Author Archives: Stephen

To be or not to be exceptional?

I can’t remember how I came across this video from philosopher Alain de Botton, but I feel seen. Like many academics, I guess, I have always prized scholarly achievement. And of course, within our systems of research assessment, we are … Continue reading

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Books of 2020

I made what I think was a smart move at the beginning of 2020. Instead of waiting until the year’s end and then struggling to recall what I thought of the books I had read, I created a Twitter thread of … Continue reading

Posted in Book Review | 4 Comments

Photographs of 2020

My computer tells me that I took over 2,400 photographs in 2020. Here are my favourites. I’m afraid I have failed to whittle them down to fewer than seventy-five. Click on the first image, taken on a winter walk on … Continue reading

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No, DeepMind has not solved protein folding

(Please note that this post was updated on 12th Dec 2020 – see below) This week DeepMind has announced that, using artificial intelligence (AI), it has solved the 50-year old problem of ‘protein folding’. The announcement was made as the … Continue reading

Posted in Protein Crystallography, Science | 23 Comments

Nature’s new open access option – a few first thoughts

A news article published online in Nature this morning discusses the announcement of new open access options in the Nature family of journals. The details are in the article, but the basic story (written by Holly Else) is that authors … Continue reading

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Teaching online: how to use an iPad as a whiteboard

Last week I gave my first online tutorials in which I needed to scribble on a whiteboard and show the students their exam scripts from last term, which had been posted to my home. To solve both of these problems, … Continue reading

Posted in Science | 5 Comments

In defence of the bureaucracy of equality, diversity and inclusion

The UK government’s new policy to reduce bureaucracy in research institutions aims at an easy target. But the bonfire of administration lit by the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, risks burning down the foundations of much-needed efforts to value … Continue reading

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Our Beirut Brexit

At 6:18 on the afternoon of Tuesday 4th August a huge store of ammonium nitrate exploded at the port of Beirut. The blast, one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history, killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands more, and … Continue reading

Posted in Communication, International, Science & Politics | 3 Comments

In our elements

I have been coming to the Lake District on and off for much of my life. It is my favourite corner of England. I first came in 1981 when I was seventeen, as one of half a dozen venture scouts … Continue reading

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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 … Continue reading

Posted in Astronomy | 2 Comments

Augmented reality: me and my hearing aids

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. … Continue reading

Posted in Communication, Technology | 16 Comments

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, the precise direction of travel … Continue reading

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