Wednesday, 30 June 2010

World Cup Science

I've been busy lately making a collection of World Cup themed videos with scientific twists.

Today the focus was physics, starting with this one for Sixty Symbols about the now notorious Jabulani football.

Featured in the video are some of the people I occasionally play five-a-side football with, mainly physicists and astronomers.

Some of them didn't like the ball, but I thought it was good (you can even see me taking a free kick in the above film!)

It feels a bit cheap and "plasticky" to touch, but I thought it pinged nicely of the foot.

After filming a few free kicks and other footage, we staged an impromptu penalty shoot-out which I made into a bonus video.

By the way, the football "stars" featured in the video are Tony Padilla, Mark Brook, Fernando Buitrago Alonso, Amandeep Josan, Bret Podgorzec, Amanda Bauer, James Clewett, Boris Häußler and Udai Panicker.

They showed up at short notice and I'm very grateful.

Also a quick thanks to the university groundsmen (who set up the goals and painted lines just for us) and to the School of Chemistry which lent us the lab coats.

And thanks to my friend Natalie for loaning us the ball (they are too pricey to buy just for the video!)

Keeping the theme of World Cup, here's another one we made about vuvuzelas...

Professor Philip Moriarty who features in this video is a real music nut and loves doing anything that involves sound waves and harmonics!

This extra video of just the raw sound files was put together for the super anoraks who love sound engineering!

And for those who missed it earlier this month, here's The Periodic Table of Videos film about the World Cup trophy.

Is this the end of my World Cup adventure? Maybe not.

I have a language expert who might be able to help me with another video for Words of the World.

As always, stay tuned!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Two years of Periodic Videos

This week marks the second anniversary of the Periodic Table of Videos.

So I thought I'd reflect on some of the project's history.

But first here's the video we made to celebrate the anniversary (on the theme of cotton, which is the traditional gift for a two-year relationship!)

Obviously the Periodic Table of Videos started with the aim of making a video about each of the elements, starting with this video about hydrogen.

We quickly made all 118 - but in that time attracted quite a bit of publicity and a large following.

So the University of Nottingham School of Chemistry decided to continue with the project.

We started updating and improving our element videos, adding films on current events and other chemistry news.

My favourites include this video made to mark Halloween....

...and this one for Valentine's Day.

We also started a series of roadtrips to places of interest, including the town of Ytterby in Sweden, which gave its name to four elements on the Periodic Table.

All these things are continuing - element updates, special features and roadtrips.

But most recently we've started a new series with backing for the EPSRC - the Molecular Videos.

As the names suggests, these are videos about molecules.

They are many and varied, but I still have a soft spot for this one about aqua regia (which is not quite a molecule I suppose).

I'd so much about its ability to dissolve gold and it was great to finally see it!

The Periodic Table of Videos has been a great success with many millions of views.

It has become almost impossible to track our viewing figures because they are often watched in schools by entire clasrooms.

They are great fun to make and are only possible because of the talents of those involved, especially Martyn Poliakoff, Pete Licence, Neil Barnes, Steve Liddle, Deb Kays, Sam Tang and Darren Walsh.

But the most important thing is the people who watch them... Their enthusiasm and YouTube comments really inspire us.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Cravats and Propaganda

My newest project Words of the World is starting to take shape.

The two latest videos cover the words cravat and propaganda.

Discussing how cravats got their names (which I found fascinating) is David Norris.

And here is Zahera Harb discussing how propaganda only became a "negative word" after the two World Wars.

The Chemistry of Crude Oil

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been dominating the news, so we thought it was worth covering on The Periodic Table of Videos.

The only problem was getting our hands on some crude oil.

After asking around, we finally got our hands on a few samples thanks to the kind folk in chemical engineering.

And we made these two videos.

First, Professor Martyn Poliakoff talks a bit about oil and what happens when it comes into contact with water.

The second video features more from The Professor, plus Sam Tang showing how she "simulates" crude oil spills during some of her school visits.

What didn't come across in the video was the powerful smell of crude oil... for some reason I didn't think it would have such a strong odour (quite similar to petroleum, obviously).

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Our videos on iTunes

At long last some of our videos can be downloaded on iTunes (for free of course!).

Only a handful of videos are available so far, but more will be added soon.

You can subscribe to the "albums" get new videos as they're uploaded.

Hopefully some Test Tube videos will also be available soon.

The videos are being made available via the University of Nottingham's newly launched iTunes channel.

You can find out more about it (and some handy instructions for those who are new to iTunes) by visiting

Monday, 14 June 2010

Jako's Logo

A regular viewer (and commenter) on our videos is a young chap called Jako.

He's interested in film-making and often asks questions about technical aspects of video production.

This week Jako offered to design an instant messaging identity for me. This is what he came up with:

Many thanks to Jako, who seems to have combined my use of a Sony Z7 camera and my Australian heritage.

And in a subtle tribute to my most regular "muse" (Professor Martyn Poliakoff) he has included a Hihi bird.

See this video for a better understanding.

Even if the logo hasn't yet made it into daily use (I'm not a regular instant messager these days), I thought I should share it.

You can find Jako on YouTube at

Saturday, 12 June 2010

As heard on the BBC

Just found out (via Twitter of course) that our video about the composition of the World Cup had been mentioned on the BBC World Service news.

It later went on to become one of the weekend's most read articles on the BBC News website... Check it out.

I missed it on the radio but have since seen a copy of the short script...

"A British chemistry professor has said that the football World Cup trophy is not made of solid gold as claimed by the football governing body, FIFA. Professor Martyn Poliakoff, from Nottingham University, says his calculations show that a solid gold trophy of its size would be too heavy, weighing at least seventy kilos. Mr Poliakoff concludes that the trophy, or at least part of it, must be hollow. FIFA's website says the World Cup trophy is made of solid eighteen-carat gold and weighs six kilos."

I must say again, FIFA have never said the trophy isn't hollow. But they do promote it as solid gold (which can be interpreted in various ways).

Funnily enough the BBC journalist told me he stumbled over our video embedded in a Brazilian website.

So all credit goes to Professor Luis Brudna in Brazil who does Portuguese translations for us. He was very quick to translate the World Cup video, which is doubtless why we ended up in that Brazilian website.

See all Luis' Portuguese translations by clicking this link.

I include the picture of Brazil's Cafu with the trophy as a tribute to Luis!

UPDATE: Have since had this link drawn to my attention - - We feature just after the 26-minute mark!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Drowning in Heavy Water

A Heavy Water extravaganza this week on the Periodic Table of Videos this week.

I thought I'd bring it all together here on the blog, plus tell some of the stories behind it all.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff had been talking for some time about an experiment he'd like to see.

Namely, freezing a cube of heavy water (deuterium oxide, in which the hydrogen from water is replaced by heavier deuterium) and seeing if the cube floats in water like normal ice.

So Debbie Kays and Neil Barnes did the experiment.

It was no surprise the "heavy ice" sank.

However what surprised us was that it started to rise over the next hour or so.

Funnily enough, we'd moved on to filming something else when I noticed the heavy ice was rising and filmed the extra shots of its gradual ascent.

It seems everyone, from The Professor to a lowly non-scientist like me, has a different theory as to why this happened.

And it has been the subject of much speculation in the comments section under the YouTube video.

We have not established the reason for sure, but I like to see people discuss it intelligently... What a great use of the YouTube comments section!

Anyway, the second video posted was filled with more interview footage from Professor Polaikoff.

This is typical stuff from Martyn - lots of great anecdotes, ranging from daring deeds in World War II to the best way to drink whiskey!

Even stories of deuterated dogs!

The video also deals with my burning question - what happens if you drink heavy water!?

Even after all that, there was still a few clips from Martyn I hadn't squeezed in to the main videos.

This is the sort of stuff I put on our behind the scenes site of Test Tube (YouTube channel nottinghamscience)

Here are the extras.

So what will be turning our attention to next week? Stay tuned.

Operation Energy Bags

One of the people I've been following since Test Tube was launched is Professor Seamus Garvey from The University of Nottingham.

He has a grand plan for energy storage.

In a nutshell, he wants to build giant wind turbines with pistons inside their blades. The pistons compress air, which is then stored under the sea in giant "air bags".

The highly compressed air is then released and converted to electricity as it's needed.

It was just an idea when I first met Seamus... But over time we've seen him build models and protoypes.

There's a still a long way to go, but following projects like this has been one of the highlights of the Test Tube video project - really going behind the scenes in the world of science and engineering.

This week's video saw Seamus testing a version of the piston.

And not long ago we were there to see the air bags for the first time.

I've also created this video player which shows all the videos I've made about Seamus so far!

I wonder what's next?

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Well done Professor

Congratulations to Martyn Poliakoff (better known to many of our viewers simply as "The Professor").

He's been awarded The Royal Society’s Leverhulme Medal for his work on green chemistry and supercritical fluids.

It might not mean much to non-scientists, but any accolade from the Royal Society is a big deal.

The University of Nottingham's press release has a bit more detail.

If you'd like to learn more about Martyn, I'd recommend the Martyn Poliakoff collection I put together for Test Tube a couple of years ago, which covers both green chemistry and supercriticial fluids.

Or just enjoy him in action at The Periodic Table of Videos.

A couple of videos about Martyn's work are embedded below.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Words of the World

I'm starting work on a new project called Words of the World.

It will involve making videos about various words, from Nazi to Chocolate.

The main website can be found at and there's a Twitter feed @wordsnottingham

The YouTube channel is

The site and videos are still in production and I'm making some final tweaks, but any feedback is welcome.

Here are the first two videos...

The experts featured are from The University of Nottingham's School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

A bit of Chinese

The University of Nottingham has a pavilion at this year's World Expo in Shanghai, China.

One of the main reasons for this is that the university has a campus in nearby Ningbo.

By the way, it was there that I filmed the total solar eclipse for Sixty Symbols and Test Tube on July 22, 2009.

This is one of the films I've most enjoyed making.

But back to the World Expo.

I've been involved in making a few short films to help out.

The first was just a "teaser" to build a bit of expectation before the opening.

Once the expo was open, it was decided a couple of small videos were required to accompany some exhibits. I quickly filmed two, basically just to provide a short greeting an explanation for the local visitors.

They were recorded with two Chinese acamdemics working for the university here in Nottingham.

In-keeping with the Test Tube ethos of sharing everything that goes on behind the scenes, I've also shared the videos with our viewers - even though most seem quite baffled.

The first researcher, George Chen, is discussing supercapattery technology. The second, Yanqiu Zhu, is discussing nanotechnlogy and solar power.

Unfortunately I can't shed much more light on what they're saying as I don't speak the language either. However one of our YouTube viewers provided these translations:

GEORGE CHEN: Hello everybody, I a chemical engineering professor and university of nottingham. Today I will introduce to you a product from our research team, the name is called super electrical battery (he said a the name of battery, but I don't know how if there is a way to translate it). This product can be physically made huge or small, and the goal is to store energy. It can be big as a house, or small as a dollar, so the big ones could be industrial use and the small could be for home. For cars, calculators ...etc. The most beneficial part of this product is that its SUPER FAST. Thanks you.

Hello, I am university of Nottingham's research head (?), with collaboration of tsinghua university, we were be able to make this new product. By using a new type of nano material (black color), which is darker than our cloth. This product can absorb 99% of photons from the sun. Therefore by using this material, we were able to make nano solar battery. Unlike the solar panels in the desert, which is uses something like our cellphone's battery which is connected to an computer. By using this new material, you never have to worry about losing power to your cell phone...etc Thank you.

That sounds pretty similar to what we'd agreed should be said!

Thank you to YouTube user Excellentscore for those translations, which may not be precise but are better than nothing!

For just a bit more Chinese culture, here's another video I made at the Ningbo campus in 2009 showing a quirky building they've built there, nicknamed the Chinese Lantern.

It's quite a sight!

UPDATE: I have received this new translation for Yangiu Zhu's piece...

"Hello everyone! I am Zhu Yan Qiu from the University of Nottingham in Britain. We co-operate with Tsing Hua University and study the work of solar power. We use a "nano charcoal", which is a material which is black in colour, darker than our clothes. It could receive 99% of the solar power. That is to say, if we use this material, we could make a battery in a small size that could receive solar power. It is not the kind used in the desert, but used in the mobile charger. Having this kind of battery, you don't have to worry that the battery on your phone would be used up."

And in Chinese:


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Mystery of the hollow World Cup?

With the World Cup upon us I thought we should do some sort of themed video for The Periodic Table of Videos.

A bit of internet research quickly showed the trophy is made of solid gold (18 carat) and includes a precious mineral called malachite.

So I asked the The Professor for some insights about gold and malachite.

But something else occurred to me...

I've been told that gold is deceptively heavy (because of its density) and many people cannot lift a modest-sized sample.

So why isn't the hefty World Cup (about 36cm tall) incredibly heavy?

Players never struggle to lift it and according to Fifa it weighs just over 6kg.

So The Professor cracked out his ruler and beat-up old calculator for a few calculations.

Sure enough, he deduced there's no way the World Cup can be solid gold all the way through - otherwise it'd weigh more like 70 to 80kg.

So what's inside?

Is it hollow? Is there another metal or substance Fifa don't include in the tech specs?

Whatever the case, it made a fun video.

As a postscript, within hours of the video being posted someone had gone onto Wikipedia and re-written the trophy's description to include the following:

"It has been asserted that the trophy is likely to be hollow due to the high density of gold and that, if solid, it would weigh in the region of 70-80 kg."

They've even included our video as the reference!

I've got to admit our figures were a bit rough and based on the published measurements and pictures supplied by Fifa.

And I must point out no-one has ever said the World Cup is NOT hollow (though the words "solid gold" seem a shade misleading!)

But I'm glad it has got people talking about science and looking at that famous trophy in a new way.

PS: I've subsequently read an interview with the sculptor revealing it was created using the lost wax method. The Professor had already suggested this was likely off camera!