Archive for December, 2017

Candles at Christmas Revisited

December 21, 2017

Last week I gave a presentation at NPL on the physics of candles.

Above is a video of the slightly chaotic 32 minute presentation and if you are so inclined, you can download the PowerPoint file here.

I have spoken before about the wonderful physics of candles. But in revisiting the subject I learned that wax is basically not flammable and I felt obliged to mention this inconvenient truth!

The highlight of the talk is using a candle to power a thermo-electric generator, which in turn powers a USB port, which in turn powers a torch, which is brighter than the candle.

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Sadly, in the rush at the end of the talk I forgot to actually measure the brightness of the torch!

Next time!

And by the way, here is the slow-motion candle-relighting movie that is embedded in the PowerPoint but which doesn’t show up well in the lecture theatre view.

Thanks to Brian Madzima for the videography and editing, and Nikita Mezhnyakov for the photograph.

Impact

December 3, 2017

I can collect my state retirement pension in just 97 months.

The closeness of this date – and its week-by-week countability – is a great comfort to me when I feel under pressure at work.

And one abiding pressure is the requirement that I personally create ‘impact’ from my work.

I had cause to reflect on this when I visited the Royal Society in London last week.

The Royal Society

The Royal Society has a lot of marble and in one portion of that marble is carved its admirable motto.

Nullius in verba

or

Take nobody’s word for it

This is a reflection of the belief of the founding fellows in the primacy of experimental results over beliefs.

In short, it is a declaration that science has to deal with the world as it is, and not as we would wish it to be.

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The Royal Society also has the best door handles I ever seen.

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Evoking the double-strands of DNA, I was told the door-handles had to be re-made because the first batch had the wrong chirality!

And just in case you were in doubt about its prestige, its walls are lined with portraits of its past presidents: Newton, Boyle, Darwin, Kelvin, Rutherford, and…

Hans Sloane

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Hans Sloane was the president of the Royal Society who followed Sir Isaac Newton: a tough act to follow.

But in terms of ‘impact’ I think he may even have exceeded Newton. History records three great achievements.

  • He founded the Chelsea Physic Garden for the study of plants from all over the world. Mmmm. Not bad.
  • He donated his collection of antiquities to found the British Museum. Mmmm. Impressive.
  • But finally, as recorded on a small label underneath his portrait, is by far his greatest achievement: he invented Milk Chocolate!

Citing Nullius in verba, I am disinclined to believe that he really invented Milk Chocolate. I suspect he re-invented it or modified a previous recipe.

But as I imagine him filling out his annual appraisal form, I feel sure that in the ‘impact’ section, he would have mentioned the popularisation of chocolate as his most significant achievement.

And since his death in 1753, literally billions of human beings have experienced momentary pleasure, or relief from anxiety, by simply eating a small amount of chocolate.

In all of history, has humanity ever had a greater benefactor? 

 

 


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