Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Stephanie Powers or Katie Price of Science?

After my major triumph of not being evicted in the first round of "I'm a scientist - get me out of here!" I have now been evicted. Nonetheless, I view it as a major triumph not being evicted first. Looking at the "I'm a celebrity - get me out of here" Wikipedia entry (yes there is one!) I see this puts me in the same company as Stephanie Powers, Limahl, Sheryl Gascoigne, Nigel Benn and Katie Price (second time around) amongst others. August company.

Stephanie Powers (with Robert Wagner) in Hart to Hart, a long time ago

Meanwhile back in the real world, grass is growing in our soil columns (or at least in the ones where we want plants to be present) and Hongling has put in the earthworms. The challenge of course is knowing that the earthworms are still in there!

A column with grass

One of our grass free columns with (honestly) an earthworm burrow in the centre
The grey rings in the centre of the columns are where we put the smaller bit of kit for measuring gas flux - you can see photos of it in earlier blogs. By having two rings we can get gas flux from the soil with and without vegetation (from our columns with grass). The thing coming out of the middle of the soil is a rhizon sampler for sampling soil solution. Next up (next Monday) is to do our first batch of gas collection since the grass started growing and we introduced the earthworms. Hopefully we'll see some differences.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I'm a scientist - get me out of here

I’m currently taking part in “I’m a scientist – get me out of here”. Luckily there are no bush-tucker trial equivalents where you have to eat as many chemicals as possible to get points for the camp! It’s a scheme funded by, amongst others, the Science and Technology Facilities Council to help with science engagement. School pupils post in questions on the web that you have to answer. There are also live web-chat sessions. I’m competing against 4 other scientists (all PhD students as it happens) and trying to avoid being evicted by the votes of the school pupils. The first votes are in and much to my delight I haven’t been evicted! This is probably the pinnacle of my scientific career.

Hard at work answering questions from School pupils in real time

A random selection of questions for you to consider (imagine these questions coming in every 5 seconds and trying to answer them all quickly):
How do electrons flow through a graphine sheet? 
Hey im lewis and when im older i want to be a car sales man does this involve science?
What is the relationship of gravity to the other basic forces of the universe?
Where do bananas come from?
How do snails have babies?
Why does your tongue heal quicky?
If you put a mirror a really long way away in the universe will you see dinosaurs?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Busy bees

Things seem to be rather busy at the moment. Two weeks ago (seems like yesterday) I made my first trip to Finland. I spent a brief day and a half in Helsinki acting as the "Opponent" for the PhD defence of (now) Dr Salla Venalainen at the University of Helsinki, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry. Salla had written an excellent thesis about how mine waste pilings from a mine in northern Finland could be used to stop phosphorus pollution in streams and remediation shooting range soil that is contaminated with lead due to all the bullets that miss the target (this is a common problem, it's not that the Finnish are particularly bad shots!). Helsinki was lovely and sunny with some great architecture, I can recommend it.

Helsinki harbour, the large white building is the cathedral

I've also been up in Glasgow acting as external examiner for the Environmental Chemistry BSc. Once again I've been very impressed by the practical skills that the students develop on the course, really good hands on experience.

This isn't a current Glasgow chemistry student but Joseph Black. He was (according to Wikipedia) an 18th century physician and chemist who discovered, amongst other things carbon dioxide. Perhaps without him global warming wouldn't exist? The chemistry department building in Glasgow (and coincidentally in Edinburgh) is named after Joseph Black.

There is also preparation for "I'm a scientist - get me out of here!" which luckily doesn't involve eating grubs but instead doing live web chats with school pupils about science. That kicks off next week - wish me luck.

Then there are grant deadlines coming up (for anyone reading this not familiar with the academic system, to do research you have to fund it and to do this you have to persuade some one to give you the money, a grant) - and a conference "Minerals for life" next week in Edinburgh all about how we are dependent on minerals for 21st century living. Should be good.

A view of Edinburgh, a lovely city surrounded by extinct volcanoes.

I guess it's all better than being bored but I'm hoping things quieten down next month.