Posts Tagged ‘NPL’

Would you like to work with me?

July 29, 2017
Lab Panorama

The Acoustic Thermometry Lab at NPL (Photo by Sam Gibbs: thanks ūüôā )

Friends and colleagues,

  • Do you know anyone who would like to work with me?

In the next few months I expect to be starting some new projects at NPL. And this means that I will not be able to work on my existing projects ūüė¶

So NPL have created the opportunity for someone to work with me to help complete those projects.

  • You can read about the job here.
  • It’s also on the NPL web site here where it’s the described as “Research Or Higher Research Scientist – Temperature & Humidity” reference¬†65552.

What’s involved?

Good question. And it is one that is still being decided.

But it would involve working mainly in the acoustic thermometry lab .

Lab Panorama with notes

In acoustic thermometry, the temperature of a gas is inferred from measurements of the speed of sound.

On the left-hand side of the picture is an apparatus that uses a spherical resonator to measure the speed of sound. It is the most accurate thermometer on Earth.

On the right-hand side of the picture is a new apparatus¬†that uses a cylindrical resonator to measure the speed of sound and has been designed to operate up 700 ¬įC.

The job would involve learning¬†about these techniques but that wouldn’t be the main activity.

Running around the lab is 50 metres of bright yellow tubing that we refer to as ‘an acoustic waveguide’.

By measuring the transmission of sound along the tube it is possible to turn it into a useful thermometer. I hope.

Finding out whether this can be made to work practically would be one part of the job. And testing the same idea is smaller tubes would be another.

Finally, by measuring the speed of sound in air it is possible to measure the temperature of the air and we would like to investigate applications of this technology.

What does the job involve?

Well it will involve learning a lot of new stuff. Typically projects involve:

  • Programming in Labview to control instruments and acquire and analyse data.
  • Writing spreadsheets and reports and PowerPoint presentations.
  • Keep track of stuff in a lab book.
  • Using acoustic and optical transducers
  • Signal processing
  • Electronics
  • Mechanical design and construction.
  • Vacuum and gas handling systems – ‘plumbing’.

And lots more. And the chance that someone with those skills will walk through the door is pretty low.

So prior knowledge is great but the key requirement is the mindset to face all those unknown things without letting the bewilderment become overwhelming.

So we are looking for someone with enthusiasm.


Learning new stuff is painful. Especially when it seems endless.

So¬†I couldn’t imagine working with someone who wasn’t enthusiastic about the miracle of physics.

And there is one benefit which isn’t mentioned in the advert.

To cope with the inevitable disappointments and to reward ourselves for our minor successes, our research group has freely available Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers.

Anyway, if this person isn’t you,¬†please do pass on the opportunity to anyone you think might be interested.

The closing date for applications is 28th August 2017.


NPL Laboratory Doors

April 23, 2015
Just one of several hundred signs on NPL Laboratory Doors. The movie below has them all!

Just one of several hundred signs on NPL Laboratory Doors. The movie below has them all!

I am currently in Lisbon attending the ANIMMA 2015 conference.

  • Advancements in Nuclear Instrumentation¬†Measurement Methods and their Applications

I gave my talk yesterday which means I can relax a bit more now.

The talk included a live demonstration of a new type of thermometer which I hope will prove useful to someone here.

The talk went well. By this I mean that the talk was followed by many questions rather than deadly silence.

And the demonstration worked! The thermometer is an acoustic thermometer consisting of a tube with a tiny microphone and speaker at one end.

I used the microphone/loudspeaker connection on my laptop to ping sound along a tube and measure the echo.

And using clever software written by colleagues I could work out the temperature.

I think the simplicity of the demonstration convinced people that the technique was real rather than just another idea.

I hope so because many people worked very hard for years to make it that simple!

NPL Doors

While I am away, I hope you enjoy the movie at the head of the page.

I made it a few months ago by walking up and down every corridor in NPL taking a picture of the title of each lab door.

It took more than two hours just to take the pictures! But the movie takes only a little over 4 minutes.

My aim was to try to capture the diversity of activities at NPL.

I hope you enjoy it and find at least one lab door with an intriguing title.






July 12, 2012
Gianluca Memoli views the world through a bubble. But then don't we all?

Gianluca Memoli views the world through a bubble. But then don’t we all?

Do you think of bubbles as objects of childish fascination? Beautiful, ephemeral, but ultimately peripheral to the main branches of science, life, and business? Well if you did think that, then that would be a BIG mistake. Because bubbles of one kind or another are absolutely central to your life.

Last weekend I got to help at the NPL stand at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. It was a busy day and by the end of it my voice was hoarse. My reward was that I reminded myself Рwith a little help from my colleague Gianluca Memoli Рjust how ubiquitous and important bubbles are.

  • I remembered that all biological life consist of cells, which are nothing more than bubbles formed spontaneously when fats (lipids) are mixed with water. The miracle of life itself exists only inside a protective bubble!
  • I remembered returning a kettle to John Lewis because it was too noisy – noise created by the bubbles in the water.
  • I remembered that the golden sound of the sea upon the shore – Shhhhhh…….. Shhhhhhh…… is nothing more than the sound of bubbles collapsing.
  • I remembered that when we wait for bread to bake and reach its optimal state of scrumptious edibility – we are simply waiting for the bubbles inside it to reach the right size.
  • I remembered that I love champagne, a wine in which the value is increased ten-fold because of the presence of bubbles.
  • I remembered that I owe the value of my house the existence of a property bubble – wait a minute! That’s not Physics!

On the NPL stand Gianluca was explaining how sound – more generally ultrasound – could be used to create, move and manipulate bubbles. And if his research pans out as planned, he will be able to use the oscillations of micro-bubbles to measure the properties of fluids.

As I wandered back to Waterloo Station across the Hungerford Bridge I gazed across the bustling river at the hubbub of the South Bank. Reflecting on those things which rivers make one reflect upon, I realised that I was lost in nothing less than a …thought bubble. Bubbles really are everywhere: watch out for them!

The colour of heavy water

July 4, 2010
NPL Heavy Water Sample

NPL Heavy Water Sample

I love working at NPL! Over lunch the other day I spoke with my colleague Richard Rusby about my doubts over the explanation I had read about the colour of the sea. This explanation stated that the sea is blue because water is ‘blue’. And the justification for this assertion was that molecular vibrations of the hydrogen in the H2O absorbed red light – a verifiable fact. However the¬†colloquial¬†justification¬†of a nameless colleague was that if a vial of water was compared with a vial of ‘heavy water’ the ordinary water looked noticeable blue. Richard said that whenever I wanted I should ‘pop down’ and he would show me a vial of heavy water. Wow! It transpired that Richard had had a vial of heavy water around for many years without quite knowing what to do with it!

The Comparison and the Amazing Discovery

The comparison was¬†disappointing¬†because there is no noticeable difference in the colour of vials of heavy water and regular water. Normal water does not appear even slightly ‘blue’ when held against regular water. Clearly there is more to investigate here.

However the sample of heavy water was amazing!

Label showing heavy water sample was obtained in 1935!!

Label showing heavy water sample was obtained in 1935!!

First of all, it was stored in a solid wood block with a type written label stating it was made in 1935! Opening it up (see top picture) it was clear that it had been made at the Norsk Hydro plant in Norway.  According the ever reliable Wikipedia this plant only began production in 1935. This was the same plant that was  the object of a daring commando  raid in the second world war to prevent the Nazi from creating a nuclear bomb. And I held in my hand a sample from the first year of production of that factory.

I felt shaky all afternoon. I had held a piece of history in my hands – an object that not so long ago people would have given their lives to possess. I still don’t know how to proceed about the colour of the sea issue, but I feel – astounded to have encountered a vial of heavy water of such esteemed pedigree. And it had been in a cupboard in my own department all these years! I love working at NPL.

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