Saturday, 25 December 2010

Hair today, deported tomorrow

The Association of British Science Writers' story of the year brings together bad science, immigration and human rights into a horrifying mess. John Travis of "Science" has written one of the journal's best award winning articles this year.

The UK Border Agency, under instructions to cut down on immigration are planning to test the origins of applicants using untested methods which experts have described as "horrifying" and "scientifically flawed".

The article is available here. And if you would like more info on the issues involved try No Borders.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Because I can...

I would just like to quickly proclaim my support for pupils and students in occupation across the country and highlight a couple of groups;

UCL Occupation - who have so far won their legal battle against eviction by university management.

Open Birkbeck - because mature and part time students matter! (and the fee rises are likely to disproportionately affect them)

Raising fees and discouraging students from going to university now could affect individuals and the country for years to come.

Drugs Policy without Science

I woke on Monday to the news that the views of scientists were going to be removed from decisions on drug policy.

This is a further undermining of the role of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), last year Prof. David Nutt, the then chair, was sacked by then Home Secretary Alan Johnson for criticising the Labour government's stance on cannabis. Following this a number of further council members resigned and their jobs were only recently up for grabs.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Bilingually Dyslexic

In an interesting follow up to an announcement I touched upon in my post yesterday my MP asked a pertinent question about dyslexia and compulsary foriegn languages.

There is research claiming that people can be dyslexic in one language but not in another, although the evidence has criticised.

I would argue that this is not an argument against the teaching of foreign languages, properly supported pupils with dyslexia will achieve, on average, just as well as any other pupil. The problem, as Mr Gove appears to have correct, is identifying the dyslexia early.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

"Sir, Yes Sir!" or Old soldiers never die they just get a little teacher-training

So Michael Gove has announced his education reforms, which the BBC are calling "the most radical in a generation". The White Paper called "The Importance of Teaching" sets out a range of reforms some good, some bad, some ugly.

The best idea, in my personal view, is making foreign languages compulsory to 16. Languages are about more than just language, learning them helps students understand other cultures and creates "global citizens".

Among the bad ideas is the proposal to cut the funding for school sports collaborations, which the Grauniad reckons will require a U-turn and lead to much too-ing and fro-ing in Westminster.

And then there is an ugly duckling, nestling in section 2.15, the government will be developing a "Troops to Teachers" programme. This aims to encourage ex-members of the Armed Forces to retrain as teachers by sponsoring their PGCEs.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Why do giant squid have blue blood?

 A few weeks ago I attended at cinema showing of Inside Nature's Giants: The Giant Squid. In the series a team of experts dissect and examine some of the World's largest animals.

The giant squid (ref)
The Giant Squid is a little understood member of the class Cephalopoda, the cephalopods, known as Architeuthis dex (among other names). They are truly amazing animals, growing up to 20 meters long without a bone in their body (only a beak formed of protein and chitin).

Among the mysteries which were discussed in the programme and the Q&A session with some of the cast afterwards was the question;

"Why do giant squid have blue blood?"

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Breaking up London's Skyline

I wrote previously about the new developments going on in and around central London. Foremost among the new skyscrapers is The Shard, going up above London Bridge station.

Having travelled past the building work a few times in the last month I decided I should share my pictures of the ongoing development. At the moment it looks like a large block of concrete has appeared, like The Obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Monday, 11 October 2010

BANG for your Buck

 Some of my previous articles have argued why the Coalition Government should not cut science funding. Today I'm going to continue this theme, with a focus on value for money.

I am a postgraduate student, funded by a government grant through the EPSRC, and I am among the least expensive government employees in the country. A standard EPSRC stipend provides £13,590 per annum, though EngD students and London weightings can result in the actual amount being more.

£13k is nothing.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Science is Vital

If you are in London this weekend I strongly suggest you attend the Science is Vital Rally. It will be at 2PM outside the Treasury.

If you are wondering why science is so important see the Science is Vital website, Jennifer Rohn at the Guardian and Lily Asquith at the Guardian.

Science saves lives.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Open Computing

Having recently started my course I have been assigned a desk in the centre's computer lab. Interestingly in addition to the standard Windows install (in this case XP) the computers give the option of loading in Ubuntu.

I use Ubuntu at home, so was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately access is password locked, so I am as yet unsure what it is there for (probably some Linux based computational chemistry programs). I will keep you updated.

Monday, 27 September 2010

On yer Bike!

I have just started cycling in London. I had been taking short test journeys since I moved 2 months ago, but my commute will be starting in earnest from next week. It can be a bit hair-raising, though I am lucky enough to have a 2 mile route from my front door along part of the London Cycle Network, complete with off-road cycle paths and properly signed along quieter roads.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Synchotron Research

I was flicking through a copy of Nature this morning and found the published article for the research from the Swiss Light Source which I commented on earlier this month.

The research, by Dierolf et. al. [1], describes a technique in X-ray microscopy which allows structures at the 100nm scale to be visualised (resolution <1mm³). This is pretty impressive and (in the example given) allowed lacunae and canniculae in bone to be resolved clearly. This allows very accurate assessment of osteocyte (bone cell) activity, in particular to study microscale structural changes in osteoporosis.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

1 in 3 Quangos to go?

In my first post I commented on the difficulties of cutting Quangos, especially because many of them carry out vital roles. Now it seems that more are set to go.

Both The Telegraph and The BBC were given leaked lists of bodies to be cut or merged. Among others Cycling England, the HPA and the Audit Commission are to go.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Protecting our Vitals

As we know science cuts are imminent, but opposition is mounting.

Science Minister David Willetts has been informed, by the chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Comittee no less, that cutting science funding will put the UK "at risk".

In an open letter, supported by Vice-Chancellors of six of the UK's leading universities, Lord Krebs cites arguments including loss of staff, reputation and future growth.

This comes at the time when  a synchoton in Switzerland has developed and demonstrated an important nanoscale x-ray technique. In this light does cutting money to the Diamond Light Source make any sense?

If you support continued science funding join Science is Vital. They are also on Facebook and have a demonstration planned in London.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Rage, rage against the Dying of the Light!

South of Oxford, in the Vale of White Horse lies a machine. It's a big machine, housed under 33,000 m² of roofing and with a circumference of 561m the Diamond Light Source is Britain's largest synchotron.

A sextupole magnet at the DLS, ref.

Synchotrons allow the inspection and analysis of chemical mechanisms and material structures (among other uses) with real world results. The DLS has been used for vast numbers of projects including research into cancer, jet engines and Alzheimer's.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Future of London

Just off Tottenham Court Road, along a small street with mostly boarded up shops, the unwitting visitor will find an exhibit devoted to futurism, realistic futurism. The Building Centre, home of New London Architecture, and a massive (or tiny, it is 1:1500) scale model of Central London in 2030.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Students Again

Mark Easton, the BBC's home editor, has written a wonderful blog post looking at the benefits or otherwise of student immigration into the UK. He shows yet more of this misreporting by government, in particular Mr Damian Green.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Unsustainable Students?

No, this isn't going to be a discussion of how students get into massive debt (definitely not sustainable) or use lots of energy (in fact they tend to be frugal, but not universities themselves).

I will be looking at Immigration Minister Damian Green's announcement that student immigration is "unsustainable". Yes the same Mr Green who was arrested in 2008, resulting in a row over the use of arrest warrants in Parliament, though this is of no consequence here. At the same time the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has claimed that a graduate tax, proposed by the coalition, would cause graduates to leave the country.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener is a film and book, by acclaimed author John le Carré. Le Carré is better known for his Cold War spy novels, including The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The Constant Gardener departs from this background, it is set in modern-day Kenya, dealing with issues of corruption, international aid and corporate evil. Without spoiling the ending, le Carré has written a wonderfully evocative critique of the western medical activities in Africa.

Net Neutrality and the FCC

As a follow up to the last post;

The FCC has asked members of the public to join the discussion about the future of the internet.

You can join in, and rate others views, at

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Is Google Evil?

If you are reading this post you are using a service provided by Google. Since its start in the 1990's the firm has become ubiquitous, being the centre of many peoples internet use.

Google's motto is "Don't Be Evil". Above and beyond the normal corporate requirement of acting lawfully, Google aims to act honourably and respectfully, and provide unbiased information access for users.

So, how does this fit with the recent debate over Net Neutrality. Support for Net Neutrality comes from the belief that all internet users are equal, in the same way that all humans are equal. Google is in its own words still "the leading corporate voice on the issue of network neutrality", but is it?

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Five Days that Changed Britain

The Five Days that Changed Britain is a recent BBC documentary exploring the political wrangling that took place between the General Election (on May 5th) and the formation of the Coalition Government.

Being a report by those deeply involved the report can't be taken at face value, of course there's spin especially from Lord Mandelson, but one point that cannot be refuted is that we now have a coalition; why?

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Last Quangos in Britain?

The Government recently announced massive cuts in the number of quangos The Independent and the BBC report. Possibly a good thing given that there are a lot of them (almost 1,200 as of mid 2008) and they cost a lot (£64 billion if you trust the Taxpayers Alliance).

I will leave it up to you to decide whether this is going to harm the services these quangos have been providing, the question I find interesting is;

How does this fit into "The Big Society"?