Category Archives: conferences

Tablet shortcomings, or should I keep taking the tablet?

About a year ago I posted about taking a tablet on a research trip to Vienna in place of a laptop. I was pretty positive about the overall experience. At the time I was using a budget Coby Kyros tablet, but it managed to do almost everything I needed it to do. Since then I have replaced the Coby with a Nexus 7, and although I have taken it on some short trips, the conference I have just attended in Canterbury was the first proper test of its capabilities as a laptop replacement. How did it do? Well, the WiFi at the University of Kent was uniformly excellent, so there were none of the connectivity issues I sometimes experience. It was great for email and for reading most attachments, but I made an interesting discovery about reading and writing word documents. I have QuickOffice and Documents to Go installed, but neither were capable of reading, let alone editing and preparing, a document containing Greek letters, equations and symbols. Microsoft Office for Android still hasn’t been released for tablets (although it may appear later this year, apparently). Now, normally this wouldn’t matter, but while I was at the conference I had a couple of requests for resit exam questions. I devised some questions, and then set about trying to type them up. At that point I realised it couldn’t be done with the software installed, and I had to send apologies with a promise to get them done on my return (so a job for tomorrow). I did investigate one work round app, called CloudOn, which seemed to make reading the documents possible (a start) but it’s not available offline, which basically makes it pretty useless to me. So just now I’m wondering if I might have to go back to taking a laptop with me on trips longer than a couple of days. This could be an excuse for an upgrade (and there are some impressive lightweight options available), since my current 4 year old netbook is getting a bit flaky. This needs careful consideration, but I am a bit disappointed that the tablet couldn’t deliver in this respect, at least not yet.

Advances in the Chemistry of Disordered Solids: 13 September 2013

Pat JacobsThis post is about a symposium that took place on 13 September 2013. I haven’t been able to complete it until now, but thought it was still important to post!

The symposium was organised as a tribute to Professor Patrick Jacobs, who died on 31 March 2013. Patrick was so influential in solid state chemistry that Richard Catlow and myself felt that an occasion like this had to be organised. The speakers would represent a cross-section of those who worked with him, were influenced by him, or were taught by him. In addition we included a young researcher whose work is in the spirit of that of Patrick.

The following gave talks at the symposium:

Professor Sean Corish
Professor Richard Catlow
Professor Eugene Kotomin
Dr Rob Jackson
Professor Mike Gillan
Professor Alan Chadwick
Dr David Scanlon
Professor Mary Anne White.

As mentioned above, all of the speakers had been connected with Patrick in some way, ranging from having done postdoctoral research with him, to having been taught by him. There was a therefore a good mixture of science and of recollections of the man himself.

We were fortunate that Patrick’s oldest son, Richard Jacobs, was able to attend. He videoed the event, and the talks are all available on YouTube, as follows:

Meet and Greet
Sean Corish  
Rob Jackson  
Apologies for absence
Mike Gillan      
Alan Chadwick 
David Scanlon  
Mary Anne White
Thanks from Richard Jacobs
The symposium went very well, and was a fitting tribute to Patrick. It should be mentioned that nearly a year later, in July 2014, another symposium was held in honour of Patrick, as part of the Eurodim conference, and I mentioned this in a previous post about the conference. We are also in the process of publishing a special volume of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, also in Patrick’s honour.

Summer 2013: travel, office organisation and research

As we come to the end of summer, at least as defined by the university academic year, I thought it might be interesting to look back at what was achieved, as well as what didn’t go so well.

A week after the spring semester finished I travelled to Amsterdam to examine a PhD thesis. The research had been performed in the UK (at Huddersfield), but for various reasons it was easier to have the viva in Amsterdam . Anyway, I was very happy to travel there (see an earlier post, A Long Weekend in Amsterdam), and it gave me the chance to revisit a city I once knew quite well, and to introduce Angela to it. In fact we liked it so much that we booked a short break there in August.

Once I had returned from Amsterdam, I had a few exam board meetings to attend at Keele before my next trip, to Vienna, to continue an ongoing research collaboration with a couple of groups there. This visit was successful in that we had a useful meeting and planned a joint paper, but as I write this post it still isn’t complete, although there isn’t much more to do. I live in hope that it will be finished so I can submit it soon. The main delay is due to the fact that 3 groups are involved, and it sometimes seems that herding cats is an easier proposition than coordinating academics!

Returning from Vienna in early July coincided with the start of a period of summer weather. We had temperatures much higher than normal; 30 degrees Celsius routinely at Keele, which is very unusual. During this period I set about a much needed tidy of my office, which included emptying a filing cabinet and finally removing the piles of paper from my desk. I came up against one unexpected problem: in these days of recycling, paper recycle bins fill very quickly, and it was frequently necessary to transport bags of paper to bins elsewhere on campus! But I got there in the end, with much appreciated help from Angela. I was very pleased with my tidy desk, going as far as to photograph it and upload the photo to Facebook!

August saw our short break in Amsterdam, as mentioned earlier. This time we were able to be tourists, and amongst other things we went to a very interesting exhibition on the Dutch monarchy, as well as trying unsuccessfully to track down the houseboat where I lived for a month in 1987. Shortly after returning from Amsterdam it was time for the GBBF, as mentioned in a previous post. That took me to mid-August, giving me 3 weeks to get through a long to-do list before my next conference commitments.

The main item on the to-do list was the final organisation of the symposium that we were holding in honour of Professor Patrick Jacobs and his contributions to solid state chemistry. This was due to take place on 13 September. In discussion with Richard Catlow I finalised the programme, and we ensured that the room was booked and catering organised. I also had a talk to prepare, which was in part recollections of Patrick, and in part science. Another item on the list was to prepare a talk for a conference in Germany on lithium niobate, which was something of a challenge, since it had been some 8 years since I last worked on this material. It was a useful exercise though, in that it refreshed my memory and gave me some new ideas of what I could do in the future, including an undergraduate project for next year.

One thing which didn’t work as planned this summer was that my friend and research collaborator from Brazil, Mário Valerio, was unable to visit at the last minute. This was a problem, since I depend on our work together for most of my research activities, and I get many ideas for new projects from our discussions. But hopefully he will be able to visit later in the academic year, and in the meantime we will keep the research momentum going by Google Hangouts (as Google chats are called now!)

Anyway, I can report that the Patrick Jacobs symposium went well. Time permitting I will write a separate post on this, as I would like to go into some detail on the talks etc.

I had arranged to be in London following the German conference, and we had a nice couple of days visiting an exhibition and seeing a film (White House Down), as well as generally enjoying being in my favourite city.

As I post this, the last week before the new semester has just started. It will see me at Keele for the early part of the week, before having a final trip, this time to Glasgow, to see the ballet ‘Elite Syncopations’ and enjoy some retail therapy. Then it’s back to Keele to face the music (well the new semester anyway!)

Semester 1 2012/13: the first quarter (and before)

Hard to believe, but we are a quarter of the way through the Autumn Semester at Keele. Time for some reflection; a lot has happened since my last post which contained the Chemistry programme for the Science Festival!

The British Science Festival this year was my last one as Recorder; after 21 years of involvement with the British Science Association, and 12 years as Recorder, it seemed time to move on. Coupled with the fact that I have an excellent successor in Stephen Ashworth, who I am confident will respond to the new challenges that are confronting festival organisers (I discussed these in a post earlier this year). The Festival itself seemed to go well; Aberdeen was an excellent location, and our sessions were well-attended and well-received.

Almost immediately after the Science Festival I was off to London, Guildford and finally Oxford in quick succession, for a series of meetings and a conference. The conference in Oxford, for UK Academics involved in Nuclear Energy Research, was interesting, and held in the beautiful surroundings of St Anne’s College, Oxford. Having got back from that, I had a week to draw breath before the semester started.

So, how has it been going? I’ve been lecturing so far to the Foundation Year on General Chemistry (which I’ve been doing for a long time, and hope for a change next year), and to the Final Year Forensic Science class on Arson and Fires. As far as I can tell, the lectures are going OK, and certainly the classes are quiet and attentive, which is very much appreciated!

The main challenge has been in supervising 6 project students who are doing projects in my research area of Computational Solid State Chemistry. We have an unusually large final year, and I have previously had about half this number of project student, on average. It’s a challenge for them, because they have a very steep learning curve (unlike some other projects, they can’t use any of the things they have learned in previous years), and it’s a challenge for me to find interesting topics, and to keep all the projects running smoothly! Having never had more than 1 or 2 PhD students at any given time, I’m not used to this kind of subdivision on my time on research projects. But after 3 weeks, they are all up and running, and they will all produce sufficient results for their dissertations, which is important from the teaching point of view. And from the research viewpoint, all of the topics have the potential to lead to greater things, if time, funding and personnel permit.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I finish my Foundation Year lectures next week, while the Forensics one have some time to go. Final Year Solid State Chemistry will be the next challenge, and this year I’m hoping to use Transparent Conducting Oxides, and the latest developments in lithium ion battery technology as examples. I’ll hopefully post an update in 3 weeks or so!

Chemistry Section events at the British Science Festival (Aberdeen, 4-9 September 2012)

Here’s a summary of our main Chemistry events at the British Science Festival at Aberdeen in September:

(i) Tuesday 4th September, Fraser Nobel Lecture theatre 3: University of Aberdeen, 10:00-14:00

New medicines from nature: speakers & titles

Rob Nash                     ‘Natural Medicines in Industry’

Alan Bull                      ‘Medicines from Microbes’

Marcel Jaspars            ‘Drugs from the deep’

Kira Weissman            ‘Modifying Microbes to Make Medicines’

Alex Johnstone            ‘Food as Medicine’

Ruth Ross                    ‘Cannabis: the good, the bad and the ugly’

(ii) Wednesday 5th September, Fraser Nobel Lecture theatre 3: University of Aberdeen, 10:00-12:00

Forensic chemistry and air security: speakers & titles

Roy Harrison               ‘Airborne Particulate Matter: a Pollutant of Great Diversity and Extraordinary Toxicity’

Johannes Laube           ‘Revelations from atmospheric detectives’

Eva Krupp                    ‘Mercury – a fascinating element, but why should we be concerned about it?

(iii) Thursday 6th September, Regent Lecture Theatre: University of Aberdeen, 14:00-16:30

Scotland’s Energy Future: The Role of Chemistry: speakers & titles               

Scott Lilley                   ‘Charging Ahead with Electric Vehicles’

Laurie Peter                ‘Bio-inspired routes to using the sun’s energy to generate electricity and fuels’

John Irvine                   ‘Delivering clean energy through solid state chemistry’

For booking information etc, go to here, and for queries about the Chemistry programme, e-mail me at

The ICDIM2012 Conference, and the return trip

I wrote my last post as the ICDIM2012 conference was about to kick off. Looking back on it, it was a good conference; all the talks were of a high standard, and there was an  excellent poster session. But for me, what was most useful about the conference was the opportunity to catch up with research collaborators who I only see every few years. We planned papers and future visits, and as a result I feel our collaboration is renewed and back on a secure footing. The conference was also an excellent opportunity for my ‘team’ to present their work: Tom presented two posters, and Scott gave a talk. Well done to them for their professional efforts.

Socially the conference was excellent. Santa Fe is a friendly city of manageable size, with plenty of eating and drinking establishments. We adopted one, Junction, as our local, and the staff got to know us there. The beers from the Santa Fe Brewing Company kept us happy, and the food was similarly good. I mentioned quite a few places we went to on Facebook, so feel free to head there to see more about them. I love TexMex food, so it was easy to think I was making a brief visit to heaven!

We were slightly brought down to earth when the time came to travel home. The day before we left I got a message from American Airlines (AA) that our flight from Albuquerque to Dallas Fort Worth had been cancelled. After nearly an hour trying to phone AA reservations, I finally managed to book us onto a later flight. But the next day, on arrival at Albuquerque, we were told that even this later flight had been cancelled! There was no way we would make our international flight that day. But here I must give credit to the AA agent at Albuquerque; she booked us onto alternative flights the next day (via Phoenix and Chicago, as discussed on Facebook),  and put us up in the airport Sheraton. So although our return was delayed, we were comfortable. And finally, when we did fly back, we had first class seats from Phoenix onwards. The Chicago-London flight used a Boeing 777, and the first class cabin was truly unbelievable!

As a result, we arrived back in London about 20 hours later than expected, but our return journey, once we set out properly, was very comfortable. So you win some and lose some, but I think we won on balance!

Santa Fe and ICDIM – the first few days

My trip started on Friday 22 June 2012. I flew (with my PhD students) from London Heathrow to Dallas Fort Worth, a 10 hour flight which was as mind-numbingly boring as ever, in spite of help from my Kindle and mp3 player. On arrival at DFW, there was the usual wait at immigration, but I was admitted to the USA, with none of the problems experienced the last 3 times. The ESTA system seems to have done some good. Anyway, we had enough time to get to the terminal for our flight to Albuquerque, and the flight left on time.

On arrival at Albuquerque, we took the shuttle bus to Santa Fe, and checked into the Sage Inn, which turns out to be a very comfortable and friendly hotel. Saturday and Sunday were taken up with acclimatising to the time difference, exploring the city, and (on Sunday), doing the ICDIM conference registration and going to the welcome reception. As always, it was great to catch up with old friends, and it promises to be a great conference.

And so we come to today, where it all kicks off in earnest. I am chairing the first session on Modelling which follows Richard Catlow’s plenary, so here’s hoping my session speakers all keep to time!

In the next post I hope to talk about the conference in more detail.