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Sounds of the suburbs

I’m sitting outside our apartment at Podere Castellaccia, the evening sun still quite high as the maestrale warms the porch.

Our apartment is Grecale, the colder, northeast wind. Castellaccia is a fattoria and azienda vinicola; their olive oil is superb and at 5 Euro a bottle from the cellar door, why would you drink sangiovese from anywhere else?

Alfonzo’s father, Sinibalda, founded the establish Continue reading

Posted in assiolo, Assiuolo, bats, comet, Holiday, Italy, Me, neowise, owl, wine | Leave a comment

Remembering Rosalind Franklin

ROSALIND FRANKLIN 1920-1958 Pioneer of the study of molecular structures including DNA lived here 1951-1958.jpg
By Spudgun67Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Everyone knows a little something about Rosalind Franklin, whose hundredth birthday it would be today. Some may have little sense of her beyond the belief that she was cheated out of a Nobel Prize by the dastardly actions of Maurice Wilkins at Kings London and, even more, by the cavalier attitude of Jim Watson aided and abetted by Francis Crick. B Continue reading

Posted in DNA, francis crick, History of Science, Jim Watson, Women in science | Leave a comment

A perfect experiment and the poop factor

In the midst of the pandemic, it was time for me to plant my tomatoes. Being unwilling to visit local nurseries for obvious reasons, I did the next best thing and ordered 12 tomato plants online. The drawback was that the selection was limited, and the only plants available then were cherry tomato plants. Not a terrible thing.

Last year, I planted 7 plants adjacent to one area of the backup of my Continue reading

Posted in controls, experiments, poop plant, Research, science, tomatoes | Leave a comment

Uncertain Times

We live currently in a world of great and sometimes terrifying strangeness, where the rules and customs by which we have lived for so long have been turned upside down. Some people may be focussing on whether they need to don smart shirts and make-up on their Zoom calls (the media seems very hung up on our changing dress code in the virtual meeting world), and others whether ‘science’ is going to Continue reading

Posted in Clarissa Farr, Communicating Science, COVID-19, education, politicians | Leave a comment

Comet NEOWISE – catch it if you can

Comet NEOWISE has come but not yet gone. If there is no cloud cover for the next night or two, you might be able to catch its wispy presence low in the north-west before it fades from view.

Don\’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), to give this heavenly traveller its full name. It was only discovered on March 27 this year. There is no previous record of NEOWISE in hu Continue reading

Posted in Astronomy | Leave a comment

Augmented reality: me and my hearing aids

Reality augmentation: a pair of hearing aids

My new best buds…

When I started out on this blog back in ’08 I made a passing observation about my age, having noticed I was increasingly lifting my glasses to read the date on my watch. Not long afterwards I upgraded to varifocals. Now I have another upgrade to report: I have acquired hearing aids.

It was not an easy transition. Continue reading

Posted in communication, technology | Leave a comment

UK R&D Roadmap 2020: big picture poses big questions

The latest in a long line of R&D strategy documents from the UK government reveals some promising evolution in its strategic thinking. But while it touches on a wide range of complex and interacting challenges, but the precise direction of travel is still unclear


It’s easy to be cynical – and hard to see past the immediate threats posed by the government’s multiple mishandling of the Covid-19 Continue reading

Posted in Science & Politics | Leave a comment

Is Bigger Always Better?

Social distancing may have been reduced to 1(+)m – whatever that may mean – but that is still going to impose significant constraints on what a bench scientist can do. Fume cupboards in a line – how many of them can be accessed in a given session? How many shifts can you safely fit in during a day, with appropriate technical support to hand? How easily/safely can you clean a microscope between use Continue reading

Posted in bullying, careers, group size, pandemic, Science Culture, UKRI | Comments Off on Is Bigger Always Better?

Echoes Down the Years of Education in a Pandemic

Recently, the Prime Minister announced an ‘apprentice guarantee’ saying ‘I think it’s going to be vital that we guarantee apprenticeships’.  Sounds good. How should that be translated into practice? Certainly, at the moment apprentices are having a tough time of it under the conditions of the pandemic, with businesses going under and on-site learning massively disrupted if not impossible in Continue reading

Posted in cultural capital, disadvantage, education, Hashi Mohamed, pandemic | Comments Off on Echoes Down the Years of Education in a Pandemic

Pandemic Planning

At the start of our curriculum revision process three years ago I read many pedagogical articles about project-based learning. In addition to espousing the benefits and relating success stories, some of these articles detailed risks; difficulty in ensuring that all students are exposed to the key concepts, problems with adjusting to the learning style especially for first-generation college studen Continue reading

Posted in education, Materials Science | Comments Off on Pandemic Planning

Where’s Your Place in the World?

I don’t suppose there are many people in the country who currently feel grounded, confident they know how their lives will unfold and happy with that trajectory. At the moment, uncertainty seems the name of the game, responsibilities multiply and jobs – assuming you still have one – are changing radically. Not so long ago, wfh was an acronym that would have conveyed nothing and Zoom more usually m Continue reading

Posted in Clarissa Farr, pandemic, Science Culture, social distancing | Comments Off on Where’s Your Place in the World?

The Flattened Curve

The lockdown might have flattened the curve of infection and death, but it has also flattened the curve and swell of life. Existence has shrunk to fit within four walls; life ‘outside’ has largely been compressed within the flat rectangles of my phone and computer screens.

Life in lockdown

You might think that, as an academic, I would revel in the life of the mind, the kind many of us now have to accept whether w Continue reading

Posted in science | Comments Off on The Flattened Curve

In which we venture out

We are poised on the edge.

As the world teeters between spring and summer, cloaked in lush green and bursting into flower, there is a sense that our pandemic lockdown is coming to an end. Not all at once, of course, and not anywhere close to normal, but it is happening.

Freedom: a secluded swimming hole on the River Darent, last week, just before diving in

Continue reading
Posted in academia, Domestic bliss, Joshua, Teaching, work-life balance | Comments Off on In which we venture out

Just Getting By: Coping and Learning

The pandemic is teaching each of us individually many things. Some may be things we might not want to know about ourselves: how resilient we are; how well we cope with four walls and a screen, perhaps with no other adult in sight; and how to stay optimistic in the face of global uncertainty. Other things may be more immediately useful. In that category I would certainly include mastering a range o Continue reading

Posted in careers, CV, Gaby Hinsliff, pandemic, Science Culture, Winston Churchill, Zoom | Comments Off on Just Getting By: Coping and Learning

In the shadow of the great narcissist

Having written my last post titled “Preliminary lessons from a global pandemic” on March 8, before my self-imposed sequestration at home for the past 6 weeks, I find it too depressing to write a sequel on additional lessons. Much has been said about the complete failure of leadership in the US, and unfortunately, most of it is true. In fact, it’s often far worse than one could se Continue reading

Posted in Coronavirus, home, isolation, narcissist, recluse, Research, science, seclusion, US | Comments Off on In the shadow of the great narcissist