My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Banging away at UCL Chemistry

Having seen and been impressed by Andrea Sella presenting at the Cheltenham Science Festival (I had written about it here), when I saw that he was presenting a new chemistry demonstration show at UCL I immediately marked it down in my calendar. The event was organized as part of the UCL Chemistry and Physical Sciences society events in collaboration with Society of Chemical Industry. I was impressed as to how full the lecture theatre was, including with young kids excited at the prospect of experiencing some exciting chemistry!

This time round the show was called ‘Bangs and Meringues’…and that’s exactly what was delivered, together with a lot of bubbles! We learnt about the concepts of surface tension, and how and why bubbles are formed. We also saw a lot of bubbles and foams being produced! More than any grown up should enjoy making, but then why become a chemist if you want to lose that sense of wonderment? Meringues are also a form of foam (did you know that?), and he prepared some in a microwave. I’m not sure I would opt for that method if I’m preparing any for a party, on the basis that they ended up burnt, but hey – the microwave did its job (and more!)

However, the most exciting, especially for the kids, was definitely the fires and bangs. We had hydrogen bubbles causing big pops, big flames running across the front desk (with a fire extinguisher which didn’t quite seem to work!), and a big mentos and coke experiment (which unfortunately didn’t hit the roof – boohoo :P).

As always, a typical demo show by the irrepressible Andrea Sella: a bit wacky, quite a bit disorganized, but so much fun! Would I go again? Definitely! When’s your next show Andrea?

You can read more about the event and see photos, thanks to Ian visits.

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Close examinations: Fakes, mistakes and discoveries.

While writing for the UCL Cheltenham Blog I had invited you to go discover the exhibition behind a talk I had attended. The talk was by Ashok Roy, the head of science at the National Gallery. So far I hadn’t gotten round to it. However, following meeting Ashok Roy in person when he came to visit our laboratories last week I got another push to go see the exhibition. So yesterday, as I was in the area for the NOISEmakers workshop I decided to make the time to drop in.

As is quite evident from the exhibition’s title, the exhibition goes through the way scientists contribute to the process of identifying which paintings may be fakes, where mistakes have been made in authorship, and also occasionally identifying a precious painting in what was previously thought to be a lowly copy.

I am obviously very pleased every time the topic of heritage science is brought to the forefront of the public’s mind. This would hopefully make it easier for me to describe what I do, as well as increase the awareness of people to the scientific contribution in heritage and related fields.

As a scientist I would have loved to have seen more science in the exhibition. However, keeping in mind that this is a general exhibit, at least the basic principles of looking at underdrawings, or looking at the support and using cross-sections were evident themes throughout the exhibit. More science was also put into a video running on a loop at the end of the exhibition, where more details could be gone into about the different techniques by explaining while demonstrating the equipment.

I would have appreciated seeing more, but as a still-emerging field in the minds of the public, this was definitely a good start! And if you cannot visit the exhibition yourself, most of the exhibition is also online!

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Christmas time in geekland!

In the geekland formally known as ‘my department’, Christmas has definitely arrived early this year!


Up to now the lab we had access to was a tiny room with a big chamber in the middle of it, leaving a small L-shaped corridor around it to work in…shared by around 5 people at one go. Let’s just say that this was not ideal set-up for a lab! It was really much more than a room with bench-space rather than a lab as I understand a chemistry lab to be.

The day finally arrived when we got our new lab last weekend! While I was busy enjoying the Cheltenham Science Festival, some of my colleagues made a start on getting the lab all nice and ready for Tuesday. Why the deadline? Well, we had an important delegation coming to our department then so we needed to make sure that the lab was all nice and ready for their visit.

I entered the lab first time on Monday morning. I was definitely impressed! The lab is much bigger than I ever imagined! And there is so much space to move around in, bench space to work on, and storage space for anything needed.

Up to now going to the lab has been a not-so-pleasant experience…a descent into a windowless, crowded basement room. Now? I think I just might find any excuse to go their. Experiments here I come!

Filed under: Experiments and Methodology, General, Research Process, , , , ,

Cheltenham Science Festival: The Aftermath

I am now back in London and starting to recover from the festival. As I have commented before, this was my first science festival. And I was definitely impressed!

I had a really hectic time of it, what with seeing around 20 shows in 3 days and one evening, going through the interactive displays in the discovery zone, and just soaking up the atmosphere. However, on top of that I was also writing about the festival for the UCL website.

I won’t repost everything here, but will just gently nudge you towards my posts on that blog. Do go check it out and let me know what you think!

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Cheltenham Science Festival Commences

I cannot be at the festival today. However, I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun! So I opted to go the twitter-way and follow the festival that way. In fact, my first blog post for the UCL blog is about how I have been experiencing the festival by proxy from London. I will be arriving in Cheltenham tomorrow afternoon where I plan to start experiencing the festival directly!

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Cheltenham Involvment

As I wrote in the last post, there were more things in the pipeline for me at the Cheltenham Science Festival. What is this? Well, UCL Communications contacted all the bursary winners asking if any of us would be interested in writing about their experience at the festival on a blog they were setting up. Seeing as I would blog anyways, and this would be a good way of reaching a greater audience, I immediately accepted.

The festival is this week so finally the UCL Cheltenham blog is up and running. Do keep an eye on it in the coming week. I have my first post, an introduction to me, already up. Will keep the blog updated as I go along. Hope you enjoy it!

Besides that, other news about the science festival is that, just in case I wasn’t already busy, I now also have tickets for one more event at the festival: Lasers on Sunday.

This weekend should be good!

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Scheduling my Cheltenham Experience

The Cheltenham Science Festival is getting closer and closer, and my excitement level is getting higher and higher. Thanks to the UCL bursary I have the opportunity to attend quite a good number and range of events (though some events I really wanted to attend did overlap, so difficult choices had to be made too).

Well, are any of you attending the festival? If so, this is the event schedule I will be following: quite hectic but still highly enticing.

Day Event Time
Thursday The Ultimate Piano Lesson (extra event) 5:00 pm (60mins)
Heston Blumenthal in Conversation with Harold McGee 6:30 pm (75mins)
Fakes and Discoveries: The Madonna of the Pinks 9:00 pm (60mins)
Friday Robert Winston: Bad Ideas? 2:00 pm (60mins)
Bill Bryson: 350 Years of the Royal Society 4:30 pm (75mins)
Performance Under Pressure: Stressed Out? 6:30 pm (60mins)
A Question of Science 9:00 pm (90mins)
Saturday The Bigger Bang 10:00 am (60mins)
Chemistry: A Volatile History 2:00 pm (60mins)
Is this the Golden Age of Science Writing? 4:00 pm (60mins)
Coast: Alice Roberts and friends 6:30 pm (60mins)
FameLab International 8:30 pm (120mins)
The School for Gifted Children 9:30 pm (90mins)
Sunday Science vs Magic 10:00 am (60mins)
Stopping the Spread of Superbugs 2:00 pm (60mins)
The Wavewatcher’s Companion 4:00 pm (60mins)
Call My Scientific Bluff 6:15 pm (60mins)
Stand Up Mathematics 8:00 pm (60mins)

It would be great to meet up with you there, or to hear your thoughts about the events and the Science Festival in general. So if you’re going to be there, drop me a comment here, ping me on twitter, or smoke signals would otherwise have to suffice.

There are a few more things in the pipeline for me to get more involved during the festival. But more about that later!

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