Thursday, 29 March 2012

Inside the CMS - Double Bill

I'm only part way through editing and uploading a bunch of videos we filmed at CERN, in Geneva.

However two of the main films from the CMS Experiment have now been released (above is a pic of us on the way in).

CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) is one of the two more famous detectors on the Large Hadron Collider.

The other one, at the opposite side of the ring, is called ATLAS.

We visited both.

(No disrespect to ALICE and LHCb experiments - I hope they'll invite us back one day!)

Here's the recently uploaded video about CMS, including the first time Professor Ed Copeland laid eyes on the huge machine.

And here, as a DVD extra, is an uncut video from when I gave my camera to a member of CMS staff who was able to enter parts of the machine which were restricted for visitors like us!!!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A Diamond Anniversary

In Oxfordshire today making some new films for Backstage Science.

I'm at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and just walked past the Diamond Synchrotron, which must be one of my favourite buildings in the UK.

Very cool looking - somewhere between a sports stadium and flying saucer.

And then, coincidentally, a few moments later I read on Twitter that it's Diamond's 10th birthday!

There are a million great films about Diamond and what they do... But here are some of those I've made over the last year or two.

PS: Check out my new Backstage Science Aerial Map - including Diamond of course!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Supernova in M95

The Deep Sky Videos project has a strong focus on the so-called Messier Catalogue.

Throughout 2012 we're gradually making videos on all 110 of these distant objects in space.

Although fascinating, to human eyes this collection of galaxies, stars and nebula seem almost frozen in time (an illusion created by us living relatively short lives)

It seems we can simply make videos about them at our leisure - nothing much changes year-on-year, other than our scientific knowledge of them.

So this week has been exciting... Something changed.

A few days ago a bright spot appeared in the galaxy M95, billions of light-years away.

It was a suspected supernova - a violent and spectacular star explosion.

This meant a red alert for me (and the team of astronomers who make the videos possible).

After a flurry of phone calls and emails, I hurriedly filmed interviews with Mike Merrifield and Meghan Gray at the University of Nottingham.

I also consulted with Paul Crowther at the University of Sheffield, who first alerted me to supernova via Twitter.

I then rushed home and started editing.

But I also contacted astrophotographer Nik Szymanek (right), a regular contributor to Deep Sky Videos.

He was working at his backyard observatory and said he would be turning his telescope to M95.

Coincidentally, M95 currently appears very close Mars.

Of course Mars is far, far closer to Earth  (it is after all in our own Solar System whereas M95 is a whole other galaxy).

But this accidental and temporary "line of sight" issue was a nightmare for Nik.

Nik said he would have abandoned the image under normal circumstances, but persevered for my sake and cobbled together some quick exposures.

In this first image, the supernova is highlighted at the galaxy's outer edge. Light from Mars can be seen streaming in from the left.

This second image is a mosaic, showing Mars nearby (the "apparent" distance between M95 and Mars, as you look from Earth, is about the width of the Moon!)

Mars is obviously a small planet. A supernova is one of the brightest objects imaginable... Yet the relative distances from Earth mean that Mars appears millions of times brighter.

Mars can easily be seen with the naked eye whereas you need magnification to see the supernova.

When we made our video, the supernova was still "unconfirmed". Perhaps it was a less bright object closer to Earth?

However the light spectrum has now been checked and it is indeed a Type IIP supernova!

It even has a name: SN2012aw

It should be visible (with telescopes) for another 2 or 3 months.

And because M95 is close (in galaxy terms) and well imaged, perhaps astronomers will be able to do some detective work and figure out which star blew up!?

Images courtesy of Nik Szymanek. Top image of M95 courtesy of Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sydney Harbour Bridge's Birthday

Today is the 80th birthday of one of my favourite landmarks - the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

And we don't need to go back too far in the archives to find a sciencey video about it.

This one is from the Periodic Table of Videos Aussie Road Trip.

Friday, 16 March 2012

A Touch of Ireland

It's St Patrick's Day (on March 17). So why not catch up on the sciencey films we made during a road trip to the Emerald Isle?

To be sure, to be sure, it includes a film about Guinness.

And a film on Ireland's only science Nobel Prize winner (not the one pictured)!

The videos were made for both Sixty Symbols and the Periodic Table of Videos.

They feature two of our Irish stars - Professor Phil Moriarty and Dr Darren Walsh.

PS: I promise it was (just) St Patrick's Day when I published this blog - but my blogs get stamped with the time on the US West Coast!!!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Matching our dedication

A recent Numberphile video featured the "Buffon's Needle" method of calculating Pi - except we used matches.

Here's our video:

But equally impressive is this effort from a viewer, posted this response on YouTube:

The Highest Form of Flattery?

So Numberphile has already reached the stage where people are making parodies - even our infamous brown paper.

Hmmm.. they say imitation is the highest form of flattery!?

Don't know why the interviewer is being portrayed as such a simpleton? :)

Here's the real deal for comparison.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Pi and The Simulated Bouncing Balls

We love it when viewers get involved with what we're doing - and here's a brilliant example from Numberphile.

First, here's a recent video about Pi from Professor Ed Copeland involving a strange way that Pi "appears" when objects collide.

Of course what Ed described was really a "thought experiment" because it would be difficult to create a frictionless environment and elastic collisions.

But that's viewer where Lukas Wolf comes to the rescue.

He was captivated by our video and re-created the experiment using a piece of software called Algodoo.

Lukas has also made his code available at this link (for those who have the Algodoo software, which can be downloaded for free).

And Lukas sent us this image, which I believe charts the velocity of the small ball.

In his email to us, Lukas said:
"I was quite amazed by your 'pi and bouncing balls' video, certainly a cool fact about pi that I didn't know. Because it was so amazing, I replicated the scenario in a simulator and plotted the velocities of the balls over time while counting the collisions between the balls. The results were great: On the 32nd collision big M started to move backwards."
Many thanks Lukas.

And don't miss our full collection of Pi videos.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Why go early?

Once again I thought I'd use this blog to answer a question/comment made repeatedly on YouTube.

I can't possibly reply to all of the comments - so here's my blanket response!

This issue relates to uploading videos a couple of days before special occasions.

The catalyst this time is a series of four videos I made about Pi.

They were made to coincide with the so-called Pi Day - or 3/14 in American parlance.

Rather than uploading the videos on March 14, I uploaded them on March 12.

I do similar things with videos relating to special events, like Easter, Christmas, Halloween, etc.

There are a few reasons for this...


It gives me a chance to promote the video in the hope it spreads virally.

When March 14 arrives, I want the video to have been seen by as many as people as possible. To be fresh in minds so it might be shared with friends.

Starting this promotional campaign on the day itself would be last-minute stupidity.

It would be like stocking Easter Eggs in the shops only on Easter Sunday... Or advertising the latest must-have gifts only on Christmas Day itself, after everyone has bought their presents!


I always hope the people at YouTube might promote themed videos at Christmas, Easter, etc... If I'm lucky enough included, it's a chance to reach new viewers.

There's no guarantee the faceless and all-powerful YouTube people will include me... But surely they decide what to include a day or two beforehand?

It just seems to make sense to have a product "out there on the shelves" a day or two earlier.

I can't imagine company as big as Google (owners on YouTube)  decides to create a special feature of themed videos on a whim and then looks at what has been uploaded in the last 20 minutes!?

Update: YouTube did feature two of the Pi videos... This feature appeared before I would even have woken up on 14 March!!! See pic below...


I live in the UK - pretty much the middle of the world in terms of "the day".

It would be very hard to find a time to upload the video (thereby giving it the appropriate "date stamp") which would please people in Australia, the UK and the US... So why not go early?


What if something goes wrong? What if my internet connection dies on the big day? What if I find last-minute errors in the videos which require re-editing?

Or worse yet, if I upload the video and only then find a problem requiring its removal and re-uploading!? Perhaps an error only a viewer will discover with fresh eyes?

Too late if I find out on the big day itself!!!?

Video editing and processing is time consuming... Last-minute fixes are rarely quick and easy.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

What a coincidence

Great spot by an eagle-eyed viewer.

I uploaded two videos today - one each for Numberphile and Deep Sky Videos.

The Numberphile video was about the number 42 and its duration was 8'42"

I did that on purpose.

However a few hours later I uploaded a video about the Messier Object M66.

Its duration was 6'06"

I'd love to claim it... but that was not intentional...

The eagerly anticipated 42

Since Numberphile was launched, we've been asked when we'll cover 42.

The number was immortalised by Douglas Adams in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

So we've posted the video in the build-up to what would have been Adams' 60th birthday (he sadly died in 2001 at the age of 49).

For fun I offered to upload the video a day earlier than planned if our Facebook followers gave us 42 "thumbs up" likie thingies.

This happened within minutes, reassuring me it was a video that people were keen to see.

It is posted below.

PS: Note the video's duration... proof that I'm the biggest nerd of all!

Meet Professor Carbon

This is nine-year-old Joshua, from Northern California.

He's is a big chemistry fan and - we're pleased to hear - recently discovered The Periodic Table of Videos.

Josh's mother, Kerry, got in touch this week, saying: "My son... has been fascinated by the Periodic Table since he was 4 years old! He has been asked to give several presentations at his school and is very well read on the subject.

"We just found out about your site and Joshua is really excited to have his picture shown, please please please include it on your website!"

Kerry also mentioned that Josh's friends call him "Professor Carbon".

I had to ask for the reason behind that, and it was explained.

"He likes to be called Professor Carbon because he dressed up as a scientist for Halloween a couple of years ago. Would you like to see pictures?"

Umm, yes please (see below)!

Kerry further explained: "Joshua is a very clever little boy, not sure if you have heard of it, but he is a 'young scholar' with The Davidson Institute, which is an organization for profoundly gifted children.

"We have a chemisty mentor for him, who has put us in contact with a Professor at UC Davis.

"We have actually been invited on Friday to take a tour of their Lab, which Joshua is very excited about!"

Kerry also said Josh was excited about the upcoming Pi Day on 14 March.

I suggest Professor Carbon keeps a close eye on my Numberphile channel...  A Pi extravaganza is planned!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Was Brian Cox Wrong?

Professor Brian Cox - who seems to front much of the BBC's science content these days - gave a TV lecture just before Christmas which caused some ripples in the science world.

In a nutshell, he gave a simplified explanation of the Pauli Exclusion Principle for a layman audience.

Some people latched onto it and drew some pretty wild "pseudoscience" conclusions. That can't be helped...

Perhaps more interestingly, some respected physicists took issue with the explanation and a little skirmish ensued between the scientists.

In this Sixty Symbols video, we discuss the whole thing:

And here's some Test Tube bonus footage from the interviews above:

The Best Pizza in Town

A brief departure from my usual talk of science and videos and stuff like that.

Today my good mate "Hoffers" opened a pizza bar in our home town Adelaide.

It's not just any pizza place - it's a Crust Gourmet Pizza Bar.

Hoffers has put his career as an airline pilot on hold to pursue his foodie passions!

I did my part this morning (at 5.30am UK time) by waking early and ordering the very first pizza... a BBQ chicken with feta cheese (below).

It was picked up and eaten and by mate Tim (also below)!

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I followed the process minute-by-minute with text messages and photos.

Here's Hoffers spiking the historic order (below again).

If you're from Adelaide, please visit Hoffers' Crust store and support a good man following his dreams.

235 Henley Beach Road, Torrensville, 5031
Order Online:
PHONE: 08 8234 7077
Deliver areas: Henley Beach, Henley Beach South, Fulham Gardens, Fulham, West Beach, Kidman Park, Flinders Park, Allenby Gardens, West Hindmarsh, Hindmarsh, Welland, Torrensville, Thebarton, Mile End, Lockleys, Underdale, Brooklyn Park, Cowandilla, Hilton

And follow the store on Facebook for news and offers.

Hoffers is the big tall guy behind the counter. Mention periodicvideos or sixtysymbols and he might throw in a few extra anchovies?!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Happification Tree and Melancoil

Recently Numberphile featured "the next big thing" in maths - the Happification Tree and Melancoil.

They are the disturbing brainchild of one of semi-regular contributors, Matt Parker.

Here's the video:

Well this week we were chuffed to receive this new interpretation of Matt's hurried artwork.

Thanks to viewer Josh Cryer who took the trouble to make it. Click here for a hi-res version on Flickr.