Thursday, 28 April 2011

Wormholes, Portals and Extra Footage

After a few viewer requests, we decided to do a Sixty Symbols video about the new game Portal 2.

It's a game with a lot of science content.

Physicist Professor Phil Moriarty agreed to buy the game and play it - then give his verdict.

Fellow Professor Ed Copeland (a particle physicist and cosmologist) hadn't played the game, but agreed to chip in because he knew a bit about wormholes!

As you can see from the video, I made a few cuts (and made a few jokes about it at Phil's expense). So it was only fair I also upload some of the extra footage.

Here's more from Phil.

And more from Ed.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Over the Daily Allowance?

Seems I overdosed on alcohol-related videos yesterday.

First there was this video about the chemistry of alcohol for The Periodic Table of Videos.

Then there was this one for Backstage Science about Champagne moments on a particle accelerator.

I'm not an alcohol advocate or opponent, but here are more of my science videos in which alcohol has featured in some way...

New Jersey School

Always love getting photos from entire classes that watch our videos.

This 7th Grade Class is from New Jersey:

More class photos at this link.

Email us at

Monday, 25 April 2011

Sixty Symbols - The Easter Egg

Regular viewers will be aware of our recent Easter egg-themed series.

You can see them all at this link.

But they've been trumped by this egg given to one of our stars - Professor Roger Bowley.

Professor Bowley received the egg as a gift for Easter and his recent milestone birthday.

As you can see, it's decorated with some of the symbols used in our project so far.

Professor Bowley tells me it was made by one of our viewers - Sarah from Wildberry chocolates! Click here for a better look at the egg.

Below is Professor Bowley's video from our recent egg series.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Eggs and Curing Cancer

Okay, no more egg puns.

But pleased to say we've finished our collection of "Easter Specials for Sixty Symbols".

They've been well received and attracted some attention from various media and bloggers.

Here are some examples from a Guardian Blogger and New Scientist.

Looking at the YouTube comments, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

But of course you get a few comments about wasted time. A typical example, using a rather tired cliche:

"This is what scientists do instead of trying to cure cancer"

These comments tend to get hounded down by other viewers, who respond with comments like:

"Why people are moaning about this is why they haven't cured cancer and about wasting time... for all anyone knows this was done in free time and even the most random things can bring out good ideas... plus no one can expect anyone to be solidly working all day"

It's not an issue that bothers me. But sometimes I feel like responding.

First I'd say all videos like this are done in downtime. We wait for opportunities when the equipment's not being used for real science.

Sometimes we wait for weeks or months.

For example, the MRI scanner (a research scanner which isn't used for medical work) was used after work on a Tuesday night - and we waited weeks for the chance.

And outreach is an important part of science... In fact, "public engagement" is REQUIRED when most science is funded these days!

So rather than simply visiting a local school and explaining your job - why not be creative and find new audiences?

These egg videos have clearly reached a mixed audience.

And while it's not always showcasing REAL research, it is based on real work.

The videos contain information about the equipment, principles and work of scientists - sometimes we've just been subtle about it.

I'm sure some of our viewers have subsequently sought more information about biomechanics or MRI or pendulums or extra dimensions.

As one young viewer wrote: "Thanks for this, tomorrow I will ask some of my teachers on college about this."

At the very least we've YouTube viewers to think about science... And that can't be bad?

Who knows? Maybe one of those youngsters will go on to cure cancer one day!?

Oh, and we've demonstrated one other important fact that's often overlooked...

Scientists are just like everyone else - they like to have fun at holiday time!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Roger's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II (her real birthday, as opposed to the day everyone in England celebrates it).

But more importantly it is the birthday of Professor Roger Bowley, one of Sixty Symbols regular contributors.

He's also the owner of many loud shirts - but let's not discuss that!

It was a milestone birthday (somewhere midway between between 60 and 70) and this means Professor Bowley's retirement from academic life is imminent.

However today he promised me he'll still be chipping in with contributions to Sixty Symbols.

It seems like just yesterday I was knocking on his office door and introducing myself as a guy planning to make videos about physics.

I'd been told he might be good at it.

Roger seemed bemused but eventually agreed to do it.

And he is good at it.

Here are just some of his videos since that fateful day:

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

bis (bis (N-trimethyl silylimino diphenyl phosphorano) methanide uranium iodo) toluenediide

I don't have much to say about this video.

I just wanted to use the compound's name as a blog title to see what it looked like!

This is Steve Liddle explaining a paper he published in Nature Chemistry about "Magnetic Uranium" and the (slim) possibility of this notorious element being used in computer hard drives.

Professor Poliakoff did not work on this research, but we took advantage of his explaining skills.

Its always good to feature the real work being done by the stars of our videos.

It was also interesting to see that Steve had made a new compound but couldn't remember its name.

I don't blame him.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Egg Crash Test Stats

As part of a Sixty Symbols Easter series, we've performed a series of "crash tests" on Cadbury Creme eggs.

They were performed at the University of Nottingham's Biomechanics Lab.

Dr Donal McNally, who oversaw our light-hearted "eggsperiments", has subsequently sent me the following facts and figures. The stuff at the end about calories is amazing!


"Here is the load deformation graph for the creme egg compression test you filmed. The egg deformed about 5.8mm (12%) before it started to fail. Once a crack had started, the load required to continue the failure dropped until the egg had compressed to about half its original height. After that, the force required to displace the gunge sideways to allow continued compression started to go up. The energy to initial failure was about 0.3J compared to 712,000J of chemical energy (170 Calories) it contains.

Click for bigger version of graph


"At higher speeds (such as the Charpy tester) there is less time for the viscous centre to move out of the way so it has to move faster and therefore the viscous losses are much greater. In our case it turned out to be 11-14J compared to the 1.8J in the compression test for a similar level of disruption.

"The drop tower was simply overkill. The energy I wrote down on the bit of paper (150J) was the kinetic energy of the impacting weight. This is much greater than 14J. Interestingly the weight of the weight (as it were) is about the same as the quasi-static failure load in the original compression test.

"The kinetic energy of a 39g egg at 11ms-1 is 2.4J (the crash track test). The impact contact time is very short and the energy considerably smaller that that observed in the Charpy test. This is why the egg was hardly damaged.

"The difference between chemical energy density and mechanical energy density is huge. A creme egg would have to be moving at more than 6000ms-1 (Mach 20) for its kinetic energy to match its chemical energy. This is why petrol (and creme eggs) make excellent fuel. Similarly, your Mini car would need to do 77mph to have the same kinetic energy as the chemical energy in a creme egg."

By the way, here's what we did to some Creme Eggs last year in the name of chemistry!!!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

A Big YouTube Thing

Last week I was in London for some filming.

But I also went to an event hosted by YouTube called "Becoming YouTube Stars".

I'd been invited on to a panel of established YouTubers to answer questions and give some advice to other film-makers.

Here's the sofa the panelists sat on...

And here's the view from the sofa...

Sitting alongside me were four other YouTubers - their channels are Tomska, Simon's Cat, Liviesays and Human Beatbox. More about them below.

As each of us were introduced, a brief video was shown... Here's mine:

It's hard to say if any of our advice was useful... There's no real formula to success on YouTube because everyone approaches it so differently.

However it's probably good for everyone just to mingle and talk with like-minded people.

And for me it was nice to finally meet some of YouTube staff face-to-face!

I couldn't stay for the whole day, but was struck by how enthusiastic - and young - all the film-makers were.

I'm not sure many of the attendees were too interested in videos about chemistry and physics, etc.

Most of them seemed far more interested in comedy, music and animation.

However a few people approached me afterwards and said they enjoyed periodicvideos and sixtysymbols - so that was nice.

Far more popular were my fellow panelists, whose work I've since looked at.

Tom Ridgewell from Tomska was an unassuming guy but his videos are fantastic and hugely popular.

He and his fellow film-makers are clearly having way too much fun - here's just one of Tom's videos which tickled me.

The guys from Simon's Cat have created a phenomenon and are really nice - just like their films.

I'm not exactly the target market for Liviesays, who gives make-up advice, but she was very sweet - and, yes, her make-up was very well applied!

Here's one of her films:

And finally, some beatboxing...

Juan's Metallic Mystery

It is impossible for us to answer every question and email we receive (especially technical ones).

But occasionally I like to share questions here on the blog and see if our informal "science community" can help.

The latest puzzle comes from someone named Juan....

His email is as follows (and for the record, we DO NOT condone the opening of batteries!):

I opened a 'Super Heavy Duty Battery' , to get the Zinc, Manganese Dioxide and graphite. After doing that I found a piece of metal and I do not know what is that, here are some properties I experimented:
- Bad Conductivity of Electricity and Thermal.
- It is light and it is a sheet.
- It does not melt at 700 - 900 K , when I heat it, it seems to form some kind of Oxide on the metal and I can get rid of it easily.
- It does not react with HCl.
I thought it to be an alloy but these previous properties made me think of Titanium, but it is quite expensive so it would be strange.
I hope you can help me. Thank you! And very interesting videos.

A Golden Collection

A few videos I've uploaded this week involve that most captivating of elements - gold.

First there was the famous gold foil experiment which Ernest Rutherford used to discover the atomic nucleus.

Essentially he used a radioactive source to fire alpha particles through a thin gold foil.

The fact so few of them were deflected helped him deduce that the atom most mostly empty space.

I filmed a re-creation of the experiment for Backstage Science.

Secondly was a video about a gold nanoparticle for Sixty Symbols.

The video includes some nice footage zooming in on the particle with a transmission electron microscope, so I posted that raw footage to Test Tube.

So that's it for this week's videos, but here are some videos about gold that I've posted over the past year or two!!!

They're all from The Periodic Table of Videos.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Elements to the Max

Regular viewers with good memories will recall our interview with Max Whitby - The Element Collector.

At the time, Max invited us to his labs in London for more chemistry adventures.

Well today I finally paid him a visit and we recorded some interesting bits and pieces.

To whet your appetites, here's a pic of Max wearing some extreme safety gear (yes, a motorcycle helmet).

Below is the old interview with Max.

The new stuff, including more about Max's work, will be coming soon.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Periodic Videos in a Museum

The Periodic Table of Videos is being used as a museum exhibit in Brazil.

Our videos form part of a chemistry installation at the Museum of Life, in Rio de Janeiro.

The museum is part of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation.

People choose an element from an interactive table then watch our video about it.

It works by taking the cube of your chosen element and inserting into a slot next to the TV (see pic below).

The videos have been translated into Portuguese, the main language of Brazil.

The museum created the exhibit in co-operation with us here in Nottingham. We're hoping to show you more about it soon.

Of course if you happen to speak Portuguese, here are full details of how to watch our online videos with captions.

The Museum of Life is not he only museum which displays our videos.

The Catalyst Museum, in Widnes, England, also has a small display using the videos.

And the University of Nottingham's Technology Demonstrator has a cool touch screen version of our website (pic below).

Monday, 11 April 2011

A sneak peek inside Diamond

Backstage Science has returned to the Diamond Light Source - an immense synchrotron facility just outside Oxford, UK.

This time the machine was switched off for a month of major upgrades.

Not great for scientists who want to use Diamond's light beams for research - but a golden (and necessary) opportunity for engineers to make improvements.

And also a golden opportunity for me to get inside and see it up close.

When the machine's operating it's far too dangerous to go near the electron beam, which gives off powerful radiation.

And here are some earlier videos from Diamond.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Chemistry Classes watching Periodic Videos

We're always pleased to hear from students and teachers who report using the Periodic Table of Videos in the classroom.

And over time we're gradually accumulating some photographic and video proof.

Here are a few examples from around the world (Australia, US and Serbia).

We'd love to collect more... Send us your photos at

Prototype Particle Accelerators

Really enjoyed making these two recent videos at the ALICE and EMMA particle accelerators.

They are based at the STFC's Daresbury Laboratory.

Peter Williams, who features in the videos, is clearly a man passionate about his work and did a great job explaining it all.

I've filmed inside a few accelerators, and thing I loved about ALICE and EMMA was how all the "working bits" were exposed.

It was a real prototype, with all the technology "hanging out", as Peter described it.

Stay tuned for more films from Backstage Science.

Our mystery supporter's big adventure

A largely unsung hero of our video projects is Professor Chris Rudd, a pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Nottingham.

His help has been vital to various video series, from Test Tube to Bibledex to Periodic Table of Videos to Sixty Symbols.

He's pictured (right) with a trophy won by Test Tube a few years back.

Well, later this year Professor Rudd will be doing a 13-day charity bike ride.

He'll be riding alongside some of the other top bosses from the university.

They'll be covering the length and breadth of Britain, doing the traditional ride from John O'Groats (at the northeast tip of Scotland) to Land's End (at the southwest tip of England).

If you'd like to sponsor him, click here (and tell him you like the videos!)

The proceeds raised will go to the Sue Ryder Care Centre for the Study of Supportive, Palliative & End of Life Care based at the university.

Here's more about the ride.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Answers are Coming

A while back we invited viewer questions for The Periodic Table of Videos.

Well I've finally recorded all the chemists giving their answers and arranged them by category (see the editing timeline below from my computer screen).

It's a whopping two hours and forty minutes of footage!

Obviously I won't be uploading that all at once but will break them up into individual questions, etc.

The topics have ranged from catalysts to Professor Poliakoff's hairstyle.

If the videos prove popular, I'm sure we'll take more questions.

We have done similar question sessions on the sister site Sixty Symbols and they have been incredibly successful.

Click here to see some of the questions we answered about physics and astronomy.

Here's one we did about the Large Hadron Collider:

Collect the Set?

Here's a glimpse of some new cards we've made for The Periodic Table of Videos.

There are five designs and they all have the same simple design on the reverse.

The cards will help promote the project by reminding people of our URL -

The design featuring Pete and Neil is a special "limited edition" card, with fewer of them printed!

Members of our team will use the cards to give away on their travels or at public events.

They're also being distributed at our display within the University of Nottingham's Technology Demonstrator.

Our thanks to George Rice for helping with the cards.

Periodic Prizewinners

A few members of the Periodic Table of Videos team picked up prizes lately.

The University of Nottingham's Vice-Chancellor's Achievement Award was awarded to three of our chemists - Pete Licence, Sam Tang and Martyn Poliakoff.

It was presented for their work on the PToV project.

The photo below shows Sam and Pete picking up their awards from the VC himself, Profesor David Greenaway. Professor Poliakoff was unable to attend.

Meanwhile, Professor Poliakoff's trophy cabinet must be overflowing... he has also picked up a prestigious award from the Royal Society.

The Leverhulme medal is awarded every three years for significant contributions to pure or applied chemistry or engineering, including chemical engineering.

Professor Poliakoff was recognised for work on "Green Chemistry and supercritical fluids by the application of chemistry to advance chemical engineering processes".

He was given a fancy gold medal and a £2000 gift.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Professor's Paper for Free

Last week we posted a video about The Professor's own research in the field of automatic chemistry (see video below).

Since then a number of people have been frustrated trying to read the article in "Angewandte Chemie" because it is available only by subscription.

Well, we're pleased to say the publishers have agreed to make the paper free until May 31, 2011.

Looks like they want to make sure all the YouTubers out there are fully informed!

Here's the link to download the paper (but be warned it is quite technical):

Self-Optimizing Continuous Reactions in Supercritical Carbon Dioxide

And here's the video:

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Chemistry Roadtrip to Ytterby

At a recent event I was asked which science video have I most enjoyed making.

It was a very tough question.

But on the spur of the moment I chose our video about Ytterby, in Sweden.

It was one of the very early videos from The Periodic Table of Videos - our first chemistry "road trip".

I traveled with chemist Pete Licence to the small, disused quarry where FOUR of the elements on the periodic table were first discovered.

They were Erbium, Terbium, Yttrium and Ytterbium - all named after Ytterby!

The video was uploaded quite a while ago and I noted that it had quite poor picture quality by more recent standards.

So today I went into the archives and re-uploaded the video at higher resolution. Here it is:

Pictures from the trip can be found on our Flickr site at this link.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Why Bibledex?

One of the video projects I work on is called Bibledex.

It's a series of videos about every book in the Bible and other Bible-type stuff.

Some of it was filmed in Israel.

I think some people find my passion for the project surprising because I spend so much time focused on science.

Of course I'm aware that science and religion are often at odds.

But Bibledex is not supposed to be religious - it's just a bunch of academic experts talking about a famous and important book.

Like my channels about chemistry and physics, I'm just trying to find out interesting stuff and share it with like-minded, curious people.

This comment, recently posted on the Bibledex YouTube channel, summed up the project in a more eloquent way than I ever have... So I thought I'd share it:

"This is not a channel related to religion per se, but rather the Bible, the book which has influenced more people in history than any other. 2000 years of sculpture, painting, literature, poetry, philosophy, ethics, law and yes, science, too, were influenced by this book alone, and to underestimate this book's influence or ignore it is to purposefully render yourself blind to the context of much of Western History and Civilization. Great channel."

Many thanks to "dogbishop" for posting this.

And I should point out that many (athiest) scientists who I work with have cast an eye over Bibledex and really enjoy it.

We may have covered every book in the Bible, but Bibledex will be returning in a few weeks with a new series of videos. More soon.

In the meantime, here's our video on the book of Revelation - always a favourite.

The shortest possible time?

The latest Sixty Symbols video deals with the smallest unit of time - the so-called Planck time.

It is calculated by dividing the unimaginably small Planck length by the unimaginably large speed of light.

The video was made in response to a viewer question.

For the full collection of answers to viewer questions you can click on this link.

And here's our earlier video about the Planck length.