Myths and Eclipses

June 24, 2008

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Trick or Treatment?

May 8, 2008

A catchy title for what should be an interesting talk – the local branch of the Skeptics in the Pub society have Simon Singh as their guest speaker this month, on the subject of alternative medicine.

Prince Charles is a staunch defender and millions of people swear by it; most UK doctors consider it to be little more than superstition and a waste of money.

Welcome to the world of alternative medicine.

Join Simon Singh, as he brings his considerable scientific knowledge and scrupulous impartiality to this most controversial subject and an honest examination of more than thirty of the most popular treatments, such as Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Reflexology, Chiropractic and Herbal medicines.

After completing a PhD in particle physics, Simon Singh joined the BBC and worked as a director and producer on programmes such as Tomorrow’s World and Horizon (NOVA in the US). He has also presented programmes on Radio 4, BBC4 and Channel 4. He is best known as the author of Fermat’s Last Theorem, The Code Book and Big Bang.

To book on this FREE event, contact us via: or

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Skeptics in the Pub (Leicester) meets (usually) on the third Tuesday of every month starting at 7:30pm in The Rutland & Derby Arms.

The event was originally founded in London in 1999 for all those interested in and/or sceptical of the paranormal, alternative medicine, psychic powers, pseudo-science, UFOs, alien abductions, creationism, Fortean phenomena, cult religions, water-divining, lost civilizations etc. A different guest speaker is invited each month to talk on a topic of interest. The talk is followed by an informal discussion in a relaxed and friendly pub atmosphere.

Open Day Closed

April 27, 2008
“It’s not rocket science” – a professor folding his own paper shuttle.

The Open Day came to a close at four yesterday, and the fact I’ve left it till today to write it up shows how tiring it was. After 11am it became a lot busier. The Aibos were popular with younger children. If you’ve not heard of an Aibo, it’s the robot dog I mentioned in the last post. It’s a programmable robot. I couldn’t get any video of them, as there were always at least three kids playing with them, but the video below, from YouTube, shows what they do when they’re set to ‘cute’

We also had a few people playing with our computer planetaria, possibly because the real one was booked solid within about a quarter of an hour. Our Lego Mars Rover did a fine impression of Beagle2 for much of the day. I know Beagle2 wasn’t built to move, but neither did our rover for quite a while. It works perfectly until someone points a camera at it, so I’m wondering if we got it second hand from “Tomorrow’s World”.

But despite the failure to explore a lot of Mars, on the whole the Open Day was a success. Many people left with their own shuttle including our own head of department. There’s something slightly surreal about watch an astrophysicist fold his own paper spaceship.


Open Day at iScience

April 26, 2008
The new ExoMars rover

It’s Open Day at the iScience Centre today. I would live blog the event, but it looks like it’s going to be busy. Downstairs we have a new ExoMars rover, while upstairs we’re conducting what might be the biggest ever archaeoastronomy experiment (if enough people take part – if no-one takes part then it’s be the smallest experiment). If you’d like to come along we’re open 10:30 till 16:00 at the Unversity of Leicester. There’s also two robotic dogs, both called Rover, which I’m finding confusing.

If you’d like to visit then come along to the University of Leicester campus and look for the Physics and Astronomy building.

Peak Oil

December 6, 2007

I saw “A Crude Awakening/The Oil Crash” last night. Its about Peak Oil; what happens when the oil runs out. I made a few notes and carried out some subsequent research. It got me thinking. Great education.

So, I thought about the Verhulst equation of population growth. And I thought about the “bell curves” or normal/Gaussian distributions. According to the film oil production (by Nature) follows a normal distribution. Subsequent human oil extraction also follows a similar normal distribution but displaced in time, i.e. happens later. Further, a key limiting factor in population growth according to Verhulst is the “carrying capacity”, i.e. how many resources which are needed to sustain the population remain available.

We used the Verhulst equation in Science for Sustainability to model populations of villages around a Kenyan lake. In that case resources used to calculate the carrying capacity included:

  • the amount of water in the lake (depleted by the sun and increased by rain)
  • fish which the lake could support as a result of its oscillating volume
  • similarly the bush surrounding it which itself contained fish eagles (predators of the fish), etc.

You can see it was a Complex System.

So, now I find myself wondering – in a ‘Western’ context – if the water becomes oil, the fish cars/trucks and the trees the machines we rely on to plough the land, etc. then how does that normal distribution interact with the Verhulst sigmoid function?

I personally don’t have a lot of time to start modelling this but its an interesting problem? According to the IPCC we have until around 2015 ‘to allow emmissions to peak’. I guess Peak Oil is in the models too but I can’t be sure.

Anyhow, Dr. Albert Bartlett (see the video above), Professor Emeritus of Physics at University of Colorado at Boulder, was talking about Peak Oil way back in the 50s. Please do draw your own conclusions.

Global Warming and Risk Management

November 30, 2007

Stolen from A Blog Around the Clock.

The Open Access Dinosaur

November 15, 2007

There’s news of new dinosaur publication from Coturnix, which is rather exciting for a couple of reasons.

Nigersaurus from PLoS One.

One is that it seems to be an intrinsically interesting dinosaur. Structural Extremes in a Cretaceous Dinosaur is a publication of a dinosaur which is like a mini Diplodocus, mini being a relative description. What makes it very strange are the bones, there’s not a lot to them. The skull is described as a featherweight PLoS paper. This seems to be the same throughout the skeleton. Co-author Jeffrey Wilson said: “The vertebrae are so paper-thin that it is difficult to imagine them coping with the stresses of everyday use — but we know they did it, and they did it well.” The mounting of the skull on the spine means that it’s also more evidence as to whether Nigersaurus and Diplodocus ate like giraffes from high food sources, or from the ground like cows. You can read about it in the December National Geographic, or if you want to see where these facts come from go to the source in PLoS One, which is the second exciting thing.

The publication of the paper shows a really clever piece of thinking in publishing. Rather than just seeing publication as either commercial or non-commercial, the team working on Nigersaurus are using the strengths of both methods of publishing. In this instance the commercial publication in National Geographic is going to get the work far more attention than a purely open access publication would. At the same time, the open access publication means that the data will be accessible to anyone with internet access until the apocalypse. I’m currently having trouble tracking down publications that are barely a century old, so this is very attractive. It’s not an isolated example, the Archaeological Institute of America publishes their journal with open-access free online but has a commercial publication with Archaeology magazine, which shows that organisations can work with both traditional copyright and open-access rather than one to the exclusion of the other. Yet I can’t recall this kind of co-operation being done with such a major find before.

Hopefully there’ll be many more successes for PLoS One in many more disciplines.

Science Education in the EU

October 12, 2007

Everyone talks about there being fewer ‘young people’ interested in Science and Engineering in ‘the West’. The EU is outlining some efforts to do something about it.

which side of the fence are you on?

October 11, 2007

Well, here goes my first I-Science Blog post. I hope it is ‘on target’!

I am an “Educational Researcher” in the Physics Department. This is an oxymoron – perhaps. Usually (please do correct me if I am wrong, I am very likely to be!) Physics or positivist science tends to view the Universe as a kind of gigantic clock, admittedly with lots of cogs and gears and all sorts of other elaborate mechanisms, but ostensibly, you wind it up and it ticks away. The problem then becomes what do the cogs and gears and other fantastically inspirational bits of machinery actually look like? Its a very valuable quest and has led to numerous concomitantly fantastic insights and associated developments but has its time come and gone?

Take human beings, for instance (the subject of my current research, i.e. you!), one soon notices that they don’t quite respond in a timely and predictable fashion! OK, we may like them to at times but, I’m afraid, Nature just isn’t like that! So, we move to a paradigm known as post-positivism where we accept the centrality of the Universe not behaving predictably or deterministically and, instead, welcome the complexity!

Further, since we accept that our reality is complex (and us too!) we need to accept that no one will ever establish A Theory of Everything. What we can say, however, is that this is me, this is my interpretation of the way things may be but its up to you to make your own mind up! This is, kind of, known as relativism, as opposed to absolutism.

Finally, relativistically, every version of the truth may be just as valid so, whilst I tend towards relativism, I don’t necessarily think absolutism – or positivism – is ‘wrong’. Its just that there are alternatives and the more we progress with the positivist paradigms the more we start to realise their limitations. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this. That’s the way of paradigms (Kuhn put it much more eloquently than me!) The only solution is to keep talking, work out our differences and reach conclusions we are all happy with, for the time being at least!

So, I guess this was an introduction to me. As I’ve said, its useful to tell you who I am before I start to state my own views on things. Who are you? 🙂

Integrated Sciences – 100% successful

September 13, 2007

Time for a bit of auto-trumpet-blowing. The Integrated Sciences course this year has been 100% successful. By that I mean that every graduate, each single one, is either in graduate employment or on an extending education course like teacher-training. Not only can we tell prospective students at open days that industry is eager for a degree like this, we can back it up with a figure.

Congratulations to all the graduates.