Sunday, 30 September 2012

Friday Evening Discourse Running Order

Our Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution was not recorded. 

It was also unscripted, so I cannot recall exactly what we discussed. 

However there was a loose running order and a Powerpoint presentation, so here’s my best recollection of how it unfolded:

Brady Haran discussed his time working at the BBC and how it could be difficult to tell science stories in unusual ways. Cheaper technology and advent of websites like YouTube had made it possible to try new things.

He then explained The Periodic Table of Videos itself. 

It was then revealed our lecture would, in-keeping with the Royal Institution, be based on artefacts – namely objects related to our four years of film-making.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff was introduced and discussed the first object – his supercritical fluid rig which played a crucial role in his first meeting with Brady.

Neil Barnes was then introduced and the second object was discussed by Brady, the match on a stick.

Neil used it to ignite a series of balloons containing helium and hydrogen. The subsequent explosions seemed to make an impact!

Martyn discussed the next item – solidified molten iron left over from our thermite reactions. We showed brief video clips from our thermite videos.

Brady displayed a rock from the disused quarry in Ytterby and discussed the films we made there.

Martyn introduced the “small metallic collider” used in many of alkali metal videos and Neil demonstrated how it worked. Video clips were also shown.

Brady showed off “end products” from other periodicvideos reactions and played video clips. Martyn discussed these reactions in more detail.

Martyn discussed the Nobel Prize and how we have covered the prize over the past four years. He also revealed a real Nobel Prize medial loaned to us by winner Sir Paul Nurse.

An audience member helped The Professor weigh the medal.

Brady revealed The Professor’s huge collection of neckties, sharing a few anecdotes about them and revealing one damaged by white phosphorus. Martyn told more white phosphorus stories.

Neil then demonstrated a reaction of white phosphorus in a pure oxygen environment.

Brady displayed our “tiny artworks” – the periodic table etched on a hair and the Queen etched on a diamond.

Martyn discussed vodka, showing his Zirconium vodka glass and bottle of Mendeleev vodka. He discussed their role in various videos.

Neil volunteered to drink a shot of the vodka!

Brady discussed our interaction with fans, telling the stories of Eddie from Arkansas, Edoardo from Italy and Martyn the Mole. Displayed items sent in by various fans.

Martyn revealed the glass tube used in Barking Dog reactions – Neil then performed two barking dogs.

Martyn concluded the lecture by paying tribute to other members of the team and thanking our sponsors.

About 15 minutes of questions followed, covering topics such as education, assessing the success of the videos and what we plan to cover in the future.


Royal Audience and the "Silent Rogue"

Thought I’d share some highlights from the Friday Evening Discourse we gave at the Royal Institution.

In answer to people who’ve asked, the lecture was not recorded so my hazy recollections and hasty photos will have to suffice.

The formal discourse on a Friday night is a tradition founded by Michael Faraday in 1825 and it was a great honour to be invited.

Adding to the atmosphere was the fact that institution’s president, the Duke of Kent, decided to attend.

Here’s a picture I took in the lecture theatre as we set up, with the Duke’s seat in prime position… slightly intimidating!?

Our talk was entitled "From Test Tube to YouTube" and told the story of our chemistry videos.

We arrived a couple of hours before the lecture so senior technician Neil Barnes could prepare his demonstrations. Here’s Neil and Professor Martyn Poliakoff setting up:

The discourse is traditionally given by one person, but our lecture was triple act - myself and The Professor doing the talking while Neil performed demonstrations.

At 7pm there was pre-lecture drinks for invited guests.

I was fortunate to be joined by fellow YouTubers Michael Stevens (aka Vsauce) and the enigmatic CGP Grey. They offered moral support and, as Americans, seemed amused by the UK traditions.

Also in attendance was the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, who proved a very friendly chap and actually attended university with The Professor.

At 7.30pm the Duke himself arrived and spoke with myself, Professor Poliakoff and Neil.

As you’d expect he was very polite and made friendly small talk about our work, tennis and previous discourses.

As a seasoned attendee of such lectures, I asked the Duke if he had any advice. He recommended we finish on time and not talk far beyond our one-hour limit.

The Duke seemed quite down-to-earth… in a royal kind of way?!

At 7.50pm The Professor and I were locked in a side room (see below).

Apparently this is another discourse tradition, dating back many years to when a nervous speaker fled moments before his speech.

Then a few minutes before 8pm, we were led to the entrance of the famous lecture hall.

In-keeping with another tradition, the moment the clock struck 8pm the doors were dramatically swung open and we strode to the lecture bench (the very one graced by Michael Faraday) and started our presentation.

Another tradition (which I was told about only moments beforehand) was that I had to immediately start speaking without saying “hello”, “good evening” or introducing myself.

This felt odd, but I’d been thoroughly warned not to break this great tradition! Apparently a breach would be so dramatic it would likely make newspaper headlines the next day!?

I had no intention of becoming so infamous.

But if you’ve never done it, I can assure you it seems very strange to stand in front of a large audience of strangers and not greet them or say who you are!

We had no script or firm plan, but from memory my opening words were: “I used to be a video journalist for the BBC…” And so it began.


The lecture was supposed to last exactly one hour, and we finished pretty much on the dot (about 30 seconds under, I believe).

This was doubtless due to the skill of Professor Poliakoff, who padded things out nicely with his endless catalogue of anecdotes.

Sneakily snapped during our lecture

The discourse was followed by 15 minutes of audience questions – and then we were done.

I think one of the highlights of the night was when the Duke approached us immediately after, shaking hands and offering kind comments.

As he shook Neil’s hand, he said: “Well done, silent rogue.”

I like the idea that Neil is the first ever speaker at the Friday Evening Discourse who didn't actually speak!

And "silent rogue" could be a good new nickname for Neil.

We were then led to a side room for a very posh dinner with the Duke and other VIP guests.

It was very pleasant and everyone was kind, assuring us they’d enjoyed the lecture.

A few people passed on their contact details and hopefully we will have further contact, perhaps leading to new opportunities for The Periodic Table of Videos.

Another memorable moment was Sir Mervyn King taking out his pen and asking for the periodicvideos URL so he could watch some videos.

It was also a cheeky bonus to have my photo taken with a real Nobel Prize medal, kindly loaned to us by Sir Paul Nurse for the lecture.

It was a great honour to give a Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution, following in some far more famous footsteps. Another surreal twist on the periodicvideos journey.

Historic discourse

Our performance, courtesy of the RI Twitter

For those who attended, I am sorry we were not able to stay afterwards and speak with you all (we were whisked away to dinner).

But we really appreciate that some of our long-time viewers were in the audience.

For those who could not make it, here is a link to my best recollection of what we discussed and demonstrated.

Now I can take the tie off!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Everest Plane Crash - 9N-AHA

Saddened to read this morning of a terrible plane crash, killing trekkers on the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla (the launch pad for Everest treks).

I did the same flight last April.

It was extra sobering to learn the plane which crashed (9N-AHA) was the same one we flew on.

It's a notorious flight, but also a busy route each morning. It bustles with adventurous people wanting to experience the world's highest peaks.

Some pictures from my flight on the ill-fated Sita Air plane below.

Thoughts are with the families of those who died on its final flight.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Girlfriend says no!

Regular viewers of Numberphile will know we've been featuring viewers who roll a "one-roll Yahtzee" - odds of 1 in 1296.

This evening I have been sorting through the next batch, which include some rather exceptional and quirky contributions.

Stay tuned for those ones!!!

But amoung the submissions was a message that made me smile. And I could relate to it.

Here it is, from a chap named Gareth:

"Just like to say that I stumble on your site a couple of months ago and I religiously keep checking your site for new videos. 

"I'm close to watching all your videos and I love them. 

"I was thinking of entering some Yahtzee videos, however I was watching the video with my girlfriend and before I could say anything she said no and walked away."

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Preparations for Lecture

Took these pics last night as Professor Martyn Poliakoff and Neil Barnes prepared for our lecture on Friday night at the Royal Institution.

It is at 8pm on Friday the 28th of September.

If you are in (or near) London, come see Neil dressed in a suit and bow tie - a once in a lifetime experience!?

Friday, 21 September 2012

More fun with the Nepal Flag

A while back we posted a Numberphile video about the constitutional instructions for drawing the flag of Nepal.

I subsequently received a few emails.

These include three from a chap named Edward Rousso who followed the same instructions and used Illustrator.

Here are his pics as they came through:

For comparison, here's a Flickr link to Dr James Grime's hand-drawn version as seen in the video.

And finally, here's a video response to our video by a chap named Simon Tyler who used something called GeoGebra.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A Special Visitor from Italy

I'm on holiday at the moment, but was just CC'd on a great email from Professor Martyn Poliakoff in Nottingham.

Here it is, with some pictures too. (The email was addressed to Chris Rudd, pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Nottingham)

Dear Chris,

Yesterday (Sept 15th) was, I think, the best day that we have ever had for PTOV because a 10-year old Italian fan, Edoardo, was brought specially to Nottingham by his mother as his 10th birthday present.

Edoardo attended the demonstration lecture for A-level students, sitting in the front row, and putting up his hand to answer questions!  

He brought some biscuits as a present for the team, and cards for Pete, Sam, Debbie and me.  

After the lecture he visited my office and went to lab with Pete Licence. 

With Pete Licence in the lab

An experiment with Pete

With The Prof (details of the card below)

Edoardo has watched all the videos, quoting from them, and even reciting perfectly the limerick about DDT

His mother said that last year Edoardo chose "Chemistry" as the conversation topic for his English test at school.

It was really a moving experience. It's occasions like this that makes it all worthwhile.


Edoardo's card

In the chemistry lunch room

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Your Mind Is Like Soup

The other day I received this tantalizing picture via Twitter.

It is a quotation at the front of a master's thesis.

Quoting Professor Poliakoff was Lasse Nørfeldt, who was about to complete his masters in pharmaceutical sciences.

He was on the eve of defending his thesis and did not elaborate on the tweet, promising he would do so later.

Well he has since emailed with more details and pictures.

"I started studying pharmacy in 2006 at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Copenhagen University.

"During my first semester I had a course in fundamental chemistry and was given the task of learning all the atomic numbers in the periodic table (except the Lanthanoids and Actinoids).

"I found a site that had some flashcards and actually learned all the numbers (most I forgotten by now).

"During my search I came across the periodic videos channel and LOVED it!  I believe that this was my first youtube subscription.

"During my study I have continued to watch this channel (along with the other channels that emerged) even though I don't so much chemistry any more.

"I am very inspired by the way that the professor and the other scientists communicate the scientific knowledge.

"They really boil it down to an interesting soup of knowledge. During my Master's Thesis I was dealing a lot with scientific knowledge from other disciplines such as computer science, material engineering and mechanical physics.

"It was very difficult to understand since much of this knowledge is not so common in pharmaceutical science and I therefore kept reminding me of my favorite citation: Your mind is like soup...

BTW: My favorite dish is soup and opponent really liked my thesis...

PS: Could you please make a video about air pressure and altitude? My mind needs to be stirred again. 

Yours Sincerely / Venlig hilsen Lasse Nørfeldt

The quote is from this video...

Friday, 7 September 2012

A Little Rubik's Game to Play

On Numberphile we're uploading a series of videos about the Rubik's Cube.

One of the highlights is a huge compilation of videos submitted by our viewers.

Hidden away in this monster video are all sorts of gems...

Can you find or count the following:

How many people are solving the cube with blindfolds?

How many cubes break while being solved?

Can you see me (Brady)?

Can you see three shots which feature the world's top speedsolver Feliks Zemdegs?

Can you see Michael from the well-known YouTube channel Vsauce?

Can you spot Brady's fitness instructor Phil!!!?

Speaking of fitness, can you see someone solving the cube on a treadmill?

How many animated "self-solving" cubes appear?

Can you spot the underwater cube?

Most of our cubers are male... But how many females can you see?

Someone cubing while singing along to a Justin Bieber song?

Can you see the cuber with the brown Numberphile website on his screen?

How many cubes appear which are not the standard 3x3?

Did you spot a magic trick?

Can you guess which video is a self-admitted forgery (not the "magic trick" but someone else not really doing it - and this doesn't include sped-up videos which appear!)

And finally, how many Rubik's Cube appear in the video (not including he same cube being shown twice at different parts of the video)?


Saturday, 1 September 2012

A nice story from Barry

I think anyone following Numberphile will be familair with my current One-Roll Yahtzee obsession.

The odds of rolling five matching dice are 1 in 1296.

Anyway, I recently received an email from a chap named Barry Smith.

Here it is:

My name is Barry Smith and I really enjoy what you guys are doing on Numberphile. Ive been keeping up with all of your one roll Yahtzee videos, and they made me want to share with you a related story.

Almost 3 years ago, I was at a bar here in Kansas City, MO called the Hiway House. And I witnessed my Brother-in-law roll a One Roll Yahtzee as part of an on going bar jackpot.

It has been a while since it happened, but I believe you got 2 rolls for $1, but the catch was that you got only one attempt per night.

Anyways, I was right next to my Brother-in-law and witnessed him roll a One Roll Yahtzee with 6s on his first attempt. He won around $850 cash.

It was one of the luckiest things I have seen in my life.

Anyways, after watching your one roll yahtzee videos it made me want to dig up the picture I took of his roll and share it with you. Attached is the picture.

Thanks again for Numberphile, Keep up the good work.

Amazing Yahtzees

The amazing one-roll Yahtzees continue from viewers of Numberphile.

One viewer names Seth (right) not only sent in a Yahtzee - he also included a remarkable moment when one dice came to rest on top of another (links directly to the moment).

Some viewers seemed unimpressed - but I think it's far rarer than rolling five matching dice.