Friday, 18 November 2011

Blind chemist - Marie Curie - Light Fantastic

1.  Through Twitter, I have learnt of a student of geology in Gainseville, GA USA.  His university worked out a scheme so that he could 'follow' the contours within a map.  This illustrates adaptive technology which may not be rocket science.

Gainesville State student inspires map for the blind

2.  Regarding solar energy, a talk was recently given at Imperial College by Professor James Barber on the occasion of the Ernst Chain lecture.  The subject was “The Big Bang of Evolution and the Engine of Life” and dealt with the concept of an “artificial leaf” in harnessing solar energy.  I was not at the lecture, but have been advised by a friend who attended it.  More information can be found at the following link:


I had been telling a friend about a blind chemist who had used Velcro in tactile models as a way of understanding chemical bonds and some reaction mechanisms.  ( My friend searched for blind chemist on a smart phone and was impressed by the tenacity and ingenuity in making some concepts accessible to the visually impaired.  I was at the eye clinic for routine eyelash removal (8 this time) and a medical student was being shown the ropes with my permission.  The ophthalmologist was giving a running commentary on what could be seen on a screen on my eyes.  I commented that I could make out dancing rhombus shapes on waking up. Apparently this is normal and the student was made aware of this phenomenon.  It then dawned on me that I had been talking about benzene rings and that I had been hopeless in drawing them.  At any rate this was hardly the time and place to discuss the epiphanic moment of Kekule and the benzene ring. 

I have been to two interesting talks at the Chemistry Centre in Burlington House.

Harnessing the light Fantastic was the subject of a talk by Dr Nick Terrill of Diamond Light Source Ltd, based in Harwell, near Didcot in Oxfordshire.  ( The UK’s national synchrotron facility produces intense light which can be used in researching complex molecular structures.  Various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum can be used to evaluate complex structures, and one of the research projects is looking at organic co-polymers or complex plastics which could be used in the “next generation of photovoltaics, which use plastics instead of silicon.”

Recently, the UK government decided to cut short the FITS (Feed in Tariff scheme) which stimulated a rapid growth in solar cell installations for a fixed period of time based on domestic installation of solar cells on roofs.  An industry had been building up on this and the government has been taken to task by some for abandoning an industry at its early stages.  The question which ought to have been asked was: Is it right that the tax-payer should subsidise an expensive way of generating electricity benefiting only those with the available roof area? 

This topic was very well discussed at a free-thinking talk hosted on BBC Radio 3 at Gateshead recently.  The talk was stimulating and the topic of the Scottish Enlightenment was praised and blamed in the same round for creating an industrial capitalism and the concept of consumption and greed.  I have sympathies with the views expressed by Colin McInnes, though the other speakers too had many good points.  You can hear the programme via iPlayer on:
'Radium' Marie & Pierre Curie
by JMP (Julius Mendes Pirece)
Vanity Fair, 1904

On a more reflective note, a lecture celebrating the centenary of the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Marie Curie was given at the Chemistry Centre by Dr Serge Plattard, the Counsellor for Science and Technology at the French Embassy in London.  ( ) The chairman of the meeting was Professor Peter F O’Hare (, with Marie Curie Cancer Care connections and research interests.  The lecture was sponsored by GSK.  The lecture was titled "The three lives of Marie Curie", including her formative years in Poland, her dedicated research in Paris and her application of both her discoveries and those of her husband to medical science.  Dr Plattard mentioned that Marie Curie had a mix of being gifted, obstinacy and serendipity.  Occasionally Dr Plattard used tenacity in place of obstinacy , but serendipity was a recurring theme.  During the questions, I asked about measuring serendipity.  There was a political edge to my question as it echoed some of the terminology shared by Sir John Cadogan and his being awarded the Lord Lewis Prize.  Professor O’Hare and Dr Plattard discussed this with me afterwards.  A very enjoyable evening.

The lecture should be available in the next few days to watch on the following link