Learning to play the ukulele!

OK, I’m a musician. An experienced trombone player and a very amateur pianist. But I’ve never played a guitar or an orchestral stringed instrument like the violin. Then my admiration for the music of George Formby sparked an interest in the ukulele, and my dear wife Angela has just bought me one as an anniversary present. So I’m going to learn to play it, and blog my progress, which will make a change from my usual posts on chemistry and politics! More when I’ve tuned it!


New Labour or Next Labour – but let’s move on!

This week we learned the timescale for the election of the new leader of the Labour Party. Nominations have to be in by late May, and then we have nearly four months before the result of the ballot is announced in late September. I think this is crazy!

Some colleagues will relish the opportunity for plenty of discussion and debate, but I feel that, having lost the election, we need to quickly re-establish ourselves and move one. Without an official leader we will not be taken seriously, even if we are in the safe hands of Harriet Harman, good though she will undoubtedly be. I would have preferred a month of campaigning, and an election in July, with a new leader in place well before the end of the summer.  Instead, discussions will drag on interminably, and the press will have a field day (or perhaps that should be a field four months?)

As for choice of the new leader,  as I have said previously, I am backing David Miliband as the best person to unite the party and regain the confidence of any voters who deserted us earlier this month. I hope he will win the leadership election, but I have a long frustrating wait before finding out if he has!

Comment on ‘The Brightest X-Ray Machine in the World probes Molecules’

I recently retweeted a link to an Science Daily piece on the ‘Brightest X-ray Machine in the World’, which refers to the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at Stanford. Calling it the ‘Brightest X-ray Machine’ seems to need some clarification, which I will attempt to do here.

First, we must remember that X-rays, whether we think of them as electromagnetic waves or photons, have energies that depend on their frequencies (or wavelengths). ‘Hard’ X-rays have wavelengths in the range 0.1-0.01 nm, which correspond to energies of about 12 to 120 keV (energies and wavelengths or frequencies being related by the Planck equation). It is the wavelength (or frequency) that determines the energy of the X-ray photon. It is easy to confuse this with the ‘brightness’ of the beam, which refers to the number of X-ray photons emitted, and which can be measured in units of power per unit area (i.e. the number of photons of a particular energy striking a given surface area). In the article, a beam intensity of 10 to the power of 18 Watts per square centimetre is quoted for the LCLS machine.

It is the energies of the X-rays that determine what they can be used for in an experiment. In order to ‘strip’ electrons off an atom, energies that are greater than or equal to the binding energies of the electrons are needed. The advantage of having a brighter (more intense) X-ray machine like the LCLS is that more photons are available, so for the above case, more electrons can be removed, making their detection easier, and meaningful results more possible to obtain.

This can, of course, be directly related to the photoelectric effect experiment, where light is shone onto a metal surface, and electrons observed to be emitted from the surface provided the light frequency is high enough. Increasing the light intensity can liberate more electrons, but only if the frequency is high enough.

The ConDem’d: Day 2

Yesterday I speculated on who would get the Education jobs in the new cabinet. Well, the picture is now clear. Michael Gove is the Schools Secretary, and David Willetts becomes Minister for Universities and Science, working under Vince Cable. Although my left wing inclinations give me an instinctive mistrust of Gove and Willetts, both were on record when in opposition of making some interesting comments which might just be good news for Science and HE.  Gove had ideas for helping get more science graduates into teaching, and Willetts was against the much-disliked Research Excellence Framework (REF)  ‘impact’ criteria applied in judging research grant proposals. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to make such claims when in opposition, and in the cold light of real government other things tend to get in the way. But I have surprised myself by feeling a note of optimism as a result of the appointment of these two ministers, much as I disagree with their politics!

Other cabinet positions announced yesterday included Theresa May as Home Secretary, Ken Clarke as Lord Chancellor, Philip Hammond as Transport Secretary and Ian Duncan Smith as Work and Pensions Secretary. Of these, the one that gives me most concern is the first. I don’t mind Ken Clarke; at least he’s pro-Europe!

It will be interesting to see how Gove and Willetts get on; there is some hope that they might do some good for education and Science in the UK.

The ConDem’d: Day 1

A cool damp dawn in North Staffordshire heralded the first day of our new ConDem government.  Last night the LibDems voted in favour of their ‘coalition’ and have already been rewarded with the Deputy PM job for Clegg, and the Scottish Secretary post probably going to Danny Alexander (but given the lack of Conservative MPs in Scotland, this is hardly a major concession!). At the time of writing it seems that Osborne is Chancellor, Lansley gets Health and Fox gets Defence. Hague is Foreign Secretary. These are all fairly predictable appointments, but what of the LibDem posts? Cable seems to have been given ‘Business and Banking’ (enough said), and Huhne is tipped for Environment and Climate Change. I am particularly interested to see who gets Education. If it goes to Michael Gove, I despair for Education in the UK! But if Cameron gives it to the LibDem David Laws, then that may be slightly better. No doubt more will be revealed as the day progresses …

Welcome to the ConDemNation!

So it seems as if Clegg will tie the knot with Cameron soon, assuring the latter the PM job. Labour will have to regroup under a new leader, as the only truly progressive party remaining. I was particularly saddened when the likes of John Reid and David Blunkett did their best to sink the possible LabLib deal. As John Prescott put it, the ‘dad’s army’ of the party should have kept out and not interfered. But moving on, I for one support David Miliband as the next leader. He’s young but has the right qualities for the job. We will see what happens!

LibCon or LibLab: that is the question!

Since the General Election results were announced, the question of who would form the new government has been paramount. Until today it looked as if we would have a LibCon coalition, or a minority conservative government with LibDem support. This always seemed a paradox to me, as the Tories would be unlikely to agree to electoral reform. That all changed today. Simultaneously, Gordon Brown announced talks with the LibDems, and his intention to step down as leader. We are now in exciting times politically. I hope the talks succeed, and that there is a good outcome to the leadership contest. More of that in a later posting!

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