Wednesday, 31 August 2011

An epic cycling journey

Last Friday I found myself at John o'Groats.

The coastal village is famed as the northern tip of mainland Great Britain (though this is not technically the case).

I was there with a team from The University of Nottingham, including the vice-chancellor David Greenaway (he's the university's top boss, standing next to me in this pic).

The team of 11 cyclists (and four support crew) are journeying from John o'Groats to Britain's other famous geographical extreme, Land's End.

They're doing it for the challenge - and to raise money for palliative care.

So why not do a good deed and sponsor the ride. It's for a very good cause.

More details at this link... And my video below.

Yes, thankfully I was filming and not riding!!!

Signed cards

Some of you ma be aware we have been collecting pictures of our viewers.

They can be emailed to

I also promised some prizes.

A random draw selected three viewers and their prizes will be posted this week.

They'll receive the full set of "periodicvideos collector cards"... well, okay, promotional URL cards.

But these cards have been signed by the team.

The winners already know who they are and the cards are on their way!

Click here for viewer pictures on Flickr. And send your own if you'd like to be included (though you are too late for the prizes!)

Philosophy File

Last night I uploaded the 8th video of my little foray into philosophy, Philosophy File.

The video was about metacognition and the ancient story of Gilgamesh.

That is the final video in the series, at least for now.

We may expand the idea after further consideration... so stay subscribed on YouTube.

Here are all the videos, created with the philosophers at The University of Nottingham:

Monday, 29 August 2011

Remembering an old friend

The latest film on the Periodic Table of Videos is tinged with sadness.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff reports the recent passing of his first PhD student, Stephen Church.

He also recalls Stephen's pioneering work with the molecule Manganese Pentacarbonyl.

The Professor has since contacted some of the journals which published Stephen's papers in the 1980s.

One has already they have kindly agreed, for a limited time, to make the paper available without charge.

You can find it at the following link:

The molecule in solution

We will add any other links if they become available.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What molecules?

The Periodic Table of Videos made its name by covering the elements!

But we also do a series all about molecules.

Yesterday I asked our Facebook followers what molecules we should be covering.

Here are some of their answers so far:

- The contraceptive pill. Something that radically changed the lives of women for the better, but also whether it's true the hormones getting into waterways are changing the sex of aquatic life.

- Serotonin!

- Mercury(II) thiocyanate decomposition, I've seen it on YT already, but some explainations of the molecular video experts would be cool.

- Something on other classic molecules, but pharma-oriented are my favourites!

- Nitric acid!

- Perhaps something that's got to do with the oxidation states of actinides, they never really taught me that at school.

- Noble gases compounds?

- How about DNA?

- Ethene (most produced chemical product in the world) or steam (for industrial boilers etc).

- Something pretty like Carborane.

- H2O... come on now.

- What about the chemistry of brewing and fermentation processes of beer and wine?

- And something about Glass, PVC, how they're produced.. it would be cool.

- Maybe sodium chloride?

- Mercury Fulminate ! ! ! :D Or thermite :)

- Yes mercury fulminate. As featured in the tv show Breaking Bad.

- Potassium Nitrate. So much history there!!

- How about something like chlorophyll

- I don't believe I have seen CFCs yet.

- Ochratoxin

- Hm...Urea or Chloroform.

- Piranha solution, potassium permanganate or potassium dichromate

- Dissect the lucrative world of toxins, preferably toxic compound used by different intelligence agencies. Scopolamine, ricin, abrin and in general tropanes would be of great interest. But I guess such "lethal" knowledge may not be pertinent for the univeristy to publish now in our turbulent times with all the terrorism.

Will MIRI fly?

You may have seen recent reports about the future of the James Webb Space Telescope.

US politicians are debating funding for the project, which has been touted as the successor to Hubble.

One of the videos I created for Backstage Science was about an instrument built for the telescope.

The instrument's called MIRI and has been put together at the RAL Space facility, just outside Oxford.

It's one of four "cameras" which would be bolted to the telescope, utilising light caught by the giant mirror.

In the video Paul Eccleston speaks of his passion for the project and excitement about eventually seeing MIRI launched into space.

Whatever you think about the politics and cost, it would certainly be sad if MIRI never does the job it was made for.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Cool Film and Cool Song

I don't usually feature films on this blog that I didn't create.

But have been wanting to share this one for ages...

Partly because I love mountains and the Eiger's one of my favourites.

And also because of the brilliant song they've used (from about the 1'15" mark).

It's become one of my favourite tracks and I often listen to it while running (as opposed to climbing the Eiger!)

A great example of a song and amazing footage combining to make something special.

The climber is Ueli Steck and the song is Welcome Home by Radical Face.

It's all from a film called Swiss Machine which I've not seen - but would like to!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Angry chemists and prime ministers

In recent days a group of high-profile chemists wrote to the UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

They're angry at plans to cut funding for organic synthetic chemistry.

Professor Poliakoff explains the problem in our latest video on The Periodic Table of Videos.

(A number of Professor Poliakoff's colleagues at the University of Nottingham have signed the letter)

Not an organic chemist himself, Professor Poliakoff was not a signatory.

But he did write a letter to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (who was a chemist herself!)

His letter, from 1987, has a similar theme to the more recent one.

Below is his missive and the replies he received. You can click on the images to see bigger versions on Flickr.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

More captions in Italian and Portuguese

The periodicvideos pixies have been busy again.

The volunteers have created new captions for us in Portuguese and Italian.

New captions from Luis in Brazil have been added to the Portuguese playlist - all 175 of them personally done by Luis.

And new captions from Alessandro in Italy have been added to the Italian playlist - which now features 21 videos.

Friday, 19 August 2011

More on those QR codes

Interest continues in our quirky periodic table of QR codes.

Professor Poliakoff visited the EPSRC (a big science funding agency) this week and gave them a copy of the table.

The EPSRC has previously supported our molecular videos series and, by all accounts, liked the table. They may hang a few in their offices!

I've also had photos from people who've made their own print-outs.

A few bloggers, tweeters and educational websites have also been kind and spread the word (like this one and this one).

And I've had some interest in printing them for wider distribution... Hopefully more news on that soon!?

Of course, you can just print out your own.

Here are some hi-res versions of the table:
With symbols
Without symbols

And here's a video I made explaining what it's all about:

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Chemical Rap and the Croatian Connection

Earlier today I blogged about periodicvideos reaching its 50,000th subscriber.

I now have two new pieces of news.

First, we've posted a video to mark the milestone.

It's a song by rapper and science communicator Oort Kuiper (aka Jon Chase) - but using some of our own video clips.

Check it out:

Also, I sent a message to the 50,000th subscriber - and heard back from him.

Initially he thought my message was a hoax (I don't blame him with the amount of spam flying around YouTube!)

The chap - who would prefer to remain nameless - is originally from the town of Zadar in Croatia.

He wrote: "I had no idea this was going to be the 50,000th subscription, and I wanted to subscribe long time ago, but never really cared about the whole concept of subscription because I periodically watch the channels I like, like periodicvideos.

"Well, this is a rather great honour for a Youtuber, especially because your channel is one of the best ones around.

"Though I'm not too active on Youtube cause there's not much time for making the videos I'd like, it's been more than 5 years that I run a blog (, mainly discussing pseudoscience from a healthy critical thinking point of view, presenting the local web population with some cool things from amateur astronomy and chemistry, and occasionally a rant or two on criminal."

I can't vouch for the blog as I don't understand the language, but here it is.

Our mysterious number 50,000 also had plenty of suggestions for future videos.

He wrote: "It would be great to make few videos of really rare sights, like solid oxygen, solid and liquid ozone (yeah, I know it's dangerous), glowing of condensed radon, the glow of metallic radium, etc.

"We've all been reading about stuff like that from the textbooks, but there are no photos or videos around."

50,000 Subscribers

Our periodicvideos YouTube channel reached 50,000 subscribers last night.

The historic subscription came from someone in Croatia... I've emailed the person to try and find out more about them.

I'm also working on a special video to mark the milestone. That will be coming soon.

In the meantime, here's bit of a favourite video about our work covering the elements.

PS: In the same evening, our physics channel Sixty Symbols reached its 40,000th subscriber!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Bioethanol in Brazil

Have uploaded another video from our Brazil trip back in May.

This time it is about bioethanol which is famously used as fuel through Brazil (or is it!?)

As expected, there are plenty of comments on our YouTube video... Bioethanol is always a rather touchy and political subject.

We weren't really trying to make any grant statements - just make a few observations while were in Rio.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Larch Tree

Continuing our Guide to Trees on Test Tube.

The latest addition - by poplar demand - is the Larch (like my deliberate typo!!!?).

Here it is, complete with Monty Python references and fascinating Nazi story:

Monday, 8 August 2011

Half-baked Science

Couldn't ignore the recent news story about a man in Sweden who tried to make a nuclear reactor in his kitchen.

Actually, I was alerted to it by Professor Poliakoff who emailed me from his holiday (is he ever really on holiday!!?).

His email said: "Have arrived safely at the hotel. En route, we heard the story on Radio 4 (PM programme) of the Swedish guy who tried to boil americium, radium and another radioactive element in sulfuric acid on his kitchen stove! I thought that you might be able to get Steve Liddle to do a short video about it?"

Steve (an expert on uranium) agreed, and here's the quick video we did:

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A break from science - and a bit of Hocus Pocus

Today I've mainly been working on two of my non-science video projects.

I've been editing videos for Bibledex and Words of the World.

Two of them have been uploaded in the last few hours, including one about the phrase Hocus Pocus:

Words of the World on Facebook

Bibledex on Facebook

Seeing our viewers

This morning I did a random draw to decide the three winners of our viewer pictures project.

The winners have been emailed and, if they want, will receive small prizes.

More details to come about that.

To see the pictures we've been sent, click here for a Flickr Gallery.

Or for bit of a fun page I created, click here.

I'd still like people to send in pictures and will share them when possible... Email them to

Here's a recent picture I liked because it included our Periodic Table of QR codes!!!

Previous videos using the pictures:

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Social Media and the Fire Extinguisher

Today I had a glorious insight into the joys - and speed - of social media.

Basically I needed a photo of a fire extinguisher to use in one of my videos (this one, if you're curious).

I needed it quickly.

So, like I sometimes do, I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook to help.

Within SECONDS I had a phone call from my former BBC colleague - @QuentinRayner

"I'm just taking one now on my phone, what email address shall I send it to," he said, standing in the BBC newsroom.

A few seconds later - and BEFORE Quentin's picture arrived - this photo appeared on Facebook:

It's a photo of Quentin taking the picture, posted by another of my former colleagues.

Sure enough, Quentin's picture arrived a minute later!

I'd barely caught my breath.

Many thanks to other people who also sent photos (including @georgeerice and @jbwan) - I appreciated it.

Surely the best picture - which I was unable to use for reasons which may be apparent - was this one from prolific blogger and bird enthusiast @grrlscientist

Here's the video I needed the picture for:

Monday, 1 August 2011

Pablo Rubinstein

The My Favourite Scientist series has thrown up an eclectic mix of subjects.

Famous names like Einstein and Feynman have been among them.

But the latest addition is one I'd not heard of - Pablo Rubinstein.

The Chilean-born scientist has been a pioneer in the use of stem cells from umbilical cords - and the establishment of cord blood banks.

This video was uploaded on the day my first nephew was born - hence the little message at the end!

Helpful asthmatics

The latest video on Periodic Table of Videos deals with asthma.

More importantly, it explains the active ingredient in many inhalers (Salbutamol) and how it works.

I asked viewers to contribute pictures of their inhalers to use in the video... I only used one, but thought I'd use the blog here to share the others.

I usually appeal for viewer pictures via Twitter and Facebook - so follow us there!

An interesting piece of trivia about this final one...

I asked the sender (Pat) why the background periodic table was back-to-front.

Pat replied: "That's just a matter of laziness, haha. I have a mirror on my wall, and I just look at that instead of turning around."

Here's the video: