Thursday, 16 February 2012

James: A week @ NPL: Day 4

I went in today to make the most of my last two days at NPL. Only to find my sample torn in two by the test rig having gone haywire in the night. Tragedy, or maybe not I know exactly what time, temperature and force it broke. So now I have a high temperature fracture surface to investigate.
So with extra data, although fortuitously, in hand I lay out the final few experiments required before I return to Bristol. I even found time to enjoy my lunch in the park by the River Thames, rather unseasonable 12 degrees in the Richmond area today.
So I left this evening my final over night run with far less apprehension than you may anticipate as even if it goes wrong I can still take something away from it.
One more sleep before the end of this little escapade.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

James: A week @ NPL: Day 3

Today was somewhat a different day again. After sleeping on my results, not literally, I was confident that I knew what was going on and that with some straight forward tests when I get home next week I will ascertain if I'm right or not.
So I arrived at NPL to conduct my experiments totally unflustered and relaxed. And everything went as planned which left me at a little of a loss and to realise that it is quite difficult to procrastinate without the internet or friends around. Thus I got my head down and set about quite a boring day of writing.
Hope to give you something more interesting to read tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

James: A week @ NPL: Day 2

I found myself dragging my feet this morning, this was because after pondering over my experiment in the evening I felt that I only had one roll of the dice left before I may have to retreat home early with my tail between my legs.
So I pottered around doing any other job I could think of before testing my experiment again, eventually just before lunch I bit the bullet (before my sandwich). Amazingly it did something whether it had done what wanted was going to have to wait until after my lunch.
What I had change was the size of my samples, with thanks to the technicians at NPL. To give a little idea as to what I was up to, I was looking to conduct tests on metal samples to see how there resistivity changed with heat treatment but crucially this requires the sample getting hot when you put a high current through it. But yesterday when it didn't work the current density wasn't high enough thus making the samples smaller was an easy way to increase the current density running through the samples as I couldn't increase the current.
So the vital question when I came back from lunch what had happened? Well the exact opposite of what I expected! But as with all science any result is a positive one, you just have to understand what it means.
I have now also set one to run over night so we shall see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, 13 February 2012

James: A week @ NPL - Day 1

Occasionally in research you need equipment that your university does not have so you are required to go away to another university or facility.
I have had the opportunity to spend this week at the national physics laboratories to conduct some resistivity tests.
With coming away to do work it means you spend a lot of time planning and preparing so you become naturally very invested and excited about the experiment you are going to do. Myself when I turned up this morning had butterflies and loads of nervous energy. But unfortunately this works both ways; almost immediately what we were looking to do failed, which was totally gut wrenching. Still NPL is an impressive facility and we have been able to use their workshop in order to 'rescue' the work. This is the nature of research however, the work you are doing has never been done before so even with your best guess you don't know what is actually going to happen.
Looking forward to tomorrow (still) and a new attempt, let us hope I don't have to start again rethink.

Friday, 3 February 2012

James: Why do bookshops smell so good?

I am sure we have all come across an old book at one time or another opened it merely to stick our noses in. I for one do for it gives me a sense of that I am learning from the past. But little did I know, until very recently, that the compound that causes this blissful olfaction is one of the most common forms of organic polymer with only cellulose more abundant.

What I am talking about is Lignin; a complex chemical compound which acts as a main part of the secondary cell wall, in the plant cell diagram by Caroline Dahl you can see the secondary wall labelled.

So how and why old books, well the lignin is relatively aromatic as it is the key is when it breaks down over time one of the products being very closely related to vanillin. Which is the main extract of the vanilla bean. So that sweet scent emanating from the very pages of our favourite old books is due to the active decomposition of the ancient molecule that was once constructed by a tree in order to keep it's cell strong and protected from pathogens. It gives quite a view to the world around to think that so much must have come before to get us to where we are now. And with that poignant thought I leave you.