni Relations group.

May 21, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CERN Humour

Research establishments are serious places, but it doesn’t mean they are humourless ones.

CERN Humour

CERN Humour

When I worked at ICI’s Research Establishment on Runcorn Heath, the big joke was signs using the newly discovered Dymo machine in mock German.

When I was at Liverpool University in the mid-1960s, the old cyclotron that James Chadwick had built pointed towards the mound on which the Catholic Cathedral has now been built. One wag told me, that they weren’t going to floodlight the cathedral, as it would glow in the dark.

I heard a similar remark on Saturday.

May 20, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , , | Leave a comment

Information Management: A Proposal

This T-shirt was worn by one of our guides to CERN.

Information Management: A Proposal

Information Management: A Proposal

When it was first proposed, it got this reaction from the author’s superior/supervisor.

The Response

The Response

So who proposed the idea and what is it now called?

May 20, 2013 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

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