Thursday, 31 March 2011

QR codes - worth trying?

Are many people dabbling with these new QR code things?

Are they worth dabbling with?

Next big thing or flash in the pan?

Real Scientists in Action

The science videos on Sixty Symbols and Periodic Table of Videos often deal with history and past breakthroughs.

However we also like to show you the current research being done by our very own YouTube stars.

Viewers can easily forget that our "presenters" are real working scientists doing day-to-day research.

The most recent example was this video, showcasing a new piece of work by Professor Martyn Polikaoff from PToV.

Not long ago we had this video with Sixty Symbols regular Phil Moriarty, who had been working on an atomic switch.

And below are two videos showcasing the work of PToV regulars Pete Licence and Steve Liddle.

Of course, Test Tube (another of my science video sites) is full of current research, including this project by Seamus Garvey.

And here's more work showcased on Test Tube, this time its Ed Lester.

All the scientists and engineers in these videos work at the University of Nottingham.

Bunsen Birthday

We didn't realise until today that it was Robert Bunsen's birthday.

It was Google's logo, specially adapted for the occasion, that alerted us.

So I rushed off the the university and filmed a quick video with The Professor.

Bunsen of course is best known for his famous burner. But he also discovered two of our favourite elements - caesium and rubidium.

We also posted this video of extra footage to Test Tube.

And here's an old video I'd posted with a Bunsen Burner lighting in slow motion, which was made when I was testing a new camera!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

How to build an electron gun

The latest addition to Backstage Science is a video about electron guns.

It is fronted by accelerator physicist Lee Jones, from the STFC's Daresbury Laboratory.

Not only do they have a cool name, electron guns are jam-packed full of cool science and engineering.

They involve insanely high voltages and the examples in this video even include exotic elements like caesium and arsenic!

Here's the video:

Friday, 25 March 2011

Eyes on the Sky

A telescope with 24 eyes.

That's what will be created when work is finished on the KMOS instrument and it's attached to the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

KMOS stands for K-band Multi-object Spectrometer (I don't write the names, I just report them!)

Basically it sees in infrared. And it has 24 little arms which move around the field of vision and focus in on specific galaxies, taking detailed spectra of each of them.

Only 16 of the arms had been installed when the picture on this blog was taken.

The whole thing has to be kept in a giant metal drum to ensure it is super freezing cold.

For more information, watch the Backstage Science video below:

I think the most amazing thing is that the huge instrument will be flown to Chile on an Antanov plane!

Anyway... Here are some extra questions and answers (about more general stuff) with Michele, the instrument scientist who appears in the video:

The Professor Portrait

Wow, this portrait of The Professor is pretty impressive.

It's by an artist named Laurence who also happens to enjoy our videos.

He has observed some great details, including The Prof's leather jacket and periodic table tie... And the hair of course!

Laurence's original blog entry at

Click here for another artist's impression of The Prof.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Alpha Beta and Gamma

I think the latest Sixty Symbols video is really fascinating.

Not only does it delve into some cool space stuff and physics - but it deals with humans, jokes and the academic process.

To me, it shows how a silly joke got out of hand and has cast a shadow over one of the most important papers in cosmology.

The first half of this video deals with the science. The second half deals with the issue of authorship and, more importantly, non-authorship.

And here is some extra footage from Test Tube, which deals with more of the science...

Some curious pictures

Sometimes our fans and viewers send pictures I just cannot ignore - and some have come in today that are well worth sharing.

First, this one from a Twitter used called @kritzikratzi

He informs us that he is using Professor Poliakoff as his new university folder icon... And sent photographic proof.

I like it, but I see enough of The Professor each day and don't think I could handle him staring out of my computer screen.

The other picture which caught my eye today was a tattoo.

It comes from a viewer named Matt (pictured right), but I don't know if it the same Matt who sent us the rock pictures earlier today!?

Matt said: "My name is Matt and I am a fan of periodicvideos. To this e-mail I have attached a photo of me watching the new carbon video as well as a photo of my tattoo of a caffeine molecule. Thank you for the great videos and keep up the good work!"

Here's the tattoo... Looks real to my untrained eye!

You can send me pictures at

But be warned... They may appear in our videos!

Oh, and you can see a long list pictures from behind the scenes on periodicvideos at our Flickr page.

More about Matt's mystery rock

Earlier today I blogged about a mysterious rock discovered by one of our Canadian viewers.

He was appealing for help identifying it.

Plenty of people have been offering opinions, ranging from meteorites to nickel... or maybe slag from a furnace.

There's been a bit of chat on the PToV Facebook page.

And I showed the pictures to Professor Poliakoff from the Periodic Table of Videos... He said: "The circular depressions suggest to me that it might be slag from a blast furnace. Slag is quite light and has holes from the gas bubbles coming out of the process. However, I'm not a mineral expert."

I also showed our cult hero technician Neil Barnes, who said he'd like a bit of the sample sent to him for testing!

Many people have asked for more information about the rock to help with identification.

The viewer (a chap named Matt) has supplied these details:

Coin used in picture is Canadian 25 cent.
Does not float in water.
It is not magnetic at all.
It was found on St. James Street, in Sault Ste Marie Ontario, Canada.
I have measured it at 7 centimeters long, and 3 centimeters wide.
It leaves no visible coloration if I scratch a piece of paper with the rock.
It is very hard, as I tried to use a metal file to scratch it but it barely even made a mark.
The very few parts that did come off, did not dissolve in water, nor did they change color.
I unfortunately do not have hydrochloric acid, nitric acid or sulfuric acid to test with, sorry.

Perhaps the best advice so far came from someone on Twitter who suggested Matt "ask his local university's geology/chemistry department".

But I think it is more fun guessing here!!!

More pics of the rock.

What is this mystery rock?

One of our viewers has sent us some pictures of a substance, asking for help identifying it.

Thought I'd share it here on the blog to see if anyone can help.

The sender (called Matt) said: "I have been watching your videos and I was wondering if you could help me identify a mysterious rock I found when I was young.

"I live in Canada, Ontario, and have never found a similar rock like this before, I am hoping you can help me identify what it is.

"After many hours of searching the net, the closest resemblance I could come up with is raw Titanium.

More pics of the rock.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Science books to drool over

On a recent visit to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh I was shown the amazing Crawford Collection.

This assortment of historic science texts includes amazing tomes by Galileo, Copernicus and Newton - to name just a few.

It was amazing being able to actually thumb through first editions of the Principia and De revolutionibus - surely two of the most important science books ever written.

I can't even imagine how much money some of these books are worth.

Here's the video for Backstage Science.

Keep an eye out for the death mask... doesn't it look like Robin Williams!!!?

A selection of viewers

Great pictures continue to come in from Periodic Table of Videos viewers.

More information can be found here.

Email us at

Here are some of the latest we've received - I'll let you guess at the explanations for some of them!!!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Photos of our Viewers

We're currently collecting pictures of our viewers at The Periodic Table of Videos.

In our most recent video we showed some of the picture so far!

To send your picture, email us at

Gregor Mendel and Peas and Bees

The latest addition to My Favourite Scientist is a video about Gregor Mendel.

A monk doing science years before his time, he studied the likes of bees and pea plants.

His findings made him the true grandfather of genetics.

He was "chosen" as a favourite scientist by Yvonne Barnett, a pro vice-chancellor at Nottinghm Trent University.

Here's the video:

Friday, 18 March 2011

Messenger in Mercury Orbit

So Messenger is in orbit around Mercury... Some exciting pictures on the way we hope!

We did our Mercury video for Sixty Symbols back in 2009.

It contains plenty of references to Messenger and even looks forward to the orbital insertion in 2011 (ie: now).

Why not re-cap on that video while we wait for the new images. Here are Amanda Bauer and Mike Merrifield speaking in 2009.

Sixty Symbols videos on all the planets can be found here

Caricature of The Professor

This Caricature of Professor Poliakoff from The Periodic Table of Videos was sent by a viewer named Nick and is reproduced with his permission.

Nick said: "I'm an animation student from London and I find all these science videos really interesting. Just thought I'd do a quick drawing to show my appreciation."

We've also popped the pic on a Flickr page for a better look.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Science behind the nuclear crisis in Japan

The unfortunate events at the nuclear power station in Fukushima, Japan, has resulted in plenty of science talk in the media.

Some of it has been well explained... Some of it has not.

At periodicvideos and Sixty Symbols we've posted some videos to help clarify a few points.

Most recent is this video about millisieverts - a unit I'd never even heard of!

We also posted some extra footage from this video at Test Tube.

And as I've previously blogged, here's The Professor on how reactors work and some of the things that can go wrong.

He also discusses some of the chemistry going on, such as why people take iodine and why there have been hydrogen explosions.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

People watching on mobile phones

I received a text message from a friend yesterday saying:

"Good work, you've made YouTube featured page on iPhone with elements song."

Sure enough I checked my phone and there it was (picture below)....

Then checked the video stats which revealed over 27,000 views from mobile devices - nearly half the views to date!

That's a much higher proportion than usual!!!

Here's the video if you missed it on your mobile...

Portrait of a Senior Technician

Just posting this pic because I know you all love Neil.

Larger version is on our Flickr stream...

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Nuclear reactors in Japan

It goes without saying that the world's attention is on Japan after the earthquake and tsunami which caused so much damage.

Much of that attention is currently centred on the troubled nuclear power station in Fukushima.

We made a short video for periodicvideos helping people understand some of the problems being encountered by Japanese authorities.

Already many viewers seem to have appreciated the information, saying they've been baffled or ill-informed by traditional media coverage.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Joy of a Breakthrough (a real one)

This video's a great example of what I hope to achieve with science films.

The main part was filmed about six months ago when Professor Philip Moriarty and his colleagues were experimenting with "atomic switches".

They'd just made a breakthrough "toggling" silicon atoms.

I went along and filmed when the work was still in progress and all the equipment was active.

But the video had to remain secret until the work was written up and submitted for peer review.

With the paper now peer-reviewed and about to be published, all can be revealed.

We did a shorter five-minute version for Sixty Symbols, and a longer 15-minute version (below) for Test Tube.

For me, this is showing what science is really like...

What it really looks like in the lab... how they really feel about it.... what they really do.

And it also contains some discussion about what really happens next as papers are published.

Encouragingly, viewers have posted some great comments in response to the videos.

They seem to really want this type of in-depth and honest explanation.

Among many, this is my favourite comment so far: "You at the University of Nottingham have amounted a truly fantastic body of work on youtube, revolutionising the way science is brought to the masses in such an inspirational way. As an undergraduate electronic engineer, these glimpses of real physics in action are the motivation I crave. Before videos like this there was no way to see how science happens with the same accessibility level. I wish the whole science community made the effort to be as transparent and easy to comprehend as you guys."

Friday, 11 March 2011

Making Mini Stars

Stars are know for their extreme temperatures and conditions... yet scientists can make miniature versions here on Earth.

Well, sort of!

Ceri Brenner explained how in the latest Backstage Science video.

The mini-stars are actually tiny specks of plasma made by firing one of the world's most intense lasers, known as Vulcan.

Vulcan is a so-called petawatt laser.

It produces so much energy in such a short space of time I won't even bother writing all the big and small numbers... You can check out the official website for that stuff.

They do have one cool claim though... for 1 picosecond (0.000000000001 seconds) the laser beam is 10,000 times more powerful than Britain's National Grid.

That super intense laser is fired at a tiny target (and I mean tiny), which is unsurprisingly destroyed.

The target (pictured) is stripped of its electrons and a strange plasma forms for the briefest of moments.

That's the mini star!

The Holly Tree

The Holly is the latest addition to our series on trees, as featured on Test Tube.

Expert Markus Eichhorn explains why it has famously pointy leaves (but only on the lower branches) and why it is associated with Christmas.

We filmed a whole series of tree videos in one day last year and I am gradually uploading them... This is the 10th.

See the whole series here.

I hope to persuade Markus to film another batch soon because they are popular with viewers and he does them so effortlessly!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Cheesy Dancing

Another slightly strange but amusing message from a periodicvideos viewer!

It is this animated GIF image, from a YouTube user called poorsoulja.

It came with the following explanation:

"I was scrubbing through your video and couldn't help but to capture the moment... Its a few frames of you, put together to look like cheesy stop-motion dancing (nothing vulgar)

"Silly, I know.... this is not what I spend all my time doing, btw. :)

"Your channels are excellent! Great work..."

Here's the video it came from:

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Some questions about Beryllium

Blogger Grrlscientist is currently posting blogs about the elements, using one of our videos each week.

Her recent post about Beryllium prompted a few questions from her readers.

You can see the post in question here.

We get asked dozens of questions every day and it's impossible to deal with all of them... But in this case I asked our experts to respond.

Here is what they said:

Professor Poliakoff wrote
: "The question about the stability of atomic masses 4, 12, 16, is interesting and concerns an area miles away from my expertise, namely the synthesis or, if you prefer, birth of elements inside stars. The process which begins with H atoms and then involves fusion i.e. H2 + H2 --> He In the end the abundance of different isotopes depends on both the fusion reactions occurring in the stars and also on the relative stability of combinations of different numbers of protons and neutrons. The overall result is more complex than just multiples of 4. However, I don’t know enough to explain it further – even professors have their limits."

Dr Debbie Kays said: "There is a relatively low cosmic abundance of stable isotopes of Be (and also Li and B, actually) in the universe. The lack of 8Be is in contrast to other elements with atomic masses with multiples of 4 (such as 12C, 16O etc). 8Be is formed by helium burning reactions in stars but it is very unstable (with an extremely short half life). Although I’m not a nuclear physicist, it seems that 8Be is so unstable due to the fact that when it decays via alpha emission it produces two stable, self-contained 4He atoms which drives this decay process. In stars, the transient 8Be can also undergo a reaction with another 4He atom to form 12C, as LarryJayCee described, which can then undergo further reaction with another 4He to form 16O.

"The most stable isotope of beryllium is 9Be. This isotope is likely formed by fragmentation reactions in space, which can happen when high energy heavier elements in cosmic rays collide with the 1H or 4He atoms in cosmic gas and break apart.

"I didn’t know that there are speaker models out there which have beryllium in them! They seem to be pretty expensive from what I can see, this may well be due to the quality of the sound obtained from them, but also might due to the challenge of handling toxic beryllium reactants. I’m not sure of the advantages of having these speakers as I’m not a connoisseur of music but I assume that you can obtain higher frequencies with them due to the low molecular weight of beryllium."

Here is our Beryllium video:

A Lake of Pitch

Another great contribution from a periodicvideos viewer.

This one comes in response to an anecdote from The Professor.

In one of our videos about crude oil, The Prof casually mentioned a lake of oil in Trinidad.

Well, today I received an email from a viewer named Roy who has visited the so-called "Pitch Lake".

Roy said: "The professor mentioned Trinidad in the crude oil video. These two photos are from there - I hope he likes them.

"The lake is about 1 mile by 2 miles in size, and they have been taking (pitch) from this for years and it just keeps refilling."

Here are Roy's pictures:

And here's the video which prompted his email:

Monday, 7 March 2011

Chemical Inspiration

One of the best thing about projects like The Periodic Table of Videos is the idea that we're inspiring people to talk and think about science.

And luckily we see plenty of comments and emails to confirm this.

Here's a recent email that brought smiles to our faces:

"I just wanted to say Thank You to everyone at The Periodic Table of Videos. I saw your video on YouTube about the 'Chemical Garden', and I had to tell my Chemistry Club teacher about it. He took my idea and we used it yesterday at our Chemistry Club meeting. Thank You for you're wonderful ideas because that was probably one of the best experiments that we have done at my school! :)"

And here's the video in question:

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Elements Song (our version)

If chemistry has an "anthem" it must be The Elements by Tom Lehrer.

Since launching The Periodic Table of Videos, people have regularly emailed about the song (in case I hadn't heard of it!)

We've never referenced the song because so many people have already made video clips using Lehrer's tune and voice as soundtrack.

I couldn't see the point of just doing another one!

But recently I had some inspiration and came up with our own twist - use our scientists to sing it!

Well, they didn't really sing it - just mine the archives for them saying each element's name.

Here's the result.

At the time of writing, the scientists themselves haven't seen the film... I hope they like it?

Special credit to my friend Dave Cheeseman who was a massive help with the music and technical fine tuning. He made it work.

The Avid "video editing timeline" we created for the film is the picture atop this blog entry!

And of course thanks to Tom Lehrer... Our video is merely a tribute.

Making Neutrons and Giant Magnets

The Backstage Science project continues this week with the first videos from ISIS.

ISIS is a huge facility (and I mean huge) where they crash beams of protons into metal targets, producing neutrons.

Those neutrons are then used by scientists to probe materials at the atomic level.

Here's a video looking around the complex.

There's plenty more to come from ISIS... For example, here is just a little extra snippet discussing the powerful magnets used to steer the proton beam.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

More from the Sun

A couple of weeks ago I blogged two videos about solar science.

They were filmed with solar scientist Chris Davis as part of the Backstage Science project.

Well here are two more extra bits - including one I'm quite pleased with.

When filming with Chris I noticed some funny looking bits of paper on his desk... I asked what they were?

He explained them and I immediately said: "Well, let's make a film about them too!"

And here it is:

These unplanned little snippets are often the best!

And here are a few extra questions with Chris, covering solar stuff and science in general.

Like so many people, you'll see he identifies Sagan and Feynman as his favourite scientists!

Click here for the other two videos I have done with Chris.