Tag Archives: science

Meetings with Joss Whedon (Avengers Assemble), Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) and Ron Howard (Angels & Demons) are something Sean Carroll calls a ‘cool hobby’. Since moving to Los Angeles, his knowledge of theoretical and astrophysics has contributed to keeping the science we see on our screens factually accurate. I had the opportunity to hear him talk on my first day at the Cheltenham Science Festival.

Carroll's passion for the physically possible has extended from keeping the release of antimatter from creating an unlikely explosion from occurring in Angels & Demons, to preventing a movie from pushing characters off the edge of a flat planet to kill them off during a fight scene.

Even Gravity, a film he commends for being scientifically accurate, cannot escape his eye for improvement. If consulted, he would re-make one particular iconic moment - where George Clooney is pulled away from the space station by a mysterious force. In his more dramatically accurate scene, he would have both Clooney and Sandra Bullock float away together and let Clooney push Bullock back towards safety.

I thoroughly enjoyed his interview, where he also talked about his experiences in Hollywood and stories relating science to the real world. A favourite of mine was when a friend of his took a team from The Big Bang Theory around a real Caltech lab, to see lasers blocked by index cards and orders of untidiness recognised by practicing scientists around the world -  creating possibly the most accurate representation of a physics laboratory on television to date!

Carroll offered a final great piece of advice to aspiring Hollywood science advisors - move to Los Angeles. But don’t be under any impression the job pays well, his flirtation with the film and television industry has only earned him a 'rather comfy sweatshirt and a bottle of wine’. Job aside, it’s not bad for a helpful hobby in Hollywood.


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I should probably be talking about the Higgs boson today, as most people with access to the internet will hopefully now recognise the evidential possibility of its existence according to preliminary data posted by Cern yesterday. That is, if they weren't distracted by the life-changing headlines about Justin Bieber throwing a tantrum. (I won't even honour that mention with a link).

Anyway, instead of thinking about the Higgs boson I've been directing my attention towards my dissertation. The loving memory of my dissertation that I handed in on May 1st this year has sprung back into my life, as I've been asked by my former supervisor to write an essay about my research, in the hope that some lovely people will give me an award for all of my hard work. In a way my dissertation was somewhat like the Higgs boson before today: hard to find (amongst the crates of degree related folders) and difficult to understand (I presented it to my Mother to read and she didn't even understand the title). Hopefully I can remedy the latter by explaining my project, for those of you who are interested - ie. my Mother, in this post.

That drip-drop process: normal-phase column chromatography purification of my 3rd compound.

I spent six months almost solidly in the lab, from October 2011 to March 2012, working on the "Synthesis of  Norlignan Derivatives". What I did during those six months was to spend every free minute of my time (when not in lectures or eating lunch) wearing my lab coat, working out quantities of chemicals to use, mixing chemicals, monitoring reactions, hoping the reactions worked, working out why they didn't work, extracting products, weighing yields, working out which liquid chemicals (solvent systems) I should put together to separate out and purify my products, purifying my products in a long drip-drop process (normal phase column chromatography), washing thousands of vials, working out the structure of the products I had made using fancy instruments (NMR, IR, GC-MS) and finally, writing my dissertation. (Phew - I hope you got all of that!)

I was trying to make a compound with something new stuck on the side of it, that may exhibit greater anti-inflammatory properties than the same compound without that new thing stuck on the side of it (see diagram below). I won't go into too much detail about the chemistry here, but I will say that it took 5 steps and some interesting reactions to get to the end product.

My beautiful compound, or at least, what I was trying to make: (E)-1-(4-carboxyphenyl),3,-(4-hydroxyphenyl)prop-2-en-1-one.

Unfortunately the final reaction failed and I got a slightly different product than I intended. However it could still show good anti-inflammatory properties and I got a chance to show off my theoretical knowledge by explaining why I think it happened. Explaining why things went wrong is possibly my second favourite thing about chemistry experiments, the first being working out the structures of compounds (which is easily fueled by my love of nuclear magnetic resonance).

So that's my final year project dissertation, hopefully explained simply enough that my Mother understands it, but with enough science in it that I can justify posting it here! If you're a science-type and want to know more about my project, I'm always very happy to discuss it in more detail, just get in touch. My project was definitely my favourite thing about final year and probably the best piece of academic writing I've produced so far. Now I just have to explain to my Mother what my placement project was all about...anyone for a slice of zeolite?

Today I stumbled across some fascinating geometric images by Tilman Zitzmann. #38 initially caught my eye because, rather humourously, it takes me back to my inorganic chemistry lectures where we spent most of our time trying to draw the perfect cube (I personally think I've managed to master it after four years!). I really enjoy the simplicity of juxtapositional shapes and the mix between Zitzmann's digital and analogue style makes this work a breath of geometric fresh air. As I would simply be replicating his portfolio if I posted all of the images I enjoy, below are a select few of my favourites:

#38 Phantom cubes
#38 Phantom cubes
#100 Wiping
#100 Wiping
#163 The journey of the moon
#163 The journey of the moon

Zitzmann's aim is to create one geometric image a day, taking inspiration from everything around him - including, as I like to see, a lot of science related concepts. However, a lot of these illustrations remind me of different scientific ideas to those Zitzmann intended, such as I can imagine the  lines in #100 to represent striated skeletal muscle tissue cells. For me, the six 'moons' in #163 illustrate the six outer electrons orbiting a nuclei, in a simplified Bohr's representation of an oxygen atom. The halves of the central circle represent both the neutrons and protons of the nuclei and as each electron can exist in either one of two quantum spin states, this time the halves of the 'moons' represent each state (spin up or spin down).

However you see it, I'm sure the images can be interpreted in several ways. I'd be interested to find out if anyone else shares a similar viewpoint to mine, or indeed a completely different one!

References and Connections

You can view the Daily Dot's interview with Zitzmann here, and follow Geometry Daily on Tumblr, Facebook, or Zitzmann on Twitter.