Science this week – “Oh be a fine girl, kiss me!”

Well, you probably weren’t expecting that as the title of my “Science this week” post, were you?!  As those of you who are astronomically minded will realize, this is actually a mnemonic: “Oh be a fine girl, kiss me” is a way of remembering the correct order of stellar spectral classes, from hottest to coldest.  Whilst looking up some information about the Hertzprung-Russel diagram, I started to wonder if anyone had written a song about it, as those lyrics would make a pretty good chorus… so I went looking, and found this song by Dr. H. Paul Shuch from the SETI Institute [lyrics and music here].  Can anyone think of any more songs about the spectral classes? Would anyone like to write one? If so, let me know!
Stars as grains of sand
It’s often said that there are as many stars in the galaxy as there are grains of sand on Earth.  A couple of weeks ago, physicist and author of the XKCD comic series, Randall Munroe tackled a bit of an extension to this analogy in his “What if” series – answering the question
“If you made a beach using grains the proportionate size of the stars in the Milky Way, what would that beach look like?”
Click the question above to find out his answer!
Radioactivity Workshop
Most of the kit has now arrived (even if some of it might look a little bizarre!), so we’re all good to go on Saturday!  The session times are confirmed as:
11.15 for 11.30 GENERAL INTEREST
13.00 for 13.30 GCSE / IGCSE (1 hour) / A LEVEL (1.5 hours)
If you still want to come, and haven’t yet signed up, email me at as soon as you can!
Institute of Physics events
You’ve only got two weeks to sign up if you want to go to Cragside, or to the Chair’s Dinner, where I will be giving a talk entitled “Scientists can’t communicate”.  More information at the links above.
And finally…
If you’ve been watching the Winter Olympics in the last couple of weeks, you might be interested in catching up with a series of short web videos made by Youtube team ASAPScience (along with CBC) covering a lot of aspects of Science related to the games.  This one looks at the interesting effects of teamwork.

Science this week – last chance radioactivity, years, and updates from the IOP and BSA.

Firstly, I’m sorry that there was no Science this week last week, due to my being ill.  I am still recovering, but hopefully it won’t be too long until I’m fully back on my feet.
Last Chance for Radioactivity Workshops
This week is your last chance to sign up to the Radioactivity Workshops!  There are currently very few attendees, however the workshops will be happening as the equipment has now been ordered! So if you’re interested in what is likely to be very personalised tuition, sign up now at
Institute of Physics Events
There are three upcoming events within the North-East IOP.  Firstly, this Wednesday, 19th February 2014, Dr. Chris Stokes from Durham University will be giving a talk entitled “Glaciers & climate change: the view from space“.  This will be in the Institute’s usual room, A003 in the Ellison Building, and will start at 7pm.
Two big events next month are also open for booking: on Saturday 15th March 2014, the Branch will be visiting Cragside, Rothbury, Northumberland.  This visit is open to all, and includes a private tour, called “Turning Water into Light” of Armstrong’s hydroelectric generator. The cost of the event, including bus travel, is £20 per person.  For more details, and to book, please visit
Also, on the 21st March 2014, will be the Branch’s Chair’s Dinner at Lumley Castle.  This event also costs £20, and features a two-course black tie dinner.  More information and booking details at
A year isn’t 365 days.
Those of you studying Astronomy modules will have heard me mention different lengths of year.  Here’s (most of) the story, thanks to MinutePhysics and CGP Grey.

More science
For those of you who missed Science this week last week, and would like some more in-depth science news, head over to the British Science Association’s News Digest for more reading!

Science this week – flight, art and a bit of light reading

Last night was the 48th NFL Superbowl over in America – and, inspired by the “Superb owl” internet meme, and also the fact that the winners of this year’s game, the Seattle Seahawks have an Augur Hawk called Taima as their mascot, I thought I’d share a couple of videos on the theme of “flight”.
The first is a good explanation of how wings work, thanks to Veritasium on Youtube.

The second talk is from the IOP North East lecture programme, and features Jim Matthew looking at the life and times of Yorkshire flight pioneer George Cayley. This is quite an in-depth lecture, so might be one to set aside for a rainy day.

I hope these help you understand a little more about the mysteries of flight!
Newcastle: Art exhibition
I have been asked by my IOP and School Visit partner Helen Schell to highlight an art exhibition which she is hosting in Newcastle next weekend.  As well as being an artist, Helen is an ESERO Space Ambassador, and so her work often draws in links from deep space.  Her latest exhibition, titled “Another Planet: The Human Spaceship” will be on show in the NewBridge Project Space (16 NewBridge Street West, Newcastle) on the 7th and 8th February, between 11am and 6pm. On show will be research and ‘projects in progress’ about current endeavours to colonise space, primarily the Moon, Mars and space stations. For more information about Helen and her work, please visit her website.

Reminder: Chris Lintott visits Durham tomorrow!
As I mentioned last week, Chris Lintott (BBC / Oxford University) will be giving a public talk for Durham University Astronomical Society.  This will be held tomorrow, 4 February, in the Durham University Physics Department, and will start at 7pm, with refreshments from 6.30.  Everyone is welcome to attend.
Young Scientist’s Journal
The Young Scientists Journal is unique in that it is written both for and by young people aged between 12 and 20.  The latest issue, which contains some very interesting articles submitted between June and December 2013, can be read online via ISSUU, or downloaded as a rather large pdf.
And finally – radioactivity workshops
So far, not many people have remembered to sign up to my Radioactivity workshops in Durham.  With less than a month to go, you really need to fill in the web form at as there is a very real danger that the workshops will need to be cancelled due to lack of interest.

Science this week – supernova!

Supernova in the Cigar Galaxy
As you might have seen, the BBC reported that a supernova – that is, an exploding star – had been observed in M82, the Cigar Galaxy.  Astronomers from all our local astronomical societies have been observing it, although in my opinion, it looks better in photos!  One thing to remember is that the Cigar Galaxy is a very, very long way away… and so that star actually exploded 12 million years ago.  On Earth, this is in the middle of the Miocene epoch, which saw the rise of the apes – a very long time ago indeed!  One thing that everyone should remember is that when you look out into space, you’re looking back in time: you see the sun as it was 8 minutes ago, Proxima Centauri (our second nearest star) as it was 4 years ago. And the Pleiades?  Almost 400 years ago.  A journey through history, just by looking up!
A close encounter of the laval kind…
Bryan Lowry, a native American and Hawaii resident, lives fairly close to an active volcano.  So close, in fact, that he likes taking videos of it.  In this video, he places a can of cola in the path of some extremely hot (although not as hot as a supernova!) lava, and watched what happened…

Radioactivity Workshops
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, signups for my radioactivity workshops are now open. To sign up, please click the link!
Durham University AstroSoc host Chris Lintott
On Tuesday 4th February (a week today), Durham University Astronomical Society will be hosting a talk by Dr. Chris Lintott from the University of Oxford and presenter of the BBC’s Sky at Night programme! (You may have also seen him recently on Stargazing Live, talking about his latest citizen science project.).  The talk will take place at 7pm in PH8 (Durham University Physics Department).  There will be refreshments available from 6:30pm prior to the talk, and the event is open and free to all.
Chris will be answering the question, “is the Milky Way special?”

“As we have come to understand the galaxies which surround us, so our perspectives on our own home system, the Milky Way, have shifted. Using recent results from surveys of our cosmic neighbourhood, this talk asks whether there is anything unusual about our home.”

And finally, one for those interested in Professional Development
Justifiably, I mention a lot about the tutoring and learning side of Educational Services in my “Science this Week” posts, however, I know there are a few industry professionals (and those from the IOP!) who read my posts… so this is an event for you!
On the first Tuesday of every month, the North East Technology Park (NETPark), Sedgefield host a “Breakfast Briefing” session at the Incubator.  The sessions start at 8am with coffee and a bacon sandwich (free for NETPark NET members), and finish at 9.30am.  The topics are generally business oriented and  very varied.  This month’s will take place on the 4th February, and is entitled “how good design can help your business succeed”, and will be given by speaker Lawrie Cunningham. No prior knowledge is assumed, and all are welcomed! Places can be booked via
Keep an eye out in future weeks for more details of my upcoming CPD opportunities!