Wanna see what’s in the July issue?

June 30, 2011 at 8:02 am | Posted in Lab News videos | Leave a comment
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Here’s a sneak peek of what’s coming up in the July issue – hope you enjoy it:

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Eureka!

June 28, 2011 at 8:41 am | Posted in I didn't know that!, Origin of phrases | Leave a comment
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16th Century illustration of Archimedes' "Eureka moment"

Why is the word “Eureka” said when someone has found the solution to a problem, or something they’re missing?

The word – which stems from the ancient Greek for “I have found it!” – was first attributed to Archimedes. It is believed he said “Eureka” when the water level rose as he stepped into a bath – he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced was equal to the volume of the part of his body in the bath and that he could now measure the volume of irregular objects precisely.

Legend has it he was so excited to share his sudden realisation that he leapt out of the bath and ran through Syracuse naked.

Archimedes was asked by the local king to detect whether a crown was pure gold, or if the goldsmith had added silver – by measuring the density of the crown compared to a bar of gold, Archimedes could have determine if the crown was pure gold.

However, it’s though that this is a myth, as the story was first mentioned by Roman writer Vitruvius nearly 200 years later

The eureka effect – also known as the “aha phenomenon” – is often related to scientific discovery. Einstein is often said to have had a eureka moment when developing the special theory of relativity, although he disputed this:

“Actually, I was led to it by steps arising from the individual laws derived from experience.”

In 1984, Sir Alec Jeffreys also had a eureka moment – after looking at the x-ray film of a DNA experiment, he saw both similarities and differences between the DNA of different members of his technician’s family. He had developed DNA fingerprinting – using variations in the genetic code to identify individuals – a method constantly used in forensic science.

Teach us to Sit Still by Tim Parks

June 21, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Competition, Read | Leave a comment
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Plagued by what he thought was a prostate condition that couldn’t be explained or treated by conventional medicine, Tim Parks found mediation. His unlikely prescription of breathing exercises was the last place he wanted to find answers – it was all a bit ‘New Age’ for him.

Teach us to sit Still is Parks’ record of his own mysterious illness and his quest for relief from chronic pain. From being told it was a blocked vata – an energy flow into his body – to undergoing a painful cystoscopy, Parks is careful not to leave out any wince-inducing detail. And then a friend suggested breathing – it didn’t appeal but he gave it a go…

Parks details the last four or five years of his unpleasant and chronic health condition – while also touching on the effects of illness on other writers and the role of religion in shaping our sense of self – until he found the key that let him out of his personal and painful jail.

As Britons, we don’t like to talk about our embarrassing health problems, but this witty, engaging, uplifting and painfully honest self-examination might make you think it’s not such a bad idea.

We’ve got two copies of Teach us to Sit Still  to give away. To be in with a chance of winning, just send your name, address and organisation/institution to kerry.taylorsmith@laboratorynews.co.uk or tweet @laboratorynews #teachustositstill and we’ll put your name in the hat.

Nomenclature debate rumbles on…

June 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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It appears that after last month’s rallying cry to all those in charge of naming scientific equipment (The delicate art of inspiration) that something of a split has developed in the room. Many of your thoughts on last month’s lament on the loss of inspirational nomenclature – (we became convinced there is a better name for the World’s biggest telescope than the Square Kilometer Array) – have made their way to the Science Lite desk, for which we thank you very much.

Some of you were more than happy to ram tongue in cheek and have a go at employing the brutalism so often applied to the naming of astronomical equipment to other bits of kit. Whilst others think that inspirational names are alive and well, and we should stop our inane grumbling.

“Inspiration is not dead!” Exclaims Dr Stephen King of the STFC ISIS Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Oh really Dr King? Well you better have some pretty water tight evidence for this – it takes a brave or foolhardy man to go up against the insightful might of the Science lite team. We are, after all, the team that spent a whole week conducting an in-depth study on the, admittedly self-generated, hypothesis that ‘excessive doughnut consumption can only ever increase human cognitive prowess’. (The results, in case you were wondering, were a complete and total incapacitation of mental activity – although it did take a further week for our Editor to notice any difference in quality of work).

So what of this evidence then Dr King? He writes: “When Margaret Thatcher inaugurated the UK’s Spallation Neutron Source (or SNS) here in 1985 its name was changed to ‘ISIS’; the new name reflecting the fact that in true British style the new facility would re-use elements of a decommissioned particle accelerator (in the same way the Egyptian Goddess is reborn every morning). ISIS is also, of course, the Oxford name for the River Thames.”

Yes – well – fine, we grant you that ISIS is an incredibly apt and indeed inspirational name, but may we smugly suggest it is the exception that proves the rule?

No, it appears we may not. “And” – continues Dr King, worryingly – “in 2007, the Queen officially named the UK’s new national synchrotron light source ‘Diamond’.”

Ah. If we weren’t still so full up from all those doughnuts then we’d definitely be gorging on humble pie. Ok, so perhaps there are numerous examples of wonderfully named experiments and equipment – but surely the allure of attempting to satirically re-name some of them could grab even the most stony-hearted of doubters?

“I take your point” Concedes King. “Maybe my colleagues at CERN would rather be working on the ‘Higgs-scope’!”

Now we are talking! That’s the spirit – and you see once you start it begins to get its claws into you. As the boys of Deb Limited discovered. Mike Jarvis, Development Chemist at the company writes:

“A colleague and I took great delight in May’s Science Lite column. As invited, here’s a few of our thoughts on the subject:

Centrifuge – Planar rotational accelerator

Submarine – Controlled sinkage transport

Radar – High altitude radio wave bounce detector

Microscope – Interchangeable sequential lens ocular magnification device

Ammeter – Electron flow rate determinator

Hydrometer – Graduated liquid displacement display

Atom bomb – High efficiency thermal release particle rearranger”

Chris, Mike’s partner in re-naming crime suggests:

Large Hadron Collider – High speed, high impact, particle drag racing facility”

Very good indeed chaps – but I think the cream of the crop has to be from Philip Bott also of Deb who suggests the Huble Space Telescope would be far more accurately named the Far Out Mega Image Maker.

We couldn’t agree more – a prize is on its way to you!

So in conclusion, not only was our original supposition largely incorrect, your excellent suggestions have also shown that we weren’t particularly good at the execution of our frivolous re-naming exercise anyway.

Incorrect and poorly executed – four words that seem to so accurately sum up our reputation within Lab News towers.

Stuck for something to do? Visit The Dana Centre

June 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Do | Leave a comment
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Looking for something to keep you entertained during the long summer evenings? Take a trip to The Dana Centre at the London Science Museum in South Kensington.

On the 14th there’s Genetically Modified Food: Where are we now? which takes a look at the developments in techniques, labelling and legislation in GM food.

On the 21st, Future World explores whether science fiction successfully predicted the future, and how the visions we watch, read and hear could actually help us create a sustainable future.

Greying Matters on the 23rd explores what happens as we grow older, and wraps up June’s event calendar.

More information can be found at www.danacentre.org.uk/events/2011/06

Size Matters: The Royal Institution Christmas lectures 2010

June 9, 2011 at 9:03 am | Posted in Competition, Watch | 1 Comment
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Ever wondered why a hamster would survive if you drop it from a great height, why an elephant couldn’t dance no matter how hard it tries or what happens to chocolate as it melts?

Well fret no more: Dr Mark Miodownik answered these – and many other questions – during his Size Matters series of Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution. Mark explored the importance of the micro and macroscale by dropping a hamster and dog – ok gunge-filled balloons – from a great height; introduced us to a flea circus and flew around the lecture theatre over three jam-packed lectures.

They were great fun to watch – and certainly kept the Lab News team entertained over the festive period. Unbeknown to us, the RI have been producing DVDs of the Christmas lectures since 2005, and this year – for the first time – they are available to order online via Amazon.

And we’ve got two to give away thanks to the lovely people at the RI. To be in with a chance of winning, just send your name, address and institution/organisation to phil.prime@laboratorynews.co.uk by 29th June. Good luck!

Hold your nose, close your mouth and breathe…

June 8, 2011 at 9:31 am | Posted in I didn't know that! | Leave a comment
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It sounds almost impossible – hold your nose, close your mouth and then try to breathe – but we all do it when we have the hiccups or need to make our ears pop. This forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway is known as the Valsalva manoeuvre.

I’d never really given the action any thought before, let alone that it might have a name! I was reading Inflight Science: A Guide to the World from your Airplane Window when I came across the term and thought it only right that I find out more.

Apparently the technique is named after Antonio Maria Valsalva, a 17th Century physician and anatomist from Bologna. His speciality was the human ear and he described this manoeuvre to expel pus from the middle ear.

When diving or taking off in an airplane, we feel that our ears need to pop because there is an unequal pressure across the eardrum caused by a pressure increase. People are advised to swallow – or if on a plane, suck a boiled sweet – but if that fails to work they’re advised try the Valsalva manoeuvre.

When exercising or weight lifting, you can sometimes perform the Valsalva manoeuvre without even realising. Air gets trapped and pressurised in the lungs, and blood pressure rises, forcing blood out of the pulmonary circulation into the left atrium. Pressure inside the chest prevents blood that has been circulating around the body getting back into the heart, and the output of the heart is reduced. When you finally breathe, the pressure on the chest is released, the pulmonary vessels and aorta re-expand and venous blood enter the chest and the heart, cardiac output begins to increase. The Valsalva manoeuvre can cause dizziness and fainting – that’s why you’re always told to breathe normally when exercising.

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