How do sea cucumbers manage to be both flexible and firm? How does a plant build up enough energy, just from drying out, to fire its seeds five times its own length? Why don't clams get tired of holding themselves shut? These questions all boil down to 'how do natural materials change shape', and it's a bloody good question if you want to make synthetic materials change shape.
There is currently sadness across Britain, as the public are told that their naming choices are not serious enough for science. But working scientists do far worse themselves. Projects to explore the depths of the universe and the essence of the universe revel in titles like ‘WiggleZ’ and ‘GiggleZ’. The vast public support for ‘Boaty McBoatface’ shows that scientists and normal people share some priorities, and gives hope that one day the two species may be able to communicate, or even coexist.
Every day, I try and make shape-changing jelly. Every day, my jelly does not work in new and different ways. I am not really sure why it is not working, and every failure opens more questions and variables. I am eating quite a lot of biscuits.
I hadn’t really internalised this aspect of a PhD. I was told they were hard, but I guess I thought that meant long hours. I’m not working long hours at the moment. I don't have enough ideas to fill them.
For Lovelace day 2015: Professor Tomoko Ohta, the proposer of the 'nearly neutral' model of genetic drift. This important modification to earlier theories describes the effect of random changes in the genome on the evolutionary direction of a species. Her work has implications for the speed of evolution in small populations (such as those being created scarily rapidly by ecological damage, for example) and to estimate how long it takes species to diverge from each other. This year, she received the Crafoord prize, one of the world’s biggest scientific prizes, from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences this year for her life’s work.
How did I end up working in nanotechnology and smart materials? This is a surprisingly difficult question, and for some reason involved three years as a writer. However, I’ve done some research (by which I mean I called my mum) and I have deduced the following:
(Original 2011/10/13 / Updated 2015/10/13 — see below)
Think of science things. Newton's laws, Celsius' degrees, Maxwell's distributions, Hertzsprung and Russell's diagram, Chandrasekhar's limit, fermi's -ons... You know you've made it in science when you get something named after you. Which is why I particularly want to big up the lady I'm talking about today1, because she did some ubiquitous work and noone's even heard of her, let alone tagged her name to her invention. Which is... duh duh duh!
In my ongoing studies of making Small Shit That Does Shit™ (AKA functional nanomaterials) I have created a device that uses shaped, high frequency soundwaves to move around things a micrometer across (0.001 millimetres) without touching them. You could call it an audio-vibratory, physio-molecular transport device.
In the interests of presenting a more accurate picture of the genuine process of research, here is a fairly comprehensive list of things that did not go to plan in the first mini-research project I and partner undertook:
(Originally posted 24 March 2010)
It's Ada Lovelace day! Time to draw attention to women in science — often ignored, never deservedly. My chosen lady is:
I just came to the end of three years as the communications, events and marketing manager for UCL Engineering — 11 departments, 1,000 staff, and 3,500 students, working on things ranging from testing new biofuels to spotting browser insecurities. I did a lot of things for UCL Engineering, including writing about their discoveries and projects, taking photos, editing films, working out sponsorship, and commissioning merchandise. A few highlights...